Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. - 1Peter 3: 13-17 (ESV)
In the wake of the Kim Davis story in Kentucky, which followed the Oregon baker story there has been much abuzz in the Christosphere regarding persecution. Mind you these are not stories of persecution but rather what passes for persecution in the country with the greatest latitude for individual religious freedom in the world. If Christians want to see what persecution really looks like we ought to cast our gaze towards our Christian brethren in the Middle East. There it is routine daily for Christians to face death for not renouncing Christ. I can only imagine what a man facing beheading must think when he sees the whiny, petulant voice of American Christianity crying "persecution" for being asked to bake a cake or sign a secular marriage license. Compounding these problems is that it also appears that we are woefully ignorant about what the Bible actually says about the coming persecution. Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, the American church draws its sword in anger, having learned nothing about the actual cause of Christ.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. - 2Peter 3: 0-10 (ESV)
The actual cause of Christ is His Gospel. It is that God desires all to come to repentance. We live in the age of grace. There will come a time when the grace of God will run out and He will return to judge what is His alone to judge. That day will come unannounced, like a thief in the night. The works we all have done - as well as the motives for those works - will be exposed. Now is not the time to be drawing swords to cut off the ears of those who still have a chance to receive the grace we now enjoy. With this as the backdrop, let us turn our eyes to Scripture to see what we should know about persecution. For starters, persecution is a blessing:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5: 10 (ESV)
"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! - Luke 6: 22 (ESV)
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, - 1Peter 3: 14 (ESV)
The Bible says that all who seek to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. So we should not be surprised when it comes. More importantly, we need to change how we look at it. We are blessed to be able to suffer for the namesake of Jesus Christ! I know this is a teaching you will not hear anymore in the seeker-friendly churches in this country. Who wants to hear that we must suffer for our faith? I will tell you who. People who are looking forward to eternity instead of people whose eyes are fixed on the carnal things of this world. Instead of pilgrims and sojourners in this world we have become happy residents. Playing church within the framework the devil has set up. The result is we love this world. We love the sin it offers up. We love the excess it grants us. We worship preachers who live lavish, carnal lifestyles just to prove the point. Sure we cover it up with self-serving piety but in the end if this is our best life now then by definition we are going to hell. That is why we see so many getting upset by the state insistence that its employees enforce the laws it has passed. Not because it offends our Christianity but that it threatens our carnality. It threatens the status quo we have set up like the Pharisees before us. We like the worldly church we have set up. We like that the state gives us tax exempt status and the ability to claim our support of ministry as deductions on our returns. We slide into bed with Rome and then act aghast when Rome place secular demands upon us. Eventually we will have to make a choice beloved. Rome or Jesus. The Gospel or the Constitution. Our heavenly citizenship or our earthly one. Being set apart or clinging to our 501C3 status. Real persecution is on its way. There is a famous line from a movie once where the lead actor asks, "You had better decide whether you're hanging on the cross or banging in the nails." Do not be surprised beloved that when the persecution comes that a great many of those that claim the cause of Christ will be the ones banging in the nails. Because they view persecution from a worldly point of view and will do anything to protect their sinful status quo. In the Book of Acts we see the apostles released after being beaten for preaching Christ. Here was their reaction:
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. - Acts 5: 40-42 (ESV)
They left rejoicing! They did not run to the Liberty Counsel to have their grievances play out in the courts of public opinion as the victim. They did not seek retribution. They did not cry persecution. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus Christ. Oh that we would be able to do the same! Blessed when people hate us, revile us and spurn us! Blessed when we suffer and are persecuted for righteousness' sake! Now that we know persecution is coming and that we ought to count it joy, we need to see what is the counsel of God regarding it. There are several verse sets to consider. Let us start with the words of our Lord and Savior:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5: 43-48 (ESV)
Before Jesus came we lived in a retributive society. The world still does live by this code no matter how "evolved" they pretend to be. We slaughter each other in droves over minutia. Jesus however changed the perspective to an eternal mindset. Instead of the eye for an eye mentality we saw this teaching. Pray for those who persecute you. It is easy to love the lovable. Jesus however raises the bar on how we ought to treat each other. If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. If they ask for something, give them more than they asked for. We continually play down to the level of the unsaved. We give as we get. If they slap us, we slap them back or even worse. If they pass laws that contradict our beliefs we take the thumb of our perceived morality and jam it into their collective eyes. Then we wrap ourselves up in the Bible and pretend that somehow we were merely supporting the cause of Christ. We have love only for those who love us. Everyone else we seem to hold in utter contempt. Sure we will say we love them but our actions speak much louder than our pious words. The hypocrisy is not lost on the world and it pushes them further away from the Savior they so desperately need. When Paul wrote to his protege Timothy we saw him address persecutions as well.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra--which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whomyou learned itand how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of Godmay be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2Timothy 3: 10-17 (ESV)
Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, flogged and stoned. None of it warranted. None of it "fair." Yet despite these persecutions we see no record of seeking retribution. We see no record of taking a stance against the persecution. Instead we see that he endured his persecutions. Beloved we live in an age of greater deception than Paul. Evil people and imposters will go on deceiving and being deceived themselves. What does Paul instruct Timothy here to do? Does he tell him to fight carnality with carnality? Does he tell him to fight for this present darkness? To force his beliefs down the throats of people who think the things of God are utter foolishness? No beloved. He instructs him to continue in his learning of the Word of God. Only in that can he be prepared for every good work. Do not focus on the world that is passing away. Focus on the God who holds tomorrow in the hollow of His hand. After all, who do we trust?
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. - 1Peter 4: 19 (ESV)
We have recreated Jesus in the image of worldly love. A sugar coated fairy tale that just wants to coddle us and give us a wink and a nod when it comes to our own wickedness. So emasculated have we made Him that when we see people in the world sinning we apparently think He needs help in punishing them. Like James and John, we want to call fire down from the heavens to consume them for daring to reject our God. But those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to their faithful Creator. Not only that but they do so while continuing to do good in the face of persecutions. When Stephen was being stoned to death he did not cry out for God to judge his murderers. He did not hurl Leviticus verses at them like hand grenades. No. He asked God to not hold this sin against them. When we are faced with worldly sin that affects us far less personally then this, we not only want God to hold it against them but we seem to want to help Him hold it against them. We draw our swords and act as if Jesus has asked us to fight when the reality is He has instructed us to do the opposite: