If ever there was a verse in the bible that represented or summed up the attitude of Christians, it is this one.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)
As Christians we have not been called to be a people of violence, hatred and anger who are seekers of revenge. All over the New Testament we see examples of people of faith who demonstrated this attitude when they were in times of persecution, not to mention the actions of Jesus Christ himself who modeled the behaviours and taught such truths as part of the gospel.
So how should we deal with persecution and what does this scripture mean for us today?
Persecution Is Normal
First we must understand that persecution is to be expected if you choose the path of Christianity. It is not something that you should be surprised at but which you need to recognize for what it is; the backlash of non-believers against the faith that you hold in Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in relation to being persecuted in this way.
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12-13)
He did not say “some” will be persecuted but “all” who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.
The apostle Peter also wrote in a similar vein saying,
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)
So don’t think this is strange when you suffer and are persecuted. Don’t be surprised and wonder why this is happening. It WILL happen to you at some time and you WILL go through various trials, ordeals, tribulations and persecutions.
Why Are We Persecuted?
The reason why we suffer persecution is that we stand opposed to the ways of this world and the things that the people of this world do under the influence of the passions, lusts and desires of the flesh and the direct destructive forces of satan.
When we choose Christ we show up the evil of the world through the truth of the gospel. We stand on the side of God whereas the rest of the world stands on the side of the devil. Oh, and by the way, there are only two sides. Unlike in the world wars there is no “neutral” side in this spiritual conflict. As Jesus said,
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Matthew 12:30)
There are only two places to stand in this spiritual war. You either stand with Christ Jesus or against Him. There is no middle ground, there can be no fence-sitters and there is no “maybe” in Jesus Christ. Every person by what they believe, do or say is in effect saying to Christ either “Yes” or “No”.
The apostle John thus wrote the following and as Christians we should take note.
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)
The world hates us because we stand opposed to the world. When we choose Christ we reject the world and when we choose Christ we say that there is a better way. In Christ and through Christ we have something the world does not have…hope.
It is in this hope we stand and look forward to a better life and a better world, one that does not have evil in it and where we are no longer persecuted for our beliefs.
So what do we do about it?
What Should We Do
To start with we should not worry about it. Do not fret or wonder what if anything you might have done wrong. Many people have a tendency towards self condemnation when they are suffering, but the persecutions that come upon a Christian are not because of anything they do wrong, but rather the opposition of the rest of the world against the faith we Christians hold.
First and foremost we must seek the lord when we are suffering persecutions and put our trust in Him.
A number of the scriptures mentioned above if you read on tell us that the Lord will provide the protection or comfort we may need to get through persecutions. Paul makes this point clear in the following verses showing his personal experience. Even though he suffered persecutions and other trials, he came through all of them because of the “surpassing power” of God to overcome.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
Jesus also provided teachings on how we are to deal with persecutions as Christians.
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:27-31)
Jesus example is the epitome of this attitude of “bless those who persecute you”. At no time did He instruct us to seek vengeance or to strike back against our persecutors. Instead He said to turn the other cheek. If they take something physical from you don’t withhold anything else from them.
The things of this world are temporary and the Lord can and will provide for His people. And he instructs us to do good to ALL people, even those who oppose us and are our enemies for the sake of Christ.
The underlying point in all of this is that we have been called to love. Not just to love those who are good to us but also to show the love of God towards those who oppose us for we do not know if the Lord is working with them or whether our actions may cause them to stop and consider. We live in hope.
Undoubtedly you may have considered the recent persecutions some Christians have suffered for their faith at the hands of the evil ISIS organization where these Christians were beheaded for the sake of their faith. You may be asking how they were comforted.
But know this, these beheadings were prophesied some two thousand years ago. It was told in the book of Revelation that these people would be martyred for the sake of their faith. Note these two sections of Revelation that point to this exact issue we are seeing today.
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
Those people we see who are being beheaded and slain for their testimony to Jesus Christ and for holding the faith of Christianity are amongst these people spoken of in the book of Revelation. They may not appear to be receiving any comfort here from their persecutions, but there is no doubt they are being comforted by the Lord Himself having suffered this way.
Even Paul when he was approaching death and expected to die made this statement,
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)
Paul recognized that it was far better to die and then be with Christ and at peace, but he also knew there was work to be done here. In the case of those who are being slain for the sake of Christ, they have indeed gone to that better place with Christ where they too are at peace in the loving hands of God.
So too, if we are persecuted, even to the point of death, we have a hope that we too will be in God’s hands and will be comforted by Him. And if we are not persecuted to death we have the hope and the promise of God that He will provide and protect us as we continue our walk with Him.
So do not seek revenge against your persecutors. Do not speak words of violence against them, even those who are evil as the ISIS and ISIL organizations are. Do not raise your voice in anger against them in public forums.
Instead take the words of Jesus and the apostles and pray for them. Pray that they may find the truth and turn from their evil ways. Pray that the few of them who undoubtedly question their methods and ways will stand up and step away from these evil ways and perhaps even find Christ through the faith of those they have beheaded who stood fast against their oppressive ways.
This can happen. Consider Paul who stood approving and holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death. Paul who was the greatest enemy of Christ and yet who turned around to become one of His greatest teachers and preachers of the word.
Yes even these worst persecutors of the ways of Christ today may still be turned about as Paul was two thousand or so years ago.
Do not cease to offer prayers for those who are being persecuted, but also offer prayers for the salvation of their persecutors and by so doing you bless them. This is the way of the Lord. Hatred, violence, revenge, opposition and so on are the ways of the world and thus the ways of the devil. Do not fall into that trap. Instead remember God’s word regarding those who oppose Him and His people,
30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30-31)
(Photo sourced from freeimages.com provided by Manuel Droide)
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