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2 Timothy 3:12 – All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Every Christian sooner or later will endure persecution. This has been true throughout history.
Persecution may come from civil rulers, employers, fellow-workers, teachers or professors, neighbors, friends, relatives, family members, people of false religious faiths, or even other members of the church.
Persecution refers to harm deliberately inflicted by people who oppose the truth. This may involve physical or bodily harm, but the Bible also describes other forms of persecution.
Physical violence: Christians have been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, or otherwise forcibly attacked and sometimes even killed.
Legal or financial pressures: Christians have lost their jobs, taken pay cuts, been demoted (or not promoted), failed in school, sued in court, or harassed by police.
Loss of property or possessions: Many Christians have had property stolen or have had to flee from property and houses to avoid persecution.
Threat and intimidation: Just the threat of harm is a common bullying tactic.
Verbal abuse: Christians have been mocked, slandered, falsely accused, lied about, cursed and called nasty names. Some try to trap us or twist our words. The purpose is to shame or embarrass us, make us feel guilty, or discredit us before others.
Social ostracizing: Friends, family members, or loved ones may refuse to associate with us.
Temptation and appeals to lust or sin: People may try to provoke us to do wrong. If we give in, we feel guilty, our reputation is harmed, and sinners claim we are no better than they are.
Persecution comes in many forms, but all Christians do suffer some form of persecution. News reports document that persecution against those who claim to follow Jesus Christ is rapidly increasing around the world.
Persecutors hope we will surrender or compromise our stand for truth or commit some other sin that discredits us. If we give in, then the persecutor (and the Devil) have had their way.
So, how do we remain strong and serve God without falling away and without sinning, despite these pressures? What steps can we take to deal with these persecutions?
2 Timothy 3:12 – All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We should not have “persecution complexes,” unfairly accusing people of persecution. But neither should we think, “It won’t happen to me.” It can and it will happen, if you serve God faithfully.
Matthew 10:34-37 – Jesus came to bring a sword. He expected opposition. As a Christian, you should not expect to have peace with everyone around you. A man’s enemies may include his dearest loved ones. But we must love Jesus more than we love even earthly family members.
John 15:18-21; 16:1-4 – If we act like the world, worldly people will not hate us. But if we are faithful, they will persecute us like they did Jesus. Jesus warned us so we would know what to expect. When it happens, we can remember that He predicted it, so we will not stumble.
(1 Thessalonians 3:3,4)
Maybe they expect the life of Christians to be easy. When people accuse them of sin, hatred, cowardice, hypocrisy, false teaching, etc., their faith is shaken. They wonder what they did wrong.
We should not provoke people by displaying bad attitudes or deliberately angering them. But if we do right, persecution will still come. When it does, rather than feeling guilty or backing down, we should realize this is what God promised.
The example and teaching of faithful Christians prick the conscience of people in sin. If they can discredit us or intimidate us to keep quiet, then they don’t look so bad. So we should expect such treatment as long as we do right.
Often people fail because they try to handle persecution alone. We must trust God for help.
Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Psalm 56:11 – In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? It’s easy to be overwhelmed when we face threats and dangers. But we must remember whose side we are on. If God is pleased with us, what does it matter who is upset or angry with us?
1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
1 Peter 2:21-23 – When Jesus was reviled, rather than taking vengeance on His tormentors, He committed Himself to the righteous judge. He relied on God to deal with the problem.
1 Peter 4:19 – Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. Notice that loving and trusting Jesus requires doing good. Love and trust are fundamental but must lead to action on our part.
(1 John 5:3; 4:19; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:7-9; Philippians 3:7,8; 4:13; Romans 8:28,31-39; Psalm 25:2; 31:15; 35:1-3; 146:3-6)
If we really trust God, then we need to appeal in prayer for His help.
Acts 4:23-31 – When Peter and John had been threatened by the Jewish council for preaching Jesus, they gathered with other Christians and prayed to God. They asked for strength to preach despite the threats. As a result, they preached the word with boldness.
1 Peter 5:7-9 – The devil is a roaring lion causing suffering to Christians. We must have faith to steadfastly resist him. In this context God urges us to cast our cares on Him for He cares for us.
Psalm 7:1 – O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me.
Those who trust God will turn to Him in time of persecution. He can give strength and boldness as He did for His servants throughout the Bible. Do we trust Him enough to pray as we should?
(Acts 12:5,12; 16:24,25; Ephesians 5:18; James 5:13)
Opposition is much harder to take when we can’t prove we are right. But if we understand and trust God’s word, we are much stronger.
Romans 10:17 – To resist persecution, we need strong faith, which comes by hearing God’s word. Those least likely to fall are those who have deep conviction based on the Scriptures.
1 Peter 3:14-16 – When we suffer for righteousness, we need not fear their threats. They may defame us and speak against our good conduct in Christ. But if we are always ready to give answer for our hope, then they may be ashamed. If we can defend our beliefs by the Bible, then it becomes clear that opponents are not really opposing us, but they are opposing God’s word!
