Although not a crime in our part of the world (yet), there are places in our modern world where preaching the Gospel is illegal, even punished by death. Followers of other faiths are free to speak of their beliefs but not Christians. It was the same in Bible days. Some of the disciples were tortured and martyred for believing in Jesus and the Apostle Paul was thrown in jail for preaching the gospel.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:8–13)
Paul had a unique way of dealing with this injustice. He didn’t put himself or his rights out front. Instead, he was motivated by a deep love for others. He also remembered what happened to Jesus Christ and considered it an honor to suffer for the same reasons. He knew that the Word of God had power to save souls for eternity, even if the one who preached it was in jail. Because of this attitude, he was able to endure what was happening to him.
Jesus earlier told the disciples that they would suffer for believing in Him. He even told them to consider it an honor to do so, for persecution identified their allegiance, and they would be rewarded.
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 5:11–12)
Why do followers of Jesus Christ receive such unjust treatment? In my country, there is a great cry for tolerance in the name of every other religion, but Christians are not given the same freedom. It is okay to be angry and hate us for what we believe. It is as Jesus said…
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but 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…. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:18–21)
Jesus said they do it because we are of a different citizenship. We belong to heaven and for some reason that makes people hate us just as they hated the One we call our Lord and King. They also hate our message for it calls them out of the world too, and for most, they love their sin and do not want to change.
Paul knew he would be treated unjustly. The Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15–16) and the other apostles learned that this was an honor. “And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:40–42)
This does not happen as much here as it did there. Perhaps the freedom of living in North America has spoiled us? Perhaps we take for granted the fairness that has characterized our justice system (that is now failing)? Or we assume the blessing of God includes comfort and being tolerated, even well-liked?
The Bible does say, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12), yet in North America, most of us are protected by law, godly or not. In other parts of the world, Christians die every day because others hate them simply for being godly people.
I’m not sure how I would respond to severe persecution. My hope is that I would look to Jesus and identify with Him, appreciating how He suffered for my sake and considering it a privilege to be like Him. Yet I fear that I’m not there yet, and that I would defend myself rather than endure for the sake of the Gospel.
Lord, today’s reading says that “the highest bidder for the crown of glory is the lowliest wearer of the cross of self-denial” which says to me that I cannot credit the justice system for any lack of persecution in my life. Rather, the reason could easily be that my life is characterized more by me-first than self-denial. Jesus, You know. I’m grateful that many of Your people still have freedom to believe and proclaim the Gospel, but know that a day is coming when this will not be so. May You work in my heart so that I will not shrink back when that day arrives.