Thursday, September 23, 2010

Persecution

There are many wonderful promises for those of us in Christ.  God showers us with His love and those promises are part of our hope for the even greater promise of our eternal home in Heaven.  Some promises, though, are hard to understand and certainly do not seem like blessings at all.  Today I want to talk about one such promise with a special message to the American church.
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. John 15:18-20 NKJV
Persecution should not be a surprise as it is promised.  We see here that it is a result of being chosen of God.  The world hates you because you do not belong to it anymore.  You are an outcast from a fallen world.  You just do not fit in anymore and that righteousness in your life magnifies the sin in their own lives.  You become a source of conviction and a reminder of a God they care not to know and a Savior they are rejecting.  Here is what Jesus said continuing in John:
"But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'" John 15:21-25 NKJV
They hated Jesus because of His words and works.  They will hate us for the same.

Note the last statement from Jesus: "They hated Me without a cause."  Keep that in mind in your ministry as an encouragement and an admonishment.  When you are hated for living and speaking the Gospel and God's work in your own life and people hate you for it, it is without cause.  There is nothing wrong with you and their hatred and rejection is for Christ in you, not you.  They hate Jesus and so the more they Jesus in you, the more they hate you.  On the other hand, make sure there is no cause.  Many Christians are hated for being self righteous.  Many are hated for being hypocrites.  Many are hated for being obnoxious.  Be careful you do not fit into these categories.  We need to be blameless as Jesus was blameless and bold like Jesus was bold.  But also like Jesus, we are to live those words we preach lest we become self righteous or a hypocrite.  Also, many Christians like to be "Jesus Freaks."  If you are ridiculed for being a freak, it is not Jesus in you being persecuted, it is you, it is because you are weird.  I say this out of love, but your purposely "freak" persona takes away from the message of Jesus.  It becomes a distraction and puts the focus on you, not Jesus in you. 

Many like to avoid confrontation and so they plan outreaches and live their lives in such a way that avoids controversy.  I need to tell you that the Gospel is controversial.  You can not rightly teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not cause controversy.  An outreach based solely on the premise of "God loves you" is incomplete and misleading.  It teaches what I like to call Grandfatherism where God is the Great Grandad in the sky who loves all his children just the same and unless you do something really really bad like kill someone then you get to spent eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp.  The Gospel is so much more than that!  Yes God is our Father and yes God does love us.  But we need to teach how sin separated us from God, that we need a savior, that the love of God was extended to us through the death of Jesus on the Cross.  We need to teach that Jesus is the only way.  We need to teach the consequences of rejecting Jesus.  You can not accept a savior until you understand that you need one.  But that is a message for another day, I just want to emphasize that persecution is a promise and it should not be avoided by watering down the Gospel message.

So it is clear in Scripture that we are promised persecution.  But is it a good thing?  Just because the Bible says it will happen, does that mean it is a good thing?  In this case especially, I say yes.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV
So here we have it.  We are told that those who are persecuted are "happy."  The word "blessed" means happy so try re-reading that passage using "happy" instead of "blessed."  Now also look at things from an eternal perspective.  It should begin to make more sense.  We are happy for what we are going through now because of our eternal reward after (the kingdom of heaven).  We are happy with what people do to us now because our reward is great in the life to come and we are in the company of the heroes of our faith.  We are happy not because we like to be rejected and hated, but we are happy because of what God will do for us because of our persecution.  What we need to do is keep things in an eternal perspective. We need to keep our eyes on our eternal reward, not our present circumstances.  Here is what Paul said:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV
Paul said this in regard to persecution.  He called it light affliction and lest you think that Paul did not know persecution, read this:
Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 NKJV
It is clear that Paul knew persecution, but despite all of tha, he considered it momentary light affliction compared to the reward he looked forward to.  May we have that same heart in light of persecution. 

And what of the persecution for those of us in America?  For the most part, we get made fun of my friends and poked fun at in movies and in television.  Some may lose friends and be ostracized by family members.  Yes we hear of some occasions where people lose their jobs or face criminal prosecution for preaching, but those as of yet are few and far between.  And yet we complain and compromise.  We water down our message and pretend to be just like everyone else. We are scared of this simple persecution we do have and so of course we do not see it as a blessing.  I dare say that a large part of us are not even worthy of real persecution.  We cower before the ACLU and earthly judges and actually obey laws contrary to God just to avoid any trouble.  So many of us our cowards and do not realize how easy we have it.  Our children may be mocked, but in Indonesia a few years ago a group of Christian schoolgirls were murdered on their way to school.  We may lose a job, our brothers in other parts of the world lose the right to work.  We may be faced with a lawsuit from the ACLU, our brothers and sisters in large parts of the world face torture, imprisonment, and death.  We may be ostracized by our family, in other parts of the world, your family would drag you out and kill you.  We may be made fun of by our friends, in other parts of the world you former friends will make you watch your wife and children beaten and raped just before you are all killed.  We have no idea what real persecution is and whine and mope about what we deal with.  Our brothers and sisters who face unimaginable horror cling to their faith with joy.  We think we are blessed of God in our comfort, but really God is just not counting us worthy of real persecution.  And yes, persecution is something you need to be worthy to receive.
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Acts 5:40-41 NKJV
The apostles were beaten for preaching the Gospel and rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer shame for Christ.  Again, they rejoiced that they were WORTHY to suffer shame for Christ.  God promises persecution but He will not allow more than your faith is ready for.

Our nation has been trending more and more to some real persecution.  You need to get on your knees and pray that God work in your life that you may be counted worthy to suffer and stand for the Gospel.  You need to pray for God to put eternity in your heart so that when it does come, you see your reward and not your present circumstances.  You need to pray that you would see what is coming with great joy and not dread because what is coming is appointed of God and His Gospel will be shown strong through our persecution.  Persecution tests and strengthens our faith and ultimately reveals to the world just how real our God is.  When you can rejoice through trials, people will see just how genuine your faith is and God will be glorified.  We can not make ourselves worthy, but we can pray and seek after God for that deeper relationship where we see great blessings even in terrible persecution.  It all starts now with rejoicing and thanking God for the persecution you do get now.  Be faithful in what you are given now and you will be given more later.

Persecution is a blessing and blessed are those counted worthy with the prophets and great saints of old to suffer for the sake of Christ.  Shying away from persecution may make sense to our flesh, but it hurts our spirit.  We should embrace it, submit to it, and preach Christ through our words and actions through it.  If you life a Godly life, you will be persecuted.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV
But that is a good thing!  Embrace it as a blessing, appreciate it as a gift from God, look forward to your eternal reward for enduring it.  But just as much as you should not try to avoid it, you should also not try to artificially instigate it.  Do not act "weird" for the sake of Christ and do not be obnoxious.  Righteous persecution is a persecution of our spirit and Christ in us, false persecution is persecution of our actions.  Live a godly life and you will be persecuted.  Praise God! 
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 1 Peter 4:12-14 NKJV

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