Christians and Persecution – How should we respond?
We are promised that we will be persecuted. In John 15:20, Jesus states, "… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." Earlier in the same passage, Jesus tells His disciples that the world will hate them because He chose them out of the world and it hates Him (verses 18 and 19). We are also promised in 2 Timothy 3:12 that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." So Christians, who are called out of the world, will be persecuted, especially those who want to live godly lives. This persecution may be as mild as ridicule or as strenuous as torture and murder. But we will be persecuted.
So the question for us is not how to avoid persecution but rather how to respond to what we know is coming. We should have the right attitude toward it and see it as God sees it. James 1:2 says we ought to "Count it all joy … when [we] meet trials of various kinds" because of the result of the trials. Trials test our faith, which leads to Christian growth. Jesus, in the beatitudes, said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10–12). We are "blessed" when we are persecuted for our faith in Jesus. Paul gave us an example of the right attitude. He considered it a privilege to "share [Jesus'] sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). Our attitude toward persecution because of Jesus should be to view it as something positive. It is not something we should seek, but it is something we will encounter and the result is good for us. As Joseph told his brothers in Egypt, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" when referring to their selling him into slavery (Genesis 50:20). Persecution is something the world means for evil, but God uses it for our good.
One benefit of persecution is that it increases our appreciation of what we have in Christ. We are promised that "… my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). When we are persecuted, we grow to count on this promise more and more. As a result, we lean more on God and do not need the support of the things of this world. We can enjoy those things, but we no longer need them.
Another benefit of persecution is that it draws the church closer together. Corporate persecution tends to cause those who are going through it together to become closer in support of each other. History shows that, when the persecution of the church increases, the church grows closer together and stronger.
When we have the attitude toward persecution that God uses it for our good, we will rejoice when we are persecuted because of our faith in Christ.
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