Will the day come when government attempts to shut down our Bible study and worship services? Looking back at history, particularly the books of Acts and Revelation, we know this can occur. Certainly, the current environment in our society reveals a trend toward greater intolerance of the biblical worldview. We are growing more secular and more sensual as a nation. Public symbols of Christian religion are disappearing from the public square, while public expressions of Christian religion have long since disappeared from public education. That said, we do not do service to Christ by manufacturing problems where they do not exist.
Isn’t it interesting that back when Christians were experiencing mistreatment, the Holy Spirit guided men and women to have a different attitude than that of a victim. From a prison cell he would never leave alive simply because he was preaching Christ, Paul sought to bolster a young preacher’s faith by saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according tot he power of God” (2 Tim. 1:7-8). When Peter and John were beaten for their faith, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). When they were mistreated and released earlier in this episode, the church gathered to worship and pray (Acts 4:24ff). Peter urged readiness (1 Pet. 3:15). John urged faithfulness (Rev. 2:10). Stephen showed endurance, boldness, and compassion as he became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7).
It is an incongruous idea to imagine the early Christians wasting precious time organizing email campaigns, seeking to draw sympathy from the media, picketing, and playing the victim. Instead, driven by their living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), they committed their lives to Jesus while they spent their days trying to spread the good news of Christ (Acts 8:4; Col. 1:23). Even as Christians were martyred (Stephen, James, those assaulted by Saul of Tarsus’ efforts, and those during the time of the book of Revelation and shortly thereafter), there is no hint of any of them roaming around with a martyr complex. Let us emulate their great example!
The ISIS beheadings so frequently in the news and readily available on the internet are terrifying to behold and consider. If terrorism is, as the Mac Dictionary defines it, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” such would be terrorist activity. The latest spectacle, involving 21 “Coptic Christians” (Egyptian Orthodox religion), seems to show the Islamic State organization is eager to isolate and persecute those seeking to follow Christ.
Do you ever wonder if there will come a day where New Testament Christians in this country may face the threat of death for standing up for Christ? It has certainly happened to God’s people in the past, especially when the church was first established. We read about the persecution that started with Stephen then extended to the saints at Jerusalem in the book of Acts. We read of individuals like Paul, who suffered for Christ on many occasions (2 Cor. 11). Then, there are the statements made to encourage Christians who might be rattled or scared at the prospect of such treatment. Twice, writing the Thessalonians, Paul was concerned they would be disturbed by trouble (1 Th. 3:3; 2 Th. 2:2). He wrote about how persecution was, at times, inevitable (Ph. 1:29; 1 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pt. 3:14). Of course, Christ showed us His way includes suffering (1 Pt. 2:21ff).
The Bible also gives us great encouragement in the face of the disturbing prospect of suffering for our faith. Consider a few highlights:
- We can rejoice if counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41).
- Those who suffer with Him will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
- Suffering can give one a clearer perspective and priority (Phil. 3:8).
- Suffering is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we’ll be counted worthy of His Kingdom (2 Th. 1:5).
- It finds favor with God if we are faithful through our sufferings (1 Pt. 2:19).
- It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong (1 Pt. 4:17).
- We can entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pt. 4:19).
- The God of all grace will comfort those who suffer (1 Pt. 5:10).
I don’t think any of us relish or welcome the thought of suffering under any circumstances. Yet, God has communicated these truths to us to help us decide in these potential trials. Perhaps it will help us be less disturbed and more determined to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).