My life (put) alongside God's word. Suffering and response section.
Even though the handbook for the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says that there is no universal definition of persecution, my study dictionary defines “to persecute” as: “to oppress, harass or maltreat, especially because of religion or race.” Persecution is often systematic and carried out by one group against another, possibly including some of my readers as victims – if not now, then in the near future.
The word Jesus used
The New Testament word for “persecution” (Gk. dioko)
means, according to W.E.Vine, “to put to flight; to drive away.” From the same root we get our English word “to pursue.” Notice what happens when we put the dictionary definitions into our Lord Jesus Christ’s first teaching on the subject, “Blessed are those who are (put to flight, driven away, oppressed, harassed, maltreated) because of righteousness, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven”, Matthew 5:10. And, let us be sure to notice the phrase, “because of righteousness.” If someone brings difficulties on himself by his own irresponsible behaviour, whether by simple lack of consideration for others or by deliberate efforts, what happens to him is hardly persecution. The consequences of his actions are simply his fault. Persecution is totally different.
Let me tell you what persecution is by using examples of people I have known and ministered with personally in Sudan. Kaboogi was killed by a spear in his back while
sharing the gospel with his neighbours. Somaia jumped to her death rather than be raped by two friends her brother brought home, threatened because she had left her family’s Muslim religion to follow her own Lord Jesus Christ. Aasia was kicked out of her home and cut off from her family when she became a Christian. She was given absolutely
nothing to live on and had nowhere to go. Nahoum was hit by a flying rock that cracked his skull as he travelled from one village to another, witnessing for his Lord Jesus Christ.
I could go on. These people, and many more, know what it is to be “blessed” by persecution.
Why did our Lord Jesus say “Blessed”?
Using Vine’s Dictionary we see that word “blessed” (Gk. makarios) strictly means “honoured and glorified.” We might say today “deeply happy and internally content.” Our
Lord Jesus Christ, having promised this inner satisfaction to His disciples, immediately went on to say that all people who would follow Him should know that earthly
persecution brings great heavenly reward – so abundantly great (Gk. polus) that we really should “rejoice and be glad” even when facing such horrible hostilities, Matthew 5:10-12. Abundance on earth is not a Christian promise. So you need to discipline yourself to keep uppermost in your heart and mind that this life, today, is not all there is.
A different level of persecution
As I write, my old church in Khartoum has had its congregation cut by 80% as work permits are revoked for
Christian expatriates. After being called in to Government
security offices, people have been given just 48 hours to
leave the country. National workers who have helped lead the ministries serving local needs are being beaten up and otherwise mistreated. They are likely to suffer worse persecution once their colleagues have gone safely home to other countries.
Of course, no earthly opposition can affect the Christian’s heavenly compensation. The reward (Gk. misthos), literally meaning “wages,” which comes later when we are in the
Lord’s presence, ought to be motivation for standing firm and struggling on every day against any form of persecution. Both the Bible and Christian history record examples of people who suffered but stood firm for the Lord Jesus Christ.
More types of persecution
Changing laws in Western countries, such as the legal acceptance of immorality and the banning of Biblical displays such as wearing crosses in public places, are often viewed by Christians as persecution. These believers will surely suffer more as they stand up against the erosion of their Christian heritage.
Having lived under Islamic Sharia law for four years, I have seen church buildings demolished, met people with mutilated limbs, and students, especially women, unable to get their deserved grades in university exams – thereby suffering severe loss of career choice. Because I am a Christian, I have personally experienced barriers, delays and hindrances from Government authorities. But, in fairness, I have also been the recipient of some beautiful acts of kindness and generosity from individual Muslims while authorities harshly persecuted my fellow believers.
Responding Christianly To Persecution
From God’s Word, the Bible, believers are given
instructions as to how they should react when they are being persecuted. Seven of them are:
1. Our Lord Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad”, Matthew 5:12. The word “glad” (Gk. agalliao) means “to exult greatly, to feel or express great joy and happiness.” I know this is tough when your own Government is using an airplane to bomb you every day, (26 bombs
one day in May 2014, on the Nuba Mountains at a location where there were no military around for 50kms., I was told by a friend who was there), but Jesus commands us to be joyful because He knows the benefits of looking toward the heavenly benefits rather than the earthly losses.
2. The Lord also said, “Pray for those who persecute you”, Matthew 5:44. Deal with your enemies the same way God dealt with us when we were His enemies. He had a plan to win us back to Himself and He paid a heavy price to bring it into fruition. The context tells us this is the way to act like God the Father, and in so doing, to perfect our Christianity, Matthew 5:43-48.
3. He also said, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another”,
Matthew 10:23. There is nothing wrong with running away. God has used this to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, Acts 8:1 and Acts 11:19. Running away from persecution speeded up the translation of the Bible in some parts of Africa. Population movements brought many native speakers nearer to the big cities – and so to the linguistic teams who could more easily study their various unwritten languages and then translate the
Scriptures. God will always succeed!
4. The Lord Jesus told His followers: “Keep in mind that it (the world) hated me first.” “Remember the words I spoke to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me they will persecute you also”, John 15:18,20. Our minds are very
important. What we regularly think will determine if we stand or fall as Christians. Considering the Lord Jesus, especially in His suffering and death, will help us bear our persecution. Physically, He suffered horribly. Spiritually, His holy body was made sin for
us and for our salvation, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
5. Our Lord also said to Saul, who was violently destroying the new Christian movement, “Why do you persecute me?” Acts 9:4-5. Any persecution of Christians is a persecution of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are His body. He knows our
persecution – He feels it with us. He can and will intervene, if and when and how He chooses, in His sovereign, all-knowing and all-powerful way.
6. Following his conversion to Christianity, Paul wrote: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”, Romans 12:14. Another definition of “to bless” is “to call upon God to protect”. I am sure this is the Holy Spirit’s thought here as Paul works out
what his new Master said about praying for persecutors.
7. The apostle also wrote, “For Christ’s sake I delight in … persecutions”, 2 Corinthians 12:10. “Delight” (Gk. eudokia) shows a deep, underlying pleasure – something unaffected by daily events. Through years of sacrificial ministry Paul had learned that God and the world in which we live view weakness and strength very differently. God’s power is
displayed clearly through those who have no power of their own.
Putting these seven instructions together I suggest that we should respond Christianly to being persecuted by doing at least five things:
1. Cultivate a heart joyfully focused on heaven.
2. Pray that God would change the hearts of our tormentors
while there is time for them to repent and be saved.
3. Scatter to share the gospel – if possible where it is
4. Remember it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who is being
persecuted. We are to bear His cross. Thank Him
that He has shown us the way.
5. Enjoy the unshakable knowledge that our weakness gives
God opportunity to show His great power.
For the Christian, it does not matter what the UNHCR can or cannot define. Our Lord Jesus Christ said we can know that we are citizens of His eternal kingdom when we are
persecuted on this earth for the sake of living righteously.
Stand fast in the Lord!
1. What challenges does 1 Peter 2:18-21 bring to those suffering persecution?
List as many as you can.
2. How do you practically “look toward the heavenly benefits rather than the earthly losses”? See end of point 1 in the chapter.
3. Which of the five suggested responses above is the most difficult?
How can we help one another to do what is right in God’s sight?