Note that this should be done with meekness and fear. We should not act with self-righteous pride, simply trying to win an argument to prove we are right and put them down. We must love their souls, while hating their sinful deeds, so we sincerely try to persuade them to serve the Lord.
Matthew 4:1-11 – When Satan opposed Jesus, Jesus always appealed to God’s word: “It is written.” As a result He did not sin, and eventually the Devil had to leave.
The easiest targets for persecutors are people who have not been studying their Bibles, so they cannot give solid evidence for their position. When a person cannot prove his position, he faces uncertainty and is much more likely to surrender his position.
But the person least likely to be swayed by opposition is the person who:
(1) Is truly convinced he is right, and
(2) Knows why he believes as he does and can defend his position with evidence, and
(3) Expects opposition and has the answers ready to give when it comes.
Some Christians submit themselves unnecessarily to ridicule and temptation from people with whom they simply should not be closely associating. Others do not associate as closely as they should with Christians who can encourage them as they face persecution.
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Evil company corrupts good habits.
Proverbs 13:20 – He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.
Like Jesus, we may use our association with sinners to try to convert them. But if they resist our efforts to teach, ridicule our service to God, and try to persuade us to do wrong, then they become part of the persecution we are trying to avoid!
(Proverbs 5:8; 22:24,25; Genesis 39:10)
Whereas worldly people may ridicule and tempt us, Christians should help strengthen us.
Acts 4:23 – When Peter and John were persecuted, they went to their own companions (Christians) and prayed together.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 – Christians comfort one another in suffering. When others have faced the same problems we face, they can sympathize and give helpful advice. Unlike the world, they want us to do right and will help us, not hinder us.
Hebrews 10:23-25 – Hebrew Christians, facing opposition and persecution, were commanded not to forsake their assembling together. They needed to exhort and stir one another up to good works, so their hope would not waver.
When people of the world ridicule our stand for the truth and tempt us to sin, we need to back off from such relationships and strengthen our association with Christians. Above all, we should diligently attend whenever the church is meeting, so we can be encouraged to stay faithful.
James 5:10 – Take the prophets as an example of suffering and patience. Many servants of God were persecuted but endured faithfully. Their example warns us to expect persecution, but also shows that we can endure persecution successfully. (Matthew 5:10-12)
Consider some examples:
* Moses facing Pharaoh
* Elijah facing King Ahab and 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)
* Daniel thrown into the lion’s den for praying to God despite the law against it. (Daniel 6)
* Daniels’ three friends, when told by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship his image or be thrown into a fiery furnace, responded: “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17,18)
* 1 Samuel 17:45-47 –David facing Goliath said, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand… Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands.”
* Acts 5:29,40-42 – When the apostles were commanded by the Sanhedrin not to preach about Jesus, Peter said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” “… and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
* Acts 7:52,54-60 – On trial before the council, Stephen asked which of the prophets were not persecuted by the Jews. In the same way they had killed Jesus. They responded by killing Stephen. Yet he died faithfully, calling on God to forgive them and to receive his spirit.
* Acts 20:18-20,23,24 – The apostle Paul was persecuted nearly everywhere and often had to flee to save his life. Yet he continued to preach and did not compromise truth.
* Hebrews 11:35-12:4 – God’s faithful servants have suffered every imaginable persecution. They become a great cloud of witnesses urging us to run with patience the race before us. Jesus, who endured the cross and the opposition of enemies, especially becomes our example lest we become weary and discouraged.
When we are suffering, it is easy to think no one else ever had problems like we have. But when we know that other servants of God faced problems just as bad and often worse than we face but they endured faithfully, their example encourages us to stand firm.
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2:21-23; Acts 8:1-4)
Overcoming opposition requires strong motivation. One motivation that helps us serve God despite persecution is our love for God (already discussed). Another is our eternal reward.
Luke 6:22,23 – When men hate us, exclude us, and revile us, we can rejoice because we have a great reward in heaven. Persecution is never pleasant, but we can have a sense of joy throughout it because of the reward to which it leads.
Hebrews 10:32-34 – Hebrew Christians could joyfully endure tribulations and the plundering of their goods because they knew they had a better possession in heaven.
Revelation 2:10 – The Christians at Smyrna were facing tribulation and about to be cast into prison. Jesus promised that, if they were faithful until death, He would give them a crown of life.
One reason Christians fall away when they are persecuted is that they forget the reward. Instead of focusing on the immediate problem, we need to concentrate on the end result. No matter how much we suffer for the Lord, it will be worth it!
(2 Corinthians 4:16,17; 1 Peter 1:3-7; Romans 8:17,18; Matthew 10:28)
Suffering is never pleasant. That is why people do it to us. They are hoping we will become discouraged and forsake our stand, or at least that others will turn away from us and refuse to join us. If we give up or compromise the truth, then we have allowed them to succeed! Satan has won and we have lost.
While on earth, Jesus suffered more persecution than any of us ever will. He knows firsthand the problems involved. He has provided us the means to overcome and be faithful. It is not easy, but it is possible. But we must make use of the means He has provided.
Romans 8:31-39 – What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2019
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.