Christians were persecuted in the past. Christians are persecuted in the present. Christians will be persecuted in the future. Christians will not be persecuted once Jesus returns. These may seem like simple truths, but we forget them quite easily.
In the United States, Christian persecution is a thing that is still hard to imagine. We assume that we are persecuted if a comedian takes a snide shot at people of faith or a news reporter says that we believe in myths. Some feel persecuted if a store clerk says, “Happy holidays.” And, I suppose you might be able to work the logic around until this is persecution. But, in the US, we do not find ourselves beaten or jailed for speaking the truth of Christ or for attending a service of worship, at least not yet.
All around the world, however, there are believers who are facing genuine hardships. True Christians are pulled from worship services, beaten, and jailed. Women are suffering horrible mistreatment at the hands of men who demand they identify with another religion. And, yes, Christians are being killed for the faith in the modern world.
What impact is persecution supposed to have on us? How are we to respond? IN the book of Acts, we see a scene where the apostles are persecuted by the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem. I think, if we pay attention, we can see a biblical response.
Acts 5:40-42 – 40 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. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
There are two responses to the persecution we see here that I want us to grasp. Understand, that this was genuine persecution. These men were beaten. Most people I know have never been beaten. I know that some have been, but most have not. We are not talking about a spanking here. We are not talking about a little slap on the face. We are talking here about a genuine, blood and bruises sort of beating.
First, the disciples left rejoicing. Stop and see that again. They rejoiced. Why? They rejoiced that they were counted by God as worthy to suffer for the faith. They saw the beating they faced, the persecution they endured, as an honor. They knew that, if God would let them suffer for the genuine preaching of the genuine gospel, he was trusting them to minister in his name. They knew that they were suffering, not for being obnoxious in general, not for their personalities, but for genuine faithful proclamation.
How does this response compare to most of our thoughts when we think about persecution? In our culture, we face less than beatings. WE face ridicule. We face harsh words. We may eventually face government opposition. A few, a very small few, have faced financial opposition through aggressive and illegitimate lawsuits in an attempt to make them comply with the culture’s embrace of sexual immorality. Some businesses have been vandalized or made the unfair targets of social media smear campaigns. But, at present, up until the point of this writing, most of us have not faced physical violence.
The disciples, who faced something worse than the vast majority of you who read this have ever faced, rejoiced in the face of persecution. They did not whine. They did not cry and start questioning the goodness of God. They did not scream, “It’s not fair!” They saw that the Lord was allowing them to enter a new phase of service, that of persecuted saint, and they rejoiced that they were counted worthy. Perhaps we should learn from that, stop whining if we are made uncomfortable, and rejoice that the Lord would count us worthy if he lets us suffer for his name.
I am not here saying that we do not engage in the legal system or the political process to try to make our nation more just. The idea of not whining about your discomfort is not a recommendation that you allow people to attack without recourse. If a person violates your legal rights or commits a crime against you through persecution, there is not a prohibition against you using the court system to seek justice. Neither is there any sort of prohibition against you voting or even running for office to try to set up a system that is more friendly to the things of God. My point is simply not to act as though you have been mistreated by the Lord if he allows you to face discomfort.
Then, the second thing we see the apostles do, they kept on preaching. Verse 42 tells us that they did not cease preaching and teaching. Yes, they knew they faced the threat of persecution. Yes, they knew that they faced potential beatings or death. But they kept at it.
Christians, when we face persecution, we too need to keep on preaching. We need to not compromise to meet the world’s standards. WE need to obey God instead of man. WE need to rejoice if we are allowed to suffer for the name of Christ, and we need to keep on preaching. If they call us names, keep preaching. If they try to shut down our businesses, keep preaching. If they tell us that they will take away our license to practice in our chosen profession if we keep preaching, keep preaching. If they pass a law that says no more preaching, keep preaching. If they throw us in jail, keep preaching. If they threaten our lives, keep preaching.
Christians, I expect that we live in a nation that will make things harder before they ever get easier. It is surely possible that persecution will come. If it does, will we respond as the Lord shows us here? Will we receive persecution with joy as a sign that the Lord has counted us worthy to suffer for his name? Will we stand strong and keep preaching, even when the world threatens its worst? May we honor Jesus by being faithful to the gospel.