On a typical Sunday morning in the United States, as we ease into our comfortable pews if someone were to ask us, “Are you comfortable?” Our response may be about the pew or the temperature level in the church. While in other places of the world “comfortable” is not a consideration in their Christianity. They may have looked over their shoulder as they turned down the street leading to the gathering of the saints. The cramped quarters or the temperature level is the least of their concerns.
Persecution in the West is relegated to the Book of Acts or to some Facebook post of a persecuted people in a far-off pitiful place. It is real–too real to be ignored. People are still being killed and imprisoned solely because they are Christian. Churches are still being destroyed and properties confiscated for no other reason than hatred of Christians and their Savior Jesus Christ. By the way, our Lord whom we worship is described as the “Lamb that was slain.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:10 NKJV).
No one in their right mind wants to be persecuted. Maybe someone with an unhealthy desire to be a victim or some ill-fated desire to be a famous hero would desire persecution. Though not desired, we must be concerned and even readied for it. Listen to Paul’s instruction to Titus, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV).
All that being said, the early apostles rejoiced in their persecutions, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41 NKJV).
So here are some levels of persecution to consider. They are in a progressive order from the mild to the most severe. I am sure in many countries there is a mixture of all that are at work. This is also not a conclusive list as there are other forms of persecution but these will give us a frame of reference.
Levels of Persecution
Ridicule: Persecution comes about in different degrees. The precursor to actual persecution is venomous disagreement, mockery, and ridicule where Christians are disparaged as dumb cultist and Christ is blasphemed.
Marginalization: Perhaps the first level is when Christians are marginalized in society. This has begun to a degree in the United States and is worsening. Our universities and colleges are overwhelming staffed with secular, left-leaning professors who are indoctrinating young minds with un-biblical ideas. Positions of power and influence are being gained more and more by those who have been steered away from Christian influence. Little by little, Christians are relegated to the margins of society having their voice diminished in the public discourse.
Unjust Treatment: This level of persecution happens as Christians are unjustly treated with little recourse. Government entities whose responsibility is to treat people fairly, look the other way as the rights of Christians are violated. I personally know Christians in an “un-named country” where they often have difficulty finding a place to rent because they are Christian. In some countries, Christians may be overlooked for employment and promotion simply because of their religion.
Physical Imprisonment and Assault: Then the next level of persecution is when Christians are jailed on trumped up charges and their personal assets are seized. This persecution is in an environment where churches are burned, corporate worship is banned, and Christian leaders are physically assaulted.
Martyrdom: The ultimate persecution is martyrdom where Christians are killed for their faith in Christ.
Tyrants rule by fear. When a man or woman loves Christ more than their own life, the tip of the spear of the tyrant is dulled. The Bible say that “perfect love casts out fear”, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NKJV).
As Christians, what is our response?
Jesus was not surprised by persecution; he predicted it. Some who sit at “ease in Zion” would like to ignore the possibility of persecution and even ignore the present situation in other lands. Persecution is ongoing in horrific degrees in other places. It is uncomfortable to listen to the stories and to imagine the pain. Don’t be surprised by persecution’s encroachment and the slow slide into its deceptive jaws.
Strengthen Yourself in the Lord: We ready ourselves spiritually for any spiritual battle we may face. Through prayer and the study of God’s Word, we fortify our spiritual lives by growing in spiritual strength and maturity. We surrender to the Lordship of Christ and become saturated and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Evangelize and Disciple: As Christians, we focus and do the most important things which are evangelization of the lost and discipleship of the saved. These seem almost like clichés in the church, but they are the mandates from Christ. These two responsibilities are the most important ways we influence a culture and change the world. They seem too simplistic but this is how the Apostle Paul “turned the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6).
Plant Yourself in a Church: It is important to be grounded in a local body of believers. The accountability and support of a church is so important. The Bible says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV). It is important to buy a life preserver before you are shipwrecked. You build Christian relationships before you have trouble so your brothers and sisters can help you. There are to be no lone-rangers in the Kingdom of God. If you have not been there for others, they will not be there for you. Those who will come to your side in trouble, are those you stood beside in fellowship.
Be a Voice and a Light: We sandbag the levees against the coming storm. We make our voices heard against the current of anti-Christian rhetoric. We live out the life of Christ in our communities so others will see our good works as Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NKJV).
Identify with the Persecuted: Before it comes to us, we must identify with those who are already being persecuted. “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3 NKJV). We pray for them and support them as we can.
Be a Lion by Being a Lamb: When persecution hits, you pray for your persecutors. You continue to love, while others hate. You bear up under the pressure through the power of the Holy Spirit. You keep being Jesus to others by your love and commitment to Christ. You look beyond your troubles to the glory that awaits you. You persevere by the strength of God.
Live Strong, Die Brave: If it is your lot, you die gallantly as a soldier of the cross. Perhaps we die as we have lived in Christ.
Jesus said the world would hate us just as it hated Him. Persecution is a real thing even today in many parts of the world. Who knows but God, what may be around our corner. We need to pray for and love our enemies. We need to be Jesus to this dark and broken world. Live strong in Christ!
“(10) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV).
“(18) If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. (19) If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (20) Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20 NKJV).
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt