Friday, August 16, 2013

Persecution and its Inevitability

In my arrogant pre-Christian days, I continually reassured myself that I could handle anything that life would throw at me. However, after serving our Lord for 36 years, He has taught me otherwise. I need Him to get me through the most trivial trials.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about persecution. Darkness and threat seem to surrounding us with outstretched claws. Paul warned that this is inevitable:

·        In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  (2 Tim. 3:12)

Many of us don’t need this warning. We see it coming. Some of us are already engulfed by its rising waters. Meanwhile, others are in denial:

·        Former Archbishop Rowan Williams told Christians in the West who complain of mistreatment to "grow up" in a talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today. After years of meeting with others around the world who face "murderous hostility" for their religious beliefs, Lord Williams said complaints of persecution among Christians in the U.K. and the U.S. make him "very uneasy." (Jim Wallis, Sojourners)

However, it made me very “uneasy” to read this callous statement, and so I angrily responded:

·        ME: When Christians are deprived of jobs, licenses and even businesses and are told to "grow up," this is not modeling Christian love. This is playing along with a politically correct script that has nothing to do with Christ!

·        PERSECUTION DENIER: No political correctness here -- just the kind of perspective offered by Paul and others in the NT. The so-called "persecution" of Christians in the US pales in comparison with what Williams has in mind regarding certain other parts of the world. We need to own this, and let go of the self-pity.

·        ME: You might be right that our persecution pales in comparison to that experienced by Christians in many Muslim lands. However, it is grossly insensitive to dismiss any suffering, victimization, and deprivation in West with the words "grow up," because it doesn't measure up in our estimation. It means that we are to turn our uncaring back on those who lose jobs, reputations or businesses. It's like telling anyone in the West to "get over it," whatever their problem might be - depression, loss of a family member, or anything else, because it doesn't measure up to the suffering of someone else. Please don't try to justify this kind of insensitivity by invoking the Apostle Paul!

The persecution-denier might be somewhat sincere. He might not experience the persecution, because his faith has become compromised and virtually indistinguishable from the prevailing culture. Therefore, he rides the waves instead of standing against them.

There are many forms of persecution, and Paul gave us instruction about how to respond to it:

·        Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)

While I am convinced that we must comfort the persecuted and expose the persecutor, we must do this in a way that reflects our Master. It has to be done in love, in the form of a blessing (Eph. 4:29), even as we use words that might cut to the core. But how can we endure the coming holocaust and remain other-centered? According to Jesus, it is indeed coming:

·        "They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21:12-19)

Persecution is inevitable. However, embodied in these words, Jesus imparts necessary wisdom that we need in order to endure. Here’s what I see:

  1. We shouldn’t be ashamed when we are persecuted. It goes with being His children (John 15:18-20; 16:1-2). When we are hated, it doesn’t reflect any deficit on our part, but rather contempt for the Light that we share.

  1. We can’t handle persecution on our own. Therefore, we need not worry about how to respond. Instead, we need to depend exclusively on Him. If He will give us the words we need in the midst of persecution, He can also comfort our troubled hearts and enable us to endure.

  1. God is in control. He has a blessed purpose for allowing the persecution: “This will result in your being witnesses to them.” Consequently, I have to remind myself that there is great blessing in persecution:

·        “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:10-11)

This means that we are to regard persecution as a positive and not a negative. He also purifies His church through persecution (2 Cor. 4:10-11; 1 Peter 4:1-2). I think that this orientation will help us accept it. Nevertheless, although God works it for good (Rom. 8:28), the persecutor works it for evil, and therefore should be held accountable and the persecuted comforted.

  1. God’s plan may even entail our martyrdom (Rev. 2:10). However, Paul encourages us that the suffering in this life is in no way comparable to our eternal joy (Rom. 8:18).

  1. Nevertheless, “not a hair of your head will perish.” Evidently, Jesus speaks of our eternal destiny (Mat. 10:28-30). This must remain our focus – being with Him for all eternity.

How did Jesus endure the persecution? There’s a lesson in this for us:

·        Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

There is an eternal joy set before us. Upon this must we plant our eyes and dreams and leave the rest to Him!

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