In America, we feel entitled. We have a constitutional right to life, liberty, and happiness, we believe. The constitution actually says, “the pursuit of happiness,” but in this day, we believe that to mean that we should have happiness (and ease) without having to labor for it. We should not have trials, difficulty, suffering, or even a common cold.
And that attitude has infiltrated the American church as well. We shouldn’t have trouble, trial, suffering, or persecution. And we should have favor with our culture and government. And if we don’t have that favor, we are perturbed, indignant, and argumentative.
The problem with that, of course, is that it is counter to the biblical perspective. The Scriptures affirm the certainty of persecution. Consider Paul’s final letter, his second epistle to Timothy, the pastor of the Ephesian church. After reminding Timothy of how he had suffered in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (2 Tim. 3:11; see Acts 14:19-23 for the full account), Paul promises him, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12; NASB). If you want to be godly, you will be persecuted. There is no question in his statement, only a guarantee.
If you haven’t experienced loss because of Christ, you will. If you haven’t been mocked, if family haven’t ridiculed or ostracized you, if you haven’t been reprimanded or fired at work, if you haven’t experienced financial loss because of your standards, you will. It is coming and it is a certainty.
And not only that, but notice v. 13 — evil men and (spiritual) imposters will proceed from bad to worse. That is, there is no fixing the culture. There will always be evil and times will only get worse. It is the nature of sin and evil to get progressively worse. And while we grieve for those who are trapped and ensnared by that evil (some of whom are family members) that should not overwhelm us or discourage us. Just because evil is getting worse does not mean God has lost His sovereignty. He is still authoritative and will always be authoritative. (Remember the story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.)
Paul’s words to Timothy are a reminder to us that we need to prepare for suffering and persecution. But Paul was not the only biblical writer to affirm the reality of persecution. What other principles do we find in Scripture about persecution? How can we prepare for persecution and how can we think rightly about it?
- If Christ was persecuted, His followers can expect to be persecuted; persecution is normative for the believer (Mt. 5:44-45; Jn. 15:20; Phil. 1:29).
John 15:20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”
Phil. 1:29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake
- No one who is persecuted is ever alone if he is in Christ (2 Cor. 4:7-10).
2 Cor. 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
- Persecution is an opportunity to boast in the power and effectiveness of Christ’s cross (Gal. 6:12ff; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Gal. 6:12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
2 Cor. 12:7 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
- Persecution is a means to learning to live in godliness — and is the believer’s calling (1 Pt. 2:18-21; Phil. 1:29).
1 Pet. 2:18-19 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
- Persecution is a means of testing and proving the quality of one’s faith (1 Pt. 1:6-9).
1 Pet. 1:6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
- Persecution is not unusual; and we can respond to it with settled joy in Christ (1 Pt. 4:12-19; 2 Tim. 3:12).
1 Pet. 4:12-14 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
- Persecution should never be because of our sin (1 Pt. 2:18-21; 4:15)
1 Pt. 2:20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
1 Pt. 4:15-16 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
And of course, Hebrews 11 is an account of many of God’s people who suffered (beginning with our Savior), and did so with joy (Heb. 11:32-40).
Persecution is a reality for every believer. We must prepare for it. We must not be afraid of it. We must exalt and delight in our Savior who suffered infinitely more than we will ever suffer, and gave us the Spirit of Christ so that we might endure it with righteousness.