Monday, June 12, 2017

A Persecution Check Up

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim 3:12

It’s a common theme in scripture stories that those who are the heroes of the faith go through hard times because of their choices to do what God says is right. Joseph relayed dreams God gave and his brothers’ let their jealousy and hatred result in selling him into slavery. Later, when he refused to sleep with his master’s wife, she got him thrown in prison.

Moses was mocked by Pharaoh and disbelieved by the Israelites when he came at God’s command to deliver the people. Later, the same people would repeatedly rebel against his leadership.

David would not kill Saul when he had a chance and had to stay on the run. A city David rescued turned on him and would have betrayed him if he hadn’t escaped.

Daniel wouldn’t stop praying and found himself in a lions’ den. Jeremiah wouldn’t stop prophesying God’s judgment and, in turn, was thrown in a cistern and later carried off against his will to Egypt by his own people, where he died.

In the New Testament, we are not surprised that the scriptures that reveal a Savior who was wrongly tried, convicted, and executed would continue the theme. Peter was repeatedly jailed and eventually martyred. Paul’s list of hardships at the hands of Jewish people in almost every city he visited included being arrested, beaten with rods, put in prison, and stoned with rocks until they thought he was dead. James was beheaded, and John was exiled. Tradition tells us that all the apostles were martyred except John. Stephen was killed because of his strong faith and a sermon that correctly diagnosed Israel’s chronic unbelief.

We might somehow miss the lessons the stories might be trying to tell other followers of Jesus, and so there are a number of pointed statements to let us know that these people were not exceptions but examples. The scripture above is perhaps the most succinct and pointed.  It isn’t saying that you might pay a price for godliness, but you will.

Are you paying any price? Have you?

Maybe you are and it’s obvious. Co-workers mock you, and the more you show a forgiving spirit and a prayerful attitude, the more they laugh. Some of you may have lost a job, an opportunity, a court case, an award, and it is directly attributable to unbelievers not liking what you say and do. These aren’t made up circumstances—I know people who have experienced all these and more.

Maybe you are and it’s not obvious. The realm of spiritual warfare goes far beyond the active oppression of other people. You may be oppressed in spirit, or finding yourself in a great season of temptation. The forces of evil, your true enemies, may be at work behind the scenes in events or circumstances that bring pain into your life. God does his work in us so that all things are his tools to bring about his glory and our good (Romans 8:28), but that was true for Job also, and we know that his “persecution” was from Satan himself.

If you are being persecuted, the Bible gives us some fairly straightforward words of instruction.

We are to rejoice, because this is a confirmation of our “blessed” state as a true child of God. You should count yourself as one who can stand in the same company as the prophets and others I mentioned earlier (check out the Beatitutes—Matthew 5:1-12 –for a good reminder of this).

We are to pray for the people who may be persecuting us (Matthew 5:44), asking God to use our testimony and our non-resistance as a means of showing them the truth and bringing them to repentance.

We may, if we are trying to fulfill God’s calling, need to leave (the Bible says “flee”) a place of resistance and persecution to go to another place where they will receive us and we can serve (Matthew 10:23). This was Jesus’ word about the mission of the disciples to Israel until he comes, and it may especially fit for missionaries and preachers who find a hostile audience—they may need to go where the hearers are more receptive.

Maybe you aren’t being persecuted. You need to ask yourself why.

Perhaps you have been, have come through it, but you are in a moment of respite. Praise God for that. The Bible doesn’t say it’s going to be persecution 24/7 for everyone. We should always thank God when there is a time of rest, of refreshment, and of renewal. But get ready. True and lasting rest only comes in Christ’s presence, not here on earth.

Maybe persecution came to you after an initial excitement about trusting Jesus, and caused you to retreat from any total commitment to pursuing Christ. You’ve settled for an “under the radar” faith. Watch out; you may be one of those for whom persecution is about to kill the seed of faith. The parable of the seed, sower, and soils (see Mark 4:16-17) is a special warning for you.

You might be the kind of person who can see when trouble is coming, and you find any way you can to avoid it. If people are going to mock your faith, you don’t talk about it. If everyone else is cheating, you don’t say anything, and maybe you do just enough to go along that no one would say you aren’t part of the crowd. And you certainly wouldn’t say that the Devil is attacking you—as long as you keep things quiet, you’re fine. There’s a problem with that, though. You fit into the category of people Jesus describes in Matthew 10:33—those who won’t acknowledge him before people. In that passage there is some very bad news for you—if you fail to acknowledge Jesus before men (Jesus calls it “denying him”), you will not be acknowledged by him before the Father in the time of judgment.

Maybe you are enjoying life to the full; you are using your talents, being successful, and nothing is standing in your way. Your biggest worry is how to capitalize on all your success. You aren’t worried about persecution, and figure that people need to chill and just not get so worked up about spiritual stuff. You’ve found that your success and your ability to get ahead keep you out in front of any problems that might come your way. Hey, you are in the Bible—your story usually as the heading, “The Parable of the Rich Fool” and you can find it in Luke 12:15-21.

So, what opposition/persecution/suffering/difficulty is yours right now or has been your regular experience for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel? It’s a pretty important question for which to have an answer, don’t you think?