Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Persecution Is a Good Thing

There is a story which goes back to the days when communism reigned in Russia with an iron fist. Testimonies of the underground church would surface from time to time. On one particular Sunday, a group of believers gathered for worship. They arrived throughout the day so as to not arouse suspicion by KGB informants. By dark, they were all inside, windows closed, doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly, when suddenly the door was pushed open and in walked two solders with automatic weapons, demanding that they all line up on the wall. One shouted, “If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!” Two or three left quickly and after a few more seconds, two more. Finally, a couple more slipped out into the blackness of the night. After a few moments of complete silence, the soldiers closed and locked the door. They said, “Keep your hands up in praise to God. We too are Christians and we have learned to not trust anyone who is not willing to die for their faith.” 

We tend to think of persecution as a bad thing. However, that’s not how the early church viewed it. Peter wrote to a group of believers facing intense harassment for their faith, “If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!” (1 Peter 4:14-16, MSG). 

Passages like this one and others in the New Testament actually teach that God has a hidden purpose behind persecution. Being hated for our faith actually strengthens our resolve to serve Christ and instills godly character into our souls (Phil. 3:10). Paradoxically, persecution spreads the Gospel rather than kill it (Acts 8:1, 4). Tertullian (160-220 AD), the bishop of Carthage, once remarked that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

The reason for this is because persecution gives the Gospel credibility. Yielding graciously to persecution allows one to demonstrate that he is of a superior quality than his adversaries. When we suffer for Christ then it reveals the wicked heart of those who would wish us harm and gives us a platform to speak the truth (Phil. 1:12-14). The apostle Paul warned us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). 

While none of us desire to be persecuted for being a Christian we should be willing to take abuse for the sake of the Gospel since Jesus took the nails for us. Remember, as Christians it’s not our job to be popular. We are not contestants on American Idol. We are not Christ’s speechwriters or PR team, airbrushing Jesus so He has greater appeal to people who don’t want to hear what He said about sin and hell. He’s the King, He calls the shots, we’re just His ambassadors. So let’s represent the real Jesus, who “when He was reviled did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23), not just the culturally acceptable one.    

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