by Israel Wayne
Very few of us in America know anything experientially about persecution. I was listening to a call-in program for teenagers on Christian radio a few years back. The host asked teenagers to call in and tell their story if they had ever been persecuted for their Christian faith. As I recall the most hideous form of persecution they could muster was a young man who said, “Well, like, you know, some of the other kids in school, like, kinda, uhh, don’t hang around you and stuff if they think you are a Christian.”
My mind immediately recalled stories I’ve read in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Tortured for Christ, or Martyr’s Mirror. While I’m sure it isn’t fun to be ignored by secular peers, I’d hardly call that “persecution.” With that low of a spiritual pain tolerance, it makes me wonder how we would fair if we ever faced real opposition and oppression.
John 15:20 (KJV)
“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.”
One of the most basic principles of discipleship is that we are servants, following after our master. The path He chose was that of the cross. We must not think that we will be able to avoid the cross of affliction or persecution in our own lives.
PERSECUTION FROM RELIGIOUS PEOPLE
Matthew 10:16-20 (NASB)
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
The courts were secular, non-religious institutions, but the synagogues were religious institutions. This gives us a clear understanding that the enemies of the true disciples of Jesus are sometimes those who claim to be religious. In fact, throughout church history, some of the fiercest persecutors of God’s faithful disciples were religious people. The Israelites (God’s chosen covenant people) rebelled from God and killed his prophets (Luke 11:47). The Pharisees and Sadducees (the most devout religious people within the Jewish community) condemned Christ and His disciples to death. The Roman Catholic church persecuted and killed the Reformers. Some of the followers of Luther and Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich himself, arrested, persecuted and even killed Anabaptists for their beliefs on baptism and because many Anabaptists refused to fight the Turks.
The Pilgrims came to America to escape the religious persecution imposed on them by the Church of England. In Germany during the 1940s (World War II), many Catholic, and apostate Lutheran churches reported and turned in to the Gestapo the unregistered “confessing” churches who were faithful the gospel. These apostatized churches became propaganda platforms for Hitler and preached the Nazi sermons they were given by the Fuhrer.
In all of these cases God was looking for men and women to be faithful. Richard Wurmbrand was a Romanian pastor who loved God’s word and was faithful to the gospel. When the Soviets took over his country in the 1940s after WWII, Richard and three thousand other ministers were called to a special banquet. They were then told that they must stand and proclaim over national radio how wonderful Joseph Stalin and the soviet party was. (Joseph Stalin reportedly murdered as many as 30 million of his own people! He was a butcher who made his rival Adolph Hitler look tame by comparison.) One by one the pastors stood and denied their faith in Christ by accepting and condoning the actions of such a wicked man. Sabina, Richard’s wife said to him, “You must stand and wipe away this disgrace from the name of Christ!” Richard assured her that if he did not go along he would surely be arrested and perhaps killed. She replied, “I would rather have a dead husband than a husband who is a coward!”
Richard stood and proclaimed his faith and allegiance to Christ alone and began to preach the gospel. The soviets immediately shut off the radio broadcast, but not before millions of listeners heard one more time the truth of God’s word.
Both he and his wife were imprisoned. For the next ten years they didn’t see each other. They were both physically tortured in an attempt to make them deny their faith. They were each told that their spouse was dead. Eventually they were released, immigrated to Oklahoma and started an international ministry called, “Voice of the Martyrs,” educating people about those across the world who are tortured and suffering for their faith. Even faced with the enormous peer pressure of three thousand of their fellow ministers denying the gospel, they stood alone and honored Christ. They were faithful to use the platform they were given to declare God’s truth. From Stephen in the book of acts, to Polycarp, to the Anabaptists whose blood were shed for their faith, history is full of those who stand firm for the gospel, and religious people who think they are doing God a favor by killing and/or persecuting those who follow Christ wholeheartedly.
These are sordid tales of religious history that we would all like to pretend never happened. However, the facts are that God’s people have often had enemies from within and without religious circles.
Matthew 10:21-22 (NASB)
“And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
It is much easier to withstand persecution from someone with whom you have no fellowship. If you are persecuted by a communist or a terrorist or something of that sort, you have a clear sense of their motivation for coming against you. They have a belief system that is contrary to the gospel and they hate the cause of Christ. They may also have a cultivated hatred toward you because of national or ethnic tensions. What makes little or no sense, however, is when the opposition comes from someone you know and love. It is nearly impossible for us to comprehend that someone from our own family, someone with whom we have shared many precious hours of sweet fellowship may turn against us and even seek our death. This is strange indeed, but Jesus said that it would happen.
There are times when we simply may have to stand alone. Being “hated by all” does not seem like something any of us could withstand, but Jesus promised salvation to those who endure without giving up.
Matthew 10:23 (NASB)
“But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”
While our Lord never authorizes retaliation, vengeance, or returning evil for evil, he does allow for us to remove ourselves from a situation where we are experiencing unprovoked aggression. Jesus’ own parents sought safety for their family when King Herod sought the life of their son. Fleeing to another city or community is something the Lord allows, and even recommends for those who are being persecuted.
Matthew 10:24-31 (NASB)
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. ‘But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.’”
FEAR IS A SIN
Jesus says, “Do not fear them.” That sounds easy enough, but it is much harder to practice than we might think. The fear of man is so natural to our flesh.
Proverbs 29:25 (NASB)
“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.”
Fearing man, however, is always a trap. It never brings the freedom we seek, only more bondage. We must never seek our security in the acceptance of others, but in Christ alone. Fear is a sin. We are commanded to fear God alone.
Psalm 56:11 (NASB)
“In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Fear is a refusal to trust God. It is rebellion and disobedience covered in a garment of self-protection and self-interest. God is our defender. To fear is to imply that God is not: All-knowing, all-loving or all-powerful. If God knows all things, desires the best for us (Romans 8:28), and has total control over all things, then even if we find ourselves in the position of righteous Job in the Old Testament, we know that God has allowed testings for His glory and our good.
James 1:2-4 (NASB)
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In our flesh, it is impossible to consider our trials to be “joyful.” It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can walk as Jesus did, who for the joy that was before Him, endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
If we desire to stand when we are facing death for our faith, we must learn to stand in the “little” tests of desiring the approval of men. While I was a bit hard on the young man who called into the radio program, it is through enduring those small challenges that we will build the spiritual muscle and fortitude to stand firm in the face of the really big challenges. The Lord is faithful to test us in small things before entrusting us to truly big challenges.
Used with permission. Special thanks to Mr. Israel Wayne for allowing me to post this article!