Persecution: noun: per·se·cu·tion ˌpər-si-ˈkyü-shən
- the act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook.
- the condition of being persecuted, harassed, or annoyed. (Merriam-Websters)
Persecution is the intentionally planned abuse of a person or cluster of persons by another person or persons. The normal objects of persecution are religion, politics, and racism, although there is room within the evils of humanity for much, much more.
Persecution uses the powers of fear to bring great sufferings, varied avenues of harassment, threats, pain, imprisonment, controlling, and even death. What do we know about persecution? While I am not able to speak of persecution, reaction to, and results of targets of persecution throughout the world, I can offer what I know of Christian persecution.
Christian persecution is a mere shadow of Christ’s persecution, suffering, and death. Our LORD suffered the full forces of evil which was initiated by fallen man and allowed by Almighty God the Father whose purpose was to redeem fallen man.
Jesus knew Who He was, where He came from, and why He had come. So, on His way to Jerusalem, our LORD expressed to the disciples there with Him that it was inescapable and essential to man that He would “suffer many things . . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21) while in Jerusalem.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
Affliction for the greater good of the Gospel is a path we may take in identifying with His affliction’s sufferings. “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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:12–13).
When under persecution, those who are born-again into the body of Christ, are drawn tighter together. When one suffers, they all suffer.
The Apostle Paul reminded his disciple and fellow missionary, Timothy, that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). I saw the truth of this verse while in places like Russia, China, Vietnam, and even in Mexico. But this verse speaks the same truth for all nations of the world, even America.
Oppression is resolute suffering for the greater good and glory of our LORD Jesus Christ, and it has many variations, as martyrdom, incarceration, or various degrees of harassment. Most Americans have never suffered violent actions or death for the sake of the gospel, however, intimidation and bigotry, as well as ostracism by family and friends could be a normal issue. This is not to say that an American believer who is not allowed to pray at school, has a door shut in his face while giving out tracts or inviting neighbors to church, or never receiving raises nor promotions at work is experiencing persecution to the same degree as those in other countries. However, it does promise that abiding in Christ Jesus will have a price to pay wherever we are.
“Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:25–33).
Count the cost!
42 years of ministry has placed me in many forms of persecution, both abroad and here at home, however, God’s grace has kept me thus far from severe abuses. Perhaps my most upsetting persecutions have been brought on by church families, church leaders and pastors. I have been falsely judged and gossiped by pastors within my former Association of churches. This cost my reputation a great hit among certain pastoral clicks in the Association. This was hard to deal with personally.
Another season of persecution cost me the joy of pastoring my favorite church where God moved greatly, both within that church and the community at large. A great prayer movement was birthed throughout the region by the hand of God giving me favor with pastors and church members of most major denominational church in that city and beyond.
A group of four adult men of varied ages came into my office unannounced and began to belittle and denigrate our son who had recently begun to show signs mental behavioral problems. My wife and I had been in a process of investigating through psychologists and psychiatrists to determine what his problems were and how to address them. There was a time in those early days when those professionals placed our son on suicide watch on four occasions. All the men could see and accept was a bad young boy, and they strongly suggested that I bring the matter before the church in an open forum.
During that meeting, God allowed a crisis to be brought to light in one man’s family. That meeting suddenly ended, and never revisited again. Nonetheless, it became very apparent by glares from these individuals when my son entered the room that evil hatred was mounting against my son. With grace and guidance from the LORD, I very quietly resigned from the church that I loved, and that loved me, to avoid further damage to my personal family, and what could become another church split. When I announced my resignation to the congregation, there were many tears and hugs that followed, even from those four men who had caused the decision. Each one asked me if they were the reason for my decision. As this was direction from the LORD, I assured them that they were not to blame.
But I soon discovered that I had some feelings that I needed to address. I loved that church dearly, still do, and it wasn’t long before my resentment hindered my spiritual well-being. At a point in my journey down the pit of anger and hurt, depression was setting in, and a sense of what can Ido now was added to the despair.
At the right time, the Holy Spirit prompted me of Jesus’ Word in Matthew 5:44: “Pray for those who spitefully use you…” (NKJV). I would like to say that this made everything alright, but there is a point that we enjoy our misery, so I was not quick to let it go. One thing I knew and by the Holy Spirit remembered, if I wanted to please God, I must be obedient to His Word. In this instance, what would please Him would be for me to pray for those who brought hurt into my life. But that was not all. Allow me to share several Scriptures God added to this to help me through a difficult time:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-46)
13 “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:13,19)
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15)
8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8, 10)
Though we were in opposition to God and His Word, Jesus died for us, removing the obstruction of our sin, and healed forever our relationship with God. Since His redeeming love now exists in us by His Holy Spirit, we can offer that love to all people, even enemies. God no more holds our sins against us, subsequently we can no longer hold other individuals’ sins against them.
17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
2 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2-8)
My attitude toward those who caused offence to me did not transform instantly, and neither will yours. It may be a long journey to forgiveness and peace. God is faithful to alter our hearts when we place our hearts on the Altar to Him in prayer. Praying for, forgiving, and doing good to individuals who have caused deep hurt in us is not only submission to God, but allowing Him to draw closer to us, and to help us help others when we pray for them.
Living in this fallen world, somebody will hurt you. Beloved, give those hurts to God, He cares. In prayer, secure your place on the path to glorify Him and draw others to Him also. Church—child of God, Pray On!