What is persecution?
Christian persecution is defined as any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one's identification as a Christian. This includes beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment.
Open Doors ministries approximates 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. The Frankfurt-based International Society for Human Rights 2012 reports Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world, estimating that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination were against Christians. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the US estimates that 100,000 Christians die every year”. In the last 15 months, 270 Nigerian schoolgirls; were abducted, 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya were beheaded and 147 people were killed on a university campus in northern Kenya. In the last 40 days, two churches were bombed in eastern Nepal (Sept 15), seven churches were doused in Gasoline and burned to the ground in northwestern Tanzania (Sept 22- Sept 27) and three more martyrs were shot in the head after stating their names and saying “I am Nasrani,” a derogatory Muslim term for Christians.
Persecution is a by-product (or fruit) of being a faithful follower of Jesus. Paul says it this way in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
What does God want us to know about Persecution?
A lot.... but here are 4 truths
1. Only God is Sovereign; not evil, not Satan
When we hear about those being persecuted, hurt and abused, what do we usually say to them (or say in our prayers for them)? Well, we usually say good truth, like “trust God” or “He’s here” or “He will be with you and see you through.” Here’s the question though (as it pertains to God sovereignty): if he wasn’t there when the tragedy happened, when your child is killed, or when you get told off, or are mocked, or gun is pointed at your forehead… how can you be sure that he is there now and can be trusted?
In 1 Peter, Peter describes the suffering Christians by saying, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Notice the suffering (or persecution) is described like the jaws of a lion trying to consume their faith, but again the question is, when Satan is biting down on Christians does God not govern those jaws for the good of His precious child? Peter’s answer in 1 Peter 3:17 is this, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” In other words, if it is God’s will that we suffer for doing good, we will and–as one put it–if it is God’s will that we not suffer for doing good we won’t. In other words, no one, not even Satan, has a say as to whether we face hardship, ONLY GOD DOES. John Piper who was here a few months ago put it this way, “The evil and suffering in this world are greater than any of us can comprehend. But evil and suffering are not ultimate. God is.”
2. There is no such thing as untested faith.
“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
The principal or reality for every Christian is that there is no such thing as an untested faith. In the Parable of the sowers where Jesus talks about planting seeds (which is the Word of God), he says there are some who receive the Word with joy but, when hardship or persecution come, they quickly fall away (Mark 4). Furthermore in 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul notes two things that show him the believers are genuine. He says they received the Word as if it was from God and that they suffered for believing it. Peter calls this testing gold and James 1 says to consider it pure joy, as trials are the pathway to greater maturity. It’s one thing to sing on Sunday, “blessed be your name” or “You are sovereign over us”, but Monday’s persecution will test if that's true.
3. It’s not about you.
All in all, the Bible gives us many answers and causes of persecution originating with Satan to the evil within our sinful-rebellious hearts. In John 15 Jesus explains persecution arises because of people’s hate towards Him, or towards the Light (God’s truth, authority and holiness), as it exposes sin (the love of darkness and being our own "gods" ). In John 15 Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you...But all these things (persecution) they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.” (See John 15:18-25 for further study) Therefore at root, this passage shows us persecution arises from hearts that love the darkness and need to justify it and hate all who oppose it.
Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
Matthew 5:43-44 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
This November Westside will join hundreds and thousands of believers for the International Day of Prayer (IDOP). To paraphrase IDOP’s explanation of this call, they write “Can we today pause our busy lives and think of those who are enduring persecution for the sake of the Gospel? Let us remember those who have not eaten for days because they are given nothing to eat … those languishing in prison … Christian families who have watched their homes burn to the ground … pastors who are beaten and tortured for their faith and enduring physical pain … Christian families and children living in constant fear of violence … those who have lost their loved ones … those who are facing death, even right at this moment, for refusing to denounce Christ…
Pray also for those who inflict persecution, that they may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
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James Bonney currently serves as a Pastor for the North Shore Campus. He's married to Nikki and they have three beautiful children.