Persecuted for His Name Part 2
Christians can be persecuted for not only sharing the truth of Jesus Christ which is rejected by the world, but also for living a holy life. A couple of weeks ago when I wrote about modesty I remembered so many instances when as a child I attended the Roman Catholic church in Iraq where “Christian” women would ridicule a modest woman behind her back saying things such as, “Why is she wearing this? Is she this poor?”, or, “My goodness she has no sense of style!”, or, “She looks so ugly and old wearing this!”, or, “Didn’t she wear this outfit last time?”
As the above example shows: often times Christians are persecuted by other “Christians”. My youngest uncle’s wife was born in Egypt to a Christian Coptic Orthodox family. In her second year of medical school she met some born-again youth, and soon after she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She says she was so happy she found Jesus that she was singing worship songs and dancing for the Lord all day long in her room. Her family did not like that because who is this Jesus that you love so much and worship Him all day long? The Jesus they knew gets few traditional religious songs on holidays and that is it, and they definitely did not dance for Him! To make her lose her new found love for Jesus they locked her up in her bedroom for months so she would not meet those born-again friends of hers. She was not allowed to go anywhere, and so she was unregistered from the medical school (she never graduated). But that did not stop her from worshiping the Lord in her room. Her persecution reached the point where her mother tried to kill her three times.
If you live for our Lord Jesus Christ then you will suffer loss in one way or another. Your suffering might exhibit itself through you being ridiculed, misunderstood, rejected, unfairly criticized, being hated, missing a promotion you deserve, the loss of someone you love, physical harm, or even death. But God tells us in Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Persecution is not something you plan for or can avoid; it will definitely happen if you live for God. The Bible actually promises persecution for us! Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” There are so many verses that deal with persecution but I will just quote few:
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:20)
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9)
Our heavenly Father can use persecution for His own purpose, for example to conform us to the character of His Son, Jesus Christ. When the first church was persecuted everyone was scattered, which means the truth about Jesus Christ was spread as well:
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1)
I personally believe that persecution should be taught as part of the Christian life when bringing someone to Christ. I dislike it when someone goes to unbelievers and tells them, “God has a wonderful plan for your life”, to bring them to Christ. I do not disagree that God has a great plan for every person, but I disagree with what the word ‘great’ implies. To a worldly person “a wonderful plan” means: health, happiness, comfort and wealth in this world. But to God “a wonderful plan” means: an obedient life regardless of the outcome (“wonderful” or not), and a glorious place in heaven. That is why it is so important to explain to someone coming to Christ that salvation is not a free ticket to heaven, but a lifelong commitment to the Lord showing love and gratitude toward the Lord for saving us.
You know our lives can be divided as: before Christ, accepting Christ, after Christ, and with Christ (eternal life). But so much of evangelism nowadays skips the ‘after Christ’ stage. But it is in this period that we get persecuted, and it is what we do in this period determines our place in heaven.
We are so scared of turning people away from Christianity, and we are so focused on meaningless numbers (such as how many people prayed the “sinners prayer”, and how much the church attendance has increased) that we almost never talk about persecution. If we are to follow the example of our Lord then we should warn new comers to Christ about persecution, and not be concerned with numbers.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
And it says in Matthew 16:24-25:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’”
Of course, we have to be wise and avoid being harmed if possible because our Lord said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) But if living a holy life and spreading the good news of the gospel means we will be persecuted then we should embrace our suffering. I actually believe persecution is a good indicator of our commitment to the Lord and usefulness for the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, I would like to talk about miracles. Before we go ahead and claim this promise and claim that miracle from the Bible it is important to understand the contest of those promises and miracles. For example, I cannot claim the promise God had given king David that the Messiah—Jesus Christ—will be from his descendants. Nor can I claim the promise God had given Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. It is very important when reading the Bible to understand that the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is about Jesus Christ. Sometimes women say, “Just like God healed Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel I believe He will heal me and I will bear children.” But you have to understand that God’s goal of healing Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel was to bring about the nation of Israel– where the commandments of God are taught so that people understand the need for a savior–from which the Christ, the Savior of the world, will come.
I am not saying that God cannot or will not heal you, and I am not saying this to discourage you. I am saying those things so you will not become delusional with your faith when the miracle you asked for will not happen and you will not understand why it did not. I remember few years ago I prayed earnestly to God to heal me from trichotillomania, and after I finished praying I opened the Bible to 2 Kings 20 and started reading verse 5, “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you…” I was so happy and elated that I will be healed, but now—many years later—I realize that I just coincidentally read a verse and believed it was a personal message from God to me because I still have trichotillomania.
God certainly still heals, and we know for sure He is more than capable to do any healing or miracle He desires to do. Our Lord Himself said in John 14:12-14, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” But if we are to ask of Him anything our asking should be because we are His children and He is a good and loving Father. We should ask because He told us to ask, and not because He did it for someone else then He has to do it for us, or because He promised it to someone else then we can claim it for ourselves! The Bible says in many instances of healing that our Lord had compassion on the person and therefore healed him/her. We should ask because we have a personal relationship with the Father through the Son, and not because we are making God a good deal by saying things like: if you heal me then I will do this!
Another thing is that you cannot do is interpret Isaiah 53:5 as meaning He will heal us physically.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
This verse talks about healing from our sinful nature that has separated us from the Father. If this verse was meaning physical healing then our Lord would not had been able to heal in His ministry years—before the crucifixion–because He was not crushed for our iniquities yet.
One thing is for sure: you cannot say that person is living in disobedience and that is why he or she is sick, or he or she is not being healed physically. Just like you cannot say this person is living in obedience and that is why he or she has financial wealth. Another thing is for sure: we are promised to be persecuted if we deny ourselves and follow Him. As an obedient child you can only ask and trust that whatever the outcomes in your life are that your heavenly Father loves you, knows best, and whatever He is doing is for your best. (Romans 8:28)
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)