What good can possibly come from the persecution of Christians?
“Christian church burnt down and its pastor locked up!” That kind of headline easily catches our eye. Persecution, however, has many forms.
“Elly” lives in a large country in Asia that is hostile to Christianity. She is a landscape designer with the local government. Her boss would love to see her move up the career ladder. “There’s just one problem,” he tells Elly. “You need to join the ruling party and quit your religion.” It’s never going to happen because she’s not going to compromise. Elly has hit the glass ceiling because of her faith.
Around the world, Christians are all too often victims of discrimination, beatings, and imprisonment. Yearly, thousands even face death. Persecution can also be felt as strong societal pressure against Christians. Those who speak up for Christian family and gender values are decried as oppressive. When speaking of forgiveness, Christians are accused of enabling oppressors. Loving enemies is denounced as heresy.
Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).
There are times when Elly must have thought, Really, Jesus? There are times we may wonder the same thing. How can we be blessed when we are persecuted?
No godly life lacks persecution
Persecution is when trouble becomes personal because we follow Jesus. One organization that researches this problem reports that one in seven Christians worldwide suffer extreme persecution.* That may be so, but Jesus says all who follow him should expect persecution. “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22).
Jesus warned us, “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). Few call us a “prince of the devil” today. But being unjustly labeled as “bigot,” “-phobic,” or just plain “fool” can wound us deeply.
God’s people have always faced persecution. “They persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). When Paul wrote, he spoke from personal experience: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). God allowed Paul to be jailed, beaten, and shipwrecked numerous times. Finally, it was thought he was martyred in Rome. Paul, however, realized his suffering was not even worth mentioning compared to the glory he knew awaited him (Romans 8:18). That hope of future glory gives us a heavenly perspective on the temporary persecution we face on earth. It will all be worth it!
It loosens our grip on the world
As a missionary I had the privilege of sharing the gospel in Asia. I loved my work and the local people. Yet as kind as most people were, I never totally fit into the local culture. I would always be a little uncomfortable in a room of four hundred people where I was the only Anglo. My adopted culture, as amazing as it was, could never make me feel completely at home. When I returned to the United States, I was in for another surprise. My own culture was no longer a good fit! Looking back, I am thankful for the experience. It refocused my spiritual eyes on my real heavenly home.
Persecution reminds us that this world isn’t our home. It keeps us from falling too much in love with this world. It helps us experience what that old hymn says: “I’m but a stranger here, heav’n is my home” (Christian Worship 853:1). Wherever we call home on earth, it cannot give us what God has already given us in Jesus.
A pastor in a country not friendly to Christianity was imprisoned for 20 years. US visitors asked him what he had learned. “In America,” he said, “I hear the church has experienced prosperity but is growing weaker. In our country, the church has experienced persecution and is growing stronger. Persecution is much better than prosperity.” Prosperity has a way of getting a grip on us. God uses persecution to help loosen the world’s grip on us.
None of us should pray to be persecuted. Nevertheless, when it comes, we know that God uses earthly persecution to produce heavenly results. “We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2-5). Persecution empties. God fills.
It strengthens God’s grip on us
In our weakness, we’re tempted to follow Jesus for the good things he gives—a comfortable lifestyle, a healthy family, and a good reputation. Persecution threatens and may even remove some of those good things. It helps us see that Jesus is all the good we need. This kind of faith is a powerful testimony to the world around us. Christians follow Jesus even when their livelihood or their very lives are at stake.
During severe crackdowns on Christianity, persecution often pushes the church “underground.” Its activities are less visible, but God’s people are still active. They discover that no political power can keep them from worshiping Jesus. The Word is still powerful. The Holy Spirit is still active. Persecution, though painful, makes room for the seed of the gospel to grow more deeply into our hearts.
We trust in Jesus, whom Isaiah describes as a “man of suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus suffered the most unjust persecution of all. Rejected for supposedly being associated with the “prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34), the perfect Son of God was nailed to the cross like a common criminal. Punished for us, he died as payment for the sin of the persecutors and the persecuted. “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Now we follow our risen and reigning Savior. As he forgave his captors, so we forgive all who persecute us.
Prosperity has a way of getting a grip on us. God uses persecution to help loosen the world’s grip on us.
There’s one thing we can count on. No persecution comes without the ample provision and abundant promises of God. “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).
So what about that pastor in prison for his faith? He is busy sharing the gospel with his captors. And our friend Elly? She doesn’t spend her time complaining or scheming to get even. “I’ll take what God gives me,” she says. “I’ll do it willingly and joyfully.” She truly is blessed! This is God in action.
The world may be persecuting us. Our gracious God is pursuing us. We are blessed! He’s using persecution to remind us that he is our everything. He’s drawing us into a deeper relationship with the one who “for the joy set before him . . . endured the cross. . . . Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2,3).
Author: Robert Siirila
Volume 110, Number 06
Issue: June 2023
- Please explain: How is church discipline a loving practice of the church?
- Please explain: Can a Bible verse be overused or used at an inappropriate time or setting?
- Please explain: What can I do when my relationship with Jesus causes family problems?
- Please explain: What good can possibly come from the persecution of Christians?
- Please explain: What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of a Christian?
- Please explain: What does it mean that Jesus’ enemies would become a footstool for his feet?
- Please explain: What do people mean when they say that they have been “born again”?
- Please explain: What does it mean that Christians are priests before God?
- Please explain: If I have been baptized, does that mean I have been anointed?
- Please explain: Can Christians be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good?
- Please explain: The world is a mess. Why doesn’t Jesus do something about it?
- Please explain: Why is Holy Communion so important to confessional Lutherans?
- Please explain: What does it mean to give up everything to follow Jesus?
- Please explain: If I worry, am I doubting God?
- Please explain: What is the point of praying?
- Please explain: Where do we get the idea of the Trinity when that word isn’t mentioned in the Bible?
- Please explain: If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, how can he also be the Lamb of God?
- Please explain: What’s the big deal about Easter?
- Please explain: Why should we love our enemies?
- Please explain: Why did Jesus do miracles?
- Please explain: As a Christian, what does it mean to be humble?
- Please explain: What does it mean to have your name written in God’s book?
- Please explain: Is God’s design for marriage relevant in today’s world?
- Please explain: Does God favor certain people?
- Please explain: Why do I so often fail to do what God wants?
- Please explain: Why is the church always talking about money?
- Please explain: How does God’s kingdom grow?
- Please explain: Why are only Christians’ works good, but the same works by others are not?
- Please explain: How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead?
- Please explain: If the Sabbath law no longer applies, why do I have to go to church?
- Please explain: Why did God cruelly command Abraham to sacrifice his son?
- Please explain: Does Christian freedom give me the right to do anything?
- Please explain: Is heaven going to be boring?
- Please explain: Why is Jesus taking so long to return?
- Please explain: Why did Jesus use parables to teach?
- Please explain: Does Jesus build his church on Peter and his successors?
- Please explain: How can I be a Christian when there are so many hypocrites in the church?
- Please explain: Why should I be a Christian when I have to suffer?
- Please explain: How do I know whom to believe now that Jesus is gone?
- Please explain: How can Jesus be our friend if he isn’t physically here on earth?
- Please explain: Why can’t my sister have communion with us?
- Please explain: Whom do we blame for bad things?
- Please explain: Are sins of thought as bad as committing the actual sin?
- Please explain: What makes God unique?