Recently, two of my friends have come under a lot of fire for expressing their views on faith.
They’re both younger than me — barely 25. The younger one of them took a lot of flak for publicly expressing her beliefs while the other was verbally abused by his schoolmates for an opinion piece he wrote.
These experiences left both of them quite troubled and hurt for a time, but I’m glad they are now processing it well.
But I’m so proud of them for standing up for what they believe in with gentleness and respect. If we are true followers of God, we will look and talk and be radically different from the world. While we should never set out to make enemies, there will definitely be persecution if you follow Jesus (2 Timothy 3:20).
Because opposition is inevitable as the lines are drawn tighter in the coming days, we must think about persecution and how to respond it.
7 POINTS ON PERSECUTION
1. Be persecuted for the right reasons
“Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:16)
It’s entirely possible to be persecuted for the wrong reasons. I’d go as far as to say that some Christians deserve it.
If you make a quick trawl through comments left by people who profess to be Christians on an article about a contentious faith issue for example, you’ll quite easily see that there are many believers who are misbehaving and misrepresenting the faith.
There might be truth in what they say, but this has failed to come with love. And without love, as Paul says, we are just a clanging gong of noise (1 Corinthians 13:1).
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 5:10-11: ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Are we being persecuted for righteousness’ sake — or just for being nasty?
But we must ask ourselves: Are we being persecuted for righteousness’ sake — or just for being nasty? I admit that I’m ashamed of some of the things we’ve done or said in the mistaken belief they were on Jesus’ account.
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” (1 Peter 4:14-15)
So it is entirely possible to be reviled and persecuted for having murdered someone with words or hatred (Matthew 5:21-22), or having repaid evil for evil. And let’s not be the believer who “seeks out” persecution. Christians aren’t supposed to play the victim.
It is possible to live a godly life without being antagonistic or caustic — in fact to live a godly life is to lose a bitter tongue and step away from toxicity (Proverbs 15:28).
Like it or not, godly persecution will come to the godly believer. We do not stir it up or manufacture it for ourselves.
2. Don’t expect there to be no persecution
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)
True Christians are counter-cultural. We do not walk in step with or bend towards a world that lies opposed to God. True faith is inconvenient, and in the process of peaceably representing God to the world, the world will inevitably hate you for it — because it hates God.
So while we do not seek out persecution or pray for it, we can fully expect there to be persecution if we live as true believers.
3. Godly persecution is a test of your faith
Consider the examples of Peter and Stephen.
In his pride, Peter claimed he would follow Jesus no matter what and would even die for him (John 13:37). But when Peter actually faced real persecution and the threat of death, he ended up denying Christ three times (Luke 22:60-62). He had failed a test of faith – which further revealed the problem of his pride.
Stephen, on the other hand, had to deliver a serious message from God to people who already hated and had schemed against him. When the time came to do so, Stephen courageously said everything he was tasked to say and didn’t shy away from rebuking them. The people ended up killing Stephen by stoning him, and even as he lay dying, he was praying mercy for their souls (Acts 7:60).
Two tests of faith in persecution, two different results. Persecution reveals what your faith is made of. If the whole world always agrees with you and loves you, something is probably wrong somewhere. We must represent God and spread the Gospel — these two things are inherently offensive to a sinful world.
If the whole world always agrees with you and loves you, something is probably wrong somewhere.
4. Godly persecution endured brings its reward
““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
If we suffer with Christ on this side of eternity, we have reason to rejoice when He returns and His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). God tells us to be glad, because He promises that our reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:12).
On a side note, read Revelation 6:9-11. That’s a picture of Heaven where those “slain for the word of God” cry out to God, awaiting His judgment and vengeance on their behalf. For the God we serve is a just God (Hebrews 10:30), and we will have justice in Him.
Jesus is coming back. When He does, He will give recompense to all.
5. Know what you’re up against
If you ever find yourself embroiled in a heated or toxic conversation with someone, just take a step back for a second. Don’t get all entangled and emotional. Instead, invite the Holy Spirit to help you discern where the anger and hurt is coming from.
Because some people are just speaking out of their hurt, and this goes for all of us – sometimes harsh words are a cry for help. And we need to meet those who stand against us where they are, with the purpose of bringing God’s love and light into their lives.
After all, that’s what Christ did for us. When we were still against Him, He died for us.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
Without a doubt, not all “honest conversations” will go the way we want to – in our favour, or in a cordial manner. But that still doesn’t absolve us from speaking up about who God is and what He’s all about. We still have the responsibility to testify and represent God as His people (Ezekiel 33:8-9).
6. Prepare, or you will fail
Read Ephesians 6:10-20. It’s about the armour of God and putting it on. Sounds straightforward enough right?
Well, here’s the thing. No self-respecting fighter would enter a ring, trade a few blows, and call for a time-out because he hasn’t put his gear and gloves on yet.
We can’t have these things on the spot! How can we put on truth if we haven’t been reading the Bible regularly? How can we put on Christ’s righteousness if we’re still wearing our own soiled clothes — no wonder they call us hypocrites.
Every day, as long as we’re in this world, those who follow Christ must put on the armour of God. We need the helmet of salvation, that is protection against false doctrine and foolishness, and we need to know how to wield the sword of the Spirit if we want to advance with the truth.
7. Prayer is the main work
We defend the faith with gentleness and respect, we represent God and live godly lives …. but it’s not about us. Never forget that prayer is the main work.
It’s not about us. I quoted Oswald Chambers in an earlier article I wrote on advocacy, but his words remain relevant to this one: “Every theory or thought that raises itself up as a fortified barrier ‘against the knowledge of God’ is to be determinedly demolished by drawing on God’s power, not through human effort or by compromise”.
There is already plenty of “human effort” going around already. We see it all over Facebook or in the comments sections of news websites. There’s enough evil in the world already without us contributing to it — but there’s not quite enough prayer.
We must do all we can and should. But there comes a time to be still, and let God do what only He can do.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
If you are being persecuted on Jesus’ account, I hope you are encouraged. Our Sovereign God watches over all things, and He sees your heart. What you’ve done, are doing — or didn’t do — He will remember and give recompense.
Without downplaying anyone’s hurt, I still believe the persecution here in Singapore is mild. They are a mild taste of things to come as the day of Christ’s return draws nearer. We need to press on in the faith and each take our stand for Jesus.
What we do here and now doesn’t just impact the next generation. It counts for all eternity.