Grace to Endure Persecution – Pt. 1
Perhaps you have thought, or at least hoped, that you would never have to encounter persecution. But the Bible clearly tells us in II Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” [NKJV]. This passage does not say that “all who desire to live Godly in the 10/40 window will suffer persecution.” No such qualifier is given. Persecution does not simply target people who inhabit countries where the Gospel is restricted. Whoever you are, wherever you live, and whatever era you live, if you desire to live Godly in Christ, persecution is coming.
Many believers avoid the topic of persecution as something unpleasant. To our natural minds, persecution seems to be the one negative side effect of serving the Lord. While we delight in emphasizing the topics of Righteousness, Peace, Salvation, Justification, Healing, Divine Provision, and the like, the topic of persecution remains the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ that most believers are loath to address. We solemnly express compassion for believers who are suffering for their faith, but secretly we harbor relief that we have been spared such tribulations for ourselves.
The Apostles in the early Church, however, spoke of persecution in a much different light, identifying persecution as a privilege that God has granted the believer.
Such a statement may sound odd, but Paul related it in this manner in Philippians 1:28, stating “For to you is it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake” [NKJV]. Note the wording that Paul uses – it has been “granted” to you to suffer for Him. Seemingly it would make more sense to say: unfortunately, you have to put up with persecution. To speak of persecution as something we have been “granted” defies human logic. Nevertheless, we see examples in Scripture of the Apostles rejoicing, not despite suffering for the Lord, but rather because they were counted worthy to suffer for Him! (See Acts 5:40-41).
Why would anyone rejoice under such circumstances? The answer to this question is simple:
There is a special Grace for enduring persecution!
Before describing the Grace that God gives for enduring persecution, it would be helpful first to consider why persecution comes. In Matthew 13:21, Jesus plainly stated that “persecution arises because of the Word” [NKJV]. The enemy will always try to challenge the Word that you carry, and if possible, his objective is to intimidate you until you finally decide to be silent. Always remember that the Word you possess is a grave threat to the enemy. Perhaps you have scarcely comprehended the power and authority of the Word you possess. If the enemy can, he will try to keep you from recognizing that power and authority, and he will intensify his attacks until you finally break and say: “forget it; it is not worth the pain and suffering.” But the value of the Word that you possess is more than worth the suffering! Just think of it logically: the enemy would not be attacking you so frantically if you did not possess something of great value.
Regardless of what the enemy does to you, however, he is powerless to stop the Word in you unless you make the choice for yourself to be silent. In II Timothy 2:9, the Apostle Paul made this same point, writing “For which [Gospel] I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the Word of God is not chained” [NKJV]. Though Paul was in prison, his persecutors were powerless to stop the Word of God from going forth. Such is true for believers today.
The devil cannot silence the Word of God in your mouth, but he tries to intimidate you enough that you will silence it yourself.
How can we stand firm in our resolve to continue speaking the Word boldly, even under the threat of persecution? Before persecution comes, we must prepare ourselves by cultivating the Word of God in our hearts. Scripture teaches that we carry the Word of God in two places: in our mouth, and in our heart (see Romans 10:8, and Deuteronomy 30:14). Whenever persecution attempts to silence the Word that is in our mouth, it is the Word that is in our heart which will sustain us. Consider the case of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 20:7-9, we read that people were mocking and persecuting Jeremiah so fiercely for proclaiming the Word of God, that Jeremiah finally said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His Name.” But ultimately, the Word of God proved more powerful even than Jeremiah’s resolve, for Jeremiah went on to say, “But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back and I could not” [NKJV].
Thank God that Jeremiah continued to proclaim the Word, because if he had refused, then today we would not have the powerful Messianic Prophecies found in Jeremiah 33:14-15 about the Lord our Righteousness; we would not have the beautiful description of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, assuring us that God would remember our sins no more; moreover, we would not have the reassuring promise found in Jeremiah 29:11 that God’s plans for us are only for our good. Jeremiah could never have known in his lifetime the value and supreme importance of the Word that he proclaimed, which continues to bear fruit even in our lives today under the New Covenant. Nor could he have known the detriment of refusing to proclaim the Word. Sure, God would still have loved him, and God would have raised up another to proclaim the message. But it is evident that the enemy worked overtime to intimidate, or for a lack of better terms, even “bully” Jeremiah.
