“Life’s Questions and God’s Word”
December 31, 2017
It’s hard to think about Americans being persecuted for their faith for two reasons:
- While our country was founded largely for a pursuit of religious freedom, that very pursuit of religious freedom has largely kept believers from being persecuted for our faith since that time.
- With all the prosperity in our country (and in our churches) and the poverty and weakness of churches in other countries (talk to Jack about the Cambodian church or David about the PNG church), it’s hard to think of any difficulties we face as being classified as persecution.
And yet, we hear of increasing kinds of opposition to the church, faith in general, and Christianity in particular. Christian bakers and florists have been sued because they have not been willing to use their artistic and creative abilities to celebrate homosexual marriages. The fire chief of Atlanta was fired three years ago for writing and self-publishing a book that attempts “to help Christian men overcome feelings of guilt and condemnation over past sins. It discusses homosexuality for less than half a page [in a 162-page book].” But he was fired for being discriminatory against homosexuals. And in a similar move, Brendan Eich was fired as CEO of the software company Mozilla because of his faith; and Louie Giglio was removed as a participant from President Obama’s inauguration five years ago (he was going to pray).
And in circumstances that are much more relevant to most of us, the mockery of Christianity is not just something read about in editorials and seen on television shows, but it is something most of us have experienced from our own family members. There is a growing intolerance for anything Christian and those who are bold for their faith can expect not just rejection, but even hatred.
Most of us haven’t been imprisoned or beaten for our faith, but most of us have experienced mockery, anger, and hatred from those who are against Christ. And the Scriptures put that in the category of persecution, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:10-12, persecution comes in the form of martyrdom (as with some of the prophets) and insults and false and evil accusations. Sometimes persecution leads to death (Mt. 10:21), but sometimes it leads to hatred and hostility (Mt. 10:22). And every believer will face that kind of persecution (2 Tim. 3:13).
When being persecuted it is tempting to ask about God’s part in that special form of suffering. Has God made any provision for you when you are persecuted? Yes, He has. And one of the two middle stanzas of Psalm 119 makes clear both the questions and provisions of God when we are persecuted.
In the middle portion of this longest psalm, the psalmist has been focusing on suffering in general (vv. 67, 71, 75). But he has also been speaking about persecution as a form of suffering (vv. 61, 69, 78). And in this stanza particularly, the psalmist emphasizes the persecution that comes from unbelievers. In fact, this stanza has been called a lament, and Spurgeon said “This octave is the midnight of the psalm, and very dark and black it is.” Dark, indeed.
And yet, there is also hope for the follower of God when he is persecuted. And as the rest of this psalm indicates, that hope is to be found in God and particularly in His Word.
You know that Psalm 119 is about the Word of God. Because of the importance of the Scriptures, we want to constantly remind ourselves of the power and significance of that Word. So twice each year — on the first Sunday and the middle Sunday of the year, we are looking at one of the stanzas in this psalm (we’re on schedule to finish in June, 2023). And none of us knows the exact nature of what we will endure in the next 12 months, we can be certain that there will be some form of persecution, because to be a believer in Christ is to be rejected by the world as Christ was rejected.
How will you respond to your persecution? Let me order our thoughts from this psalm around a series of questions and answers that the psalmist both states and implies about persecution.
We can summarize the theme of this stanza this way:
When persecuted, pursue your hope in God’s Word.
How does Scripture answer the questions about God when we are being persecuted? Here are six questions and answers for those who are being persecuted:
- Will God Intervene? (vv. 81-82)
- Has God Forgotten Me? (v. 83)
- Will God End the Persecution? (v. 84a)
- Will God be Just? (v. 84b)
- Will God Help Me? (vv. 85-86)
- Will God Be Gracious Again? (vv. 87-88)
Download the rest of this sermon on Psalm 119:81-88.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website later this week.