Preparing for persecution and suffering

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 1 – What it means to be a disciple and how Christian character is formed

We therefore need to start to see struggle, persecution and suffering as normal, rather than objecting to them, as though they were things which ought not to be happening to us. Far too many of us have been presented with a watered-down gospel. It is portrayed as being all about God’s love and about enjoying a life of peace and prosperity. Then, when we actually encounter severe difficulties, we are surprised and even resentful, as if God has let us down. We feel He has not lived up to the image we had of Him, based on the way He was described to us.

But, far from promising us peace and prosperity, Jesus told us straightforwardly that Christians need to expect division and not to be surprised when they encounter hostility from the unbelieving world, from apostate Christians within the churches, and even from their own families. In fact, far from being the exception, such opposition is often at its worst within our own families:

51Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Luke 12:51-53 (NASB)

He also told us plainly that we would be like sheep in the midst of wolves and that people will persecute us simply for believing in Him, and for being His representatives:

16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Matthew 10: 16-18 (ESV)

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

Matthew 10: 21-24 (ESV)

The point is that the world hates Jesus. Therefore they will automatically hate His followers. We have all got to come to terms with that. Indeed, if we don’t ever experience any hostility, rejection and opposition from the world, and from apostate Christians, then it is probably a sign that we are lukewarm and are not doing, or saying, what the Bible tells us to.

In other words, it may be that there is nothing in our lives for the unbelieving world to object to, because we are watering down our beliefs so as to make ourselves more acceptable to the world. Instead, we need to do the opposite and aim to be less like the world and more like Jesus. But, remember that if we are, then we will inevitably be persecuted:

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

John 15:18-21 (NASB)

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.

John 16:1-4 (ESV)

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:12 (NASB)

31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:31-33 (ESV)

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Acts 14:21-22 (ESV)

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:22-24 (ESV)

Therefore we really must not be surprised or discouraged when we meet opposition. Nor should we be intimidated by it, or allow ourselves to change our course because of it. Instead, we should endure it all and carry on regardless, blessing and praying for those who persecute us:

and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;

1 Corinthians 4:12 (NASB)

A genuine Christian will inevitably be persecuted, but he need not necessarily be defeated. And he certainly is not forsaken, no matter how severe his difficulties may become. God will be with us through it all, and will not allow us to be destroyed by the experiences we face.

8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NASB)

We can also take encouragement from the fact that Jesus Himself endured a huge amount of hostility from those who hated Him and His message. He is therefore our main example to follow:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Hebrews 12:3 (RSV)

Although any real Christian will certainly be opposed in this world, we can still be at peace, in the sense of being reconciled to the fact that such mistreatment is inevitable. We can take courage from the fact that, no matter how severe it gets, Jesus has already won the main battle. His overall victory is certain. Therefore we already know that we are on the winning side and are contending against an enemy whose eventual defeat is assured. Consider the following sample passages which illustrate Jesus’ triumph over Satan and over all that is evil:

33“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NASB)

He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him

Colossians 2:15 (RSV)

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet.

Hebrews 10:12-13 (RSV)

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; 14 his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; 16 in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

Revelation 1:12-16 (RSV)

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15 (RSV)

7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

Revelation 12:7-10 (RSV)

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. 13 He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19:11-16 (RSV)

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:10 (NASB)

While we wait for Jesus to commence His reign as King over all the Earth, we can be completely sure that, no matter what we are called upon to face or endure in the meantime, nothing can ever separate us from Him. Whatever happens to us in this life, including death as a martyr, He is still with us, even as we go through that experience. Jesus does not promise to keep us from suffering or death, but He does promise to be with us during those bad experiences. We will not be separated from Him or have to endure the ordeals on our own:

33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written, “for your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:33-39 (NASB)
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