Take these revelations to heart, because you, like Jeremiah, may also have failed to recognize the value of the Word that you carry. When the devil brings persecution against you, remember that he is doing it for a reason! You carry the incorruptible Seed of the Word of God in your mouth and in your heart, and you cannot begin to fathom the fruit that will come from that Seed. So dare to speak the Word boldly, even when persecution intensifies. Follow the example of the Apostles in Acts 5, who continued to speak even when it cost them beatings, trials, and imprisonment. Did they allow those tribulations to silence them? No! Rather, they went forth and preached the Gospel with greater audacity, and even rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Lord.
Now, we return to our original question: Why would anyone rejoice under such circumstances? How could the Apostle Paul write, in Colossians 1:24, “I now rejoice in my sufferings…” [NKJV]? Moreover, how could the Apostle Peter admonish us to rejoice in our sufferings for Christ (1st Peter 4:13). As previously noted, there is a special Grace for enduring persecution. While that unique Grace is not explicitly referenced in the Bible, we see evidence of it through the profound testimonies of the supernatural endurance of the New Testament saints, not the least of which was Stephen the martyr, whose story is found in Acts 7:54-60. From their stories, we begin to perceive that persecution is not, in fact, a negative experience! Does that statement shock you? Such a concept likely leaves your natural mind thoroughly befuddled. Nonetheless, albeit puzzling, the statement is true.
The reason that persecution is not a negative experience is that in the midst of persecution for Christ, you step into a realm of knowing Jesus and relating to Him in a more intimate way than you could possibly know Him otherwise. Paul referred to this experience in Philippians 3:10 as the “fellowship of His sufferings” [NKJV]. The Greek word for “fellowship” indicates participating in and partaking of His sufferings in an intimate Communion with Him. Persecution therefore affords you the opportunity to know, experience, and relate to Jesus in an intimate depth that you otherwise would never have known in this life. Such an intimate experience with Jesus is so beautiful that it makes the pain and suffering seem insignificant, and it actually motivates you to rejoice as the Apostles did. Peter communicated the very same truth when he wrote “…but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” [I Peter 4:13, NKJV].
Having established this point, it is also important to note carefully what persecution is NOT. Your ability to endure persecution has nothing to do with you “earning” any extra special favor with God.
You are already favored simply because you are in Christ.
If you go through persecution thinking you are going to earn something special from God, you will quickly crumble under the threats and the suffering. Moreover, persecution is not about you doing some type of “penance” for sins, nor is it God’s attempt to rid you of ungodliness or carnality. Neither of these attitudes are Scriptural, and neither will sustain you as persecution intensifies. Only the Grace of God sustains you, as you train your heart to look for Jesus in those moments. When persecution comes, look for Him immediately, because He is right there with you! In Him you will endure, and the testimony of your supernatural endurance will have a powerful effect on observers.
In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul described the effect of the testimony of his endurance on both believers and unbelievers. Unbelievers discovered that Paul’s chains truly were in Christ (Phil. 1:13), and believers were emboldened by Paul’s endurance to speak the Word without fear (Phil. 1:14). Only God knows how your supernatural endurance will impact others. Stephen the martyr could never have known the effect that his endurance had on a young observer named Saul of Tarsus, who consented to Stephen’s death (Acts 7:58). Even in the moment of Stephen’s death, God was working on Saul’s heart, and Saul, after he became the Apostle Paul, carried that experience with him for the rest of his life and ministry, as is evidenced by Paul’s prayer in Acts 22:20. Stephen simply endured by choosing to see Jesus as the people stoned him. When it came time for Paul to suffer for the Lord, Paul endured in the same way, by choosing to see Jesus. And when your time comes, you also will endure the same way.
In the next blog entry, we will delve more deeply into this topic, discussing further what it means to have a Biblical perspective of persecution.