Congratulations! You Will Be Persecuted

Read: Matthew 10

“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!” (Matthew 10:24-25)

I just received an email not more than an hour ago from my church planting partner in Ethiopia.  It was a request for prayer because sixteen Christian churches had been burned to the ground by Muslim’s who don’t like us. Twelve homes of believers had also be burned, and two of our brothers and sisters had been killed.  Why?  Simply because their crime was Christ!

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18-19)

Obviously, we don’t see much persecution here in the United States, not of that variety, anyway, and not yet, although we may not be that far away from it.  Yet according to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research reported in 2009 that approximately 176,000 Christians around the world were martyred during the previous year.

Notice Jesus’ words in verse 23: “when you are persecuted…” He didn’t say “if” but “when”.  Persecution is happening right now, and it will continue with increasing regularity and intensity right up until the time he returns to set things right on Planet Earth.  Of course, we should not meet that eventuality with passive acceptance—we need to use every means possible to appeal to our governments to protect us, we should pray for peace (I Timothy 2:2) and by all means, we should be praying regularly for the persecuted church.

Burned Ethiopian Church

But on another level, we are “to rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted. (Matthew 5:12)  We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever.  We are not to sulk like a punished child. We are not to lick our wounds in self-pity and hunker down like a dog. We are not just to grin and bear it like a Stoic. We are not to pretend to enjoy it as a hyper-spiritual masochist.  No, we are to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23)

We can leap for joy knowing that if we lose everything on earth—even our lives—we will inherit everything in heaven.  We can leap for joy knowing persecution is our certificate of Christian authenticity, since the persecuted simply belong to a noble succession, “for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)  But mostly we can leap for joy knowing that we are suffering on his account. When we can grasp the nobility of suffering for the cause of Christ, we can be like the Apostles in Acts 5:41, who, having been beaten and threatened by the Sanhedrin,

“Left the council, rejoicing because they had been counted
worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

They had learned what I hope I can learn—and you, too: Wounds in Christ’s cause are our medal of honor!

“Suffering then, is the badge of true discipleship.  The disciple is not above his master.  Following Christ means … suffering because we have to suffer … Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What If God Took Over?

Take a moment to pray for the persecuted church.