Lessons - Devotional - "Persecution Perspective "

2 Timothy 3:12 - Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Do you recall the first time you read or heard this passage as a young Christian? Did it make you uncomfortable, perhaps even afraid? Perhaps you tried to convince yourself that persecution wouldn’t be something we’d have to worry about in the US. How’s that working out now?

Already in the US:
- A federal judge held that prayers before a state House of Representatives could be to Allah but not to Jesus.
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned the mention of God from veterans’ funerals, overriding the wishes of the deceased’s families.
- It is commonplace for evolutionary and humanistic lies to be praised, while Christians showing their support for the Bible may be harshly attacked as narrow-minded, foolish, and even guilty of “hate crimes”.

What are we going to do when the tougher persecution comes?
Do we just plan to lay low, not rock the boat, and keep our religion to ourselves… until we are forced to confess or deny it? If that’s your plan, consider what confession you would make when the pressure is really on… if you’ve spend years not confessing when the pressure wasn’t on?

Surely, no one likes to be unjustly mistreated. Yet when we hear accounts of early Christians being greatly persecuted, it was something they welcomed, and even rejoiced in!

Let’s take a look at some of the persecution that early Christians faced…

It would be impossible to describe the outrages and tortures which the martyrs in Thebais endured. They were scraped over the entire body with shells instead of hooks until they died. Others being bound to the branches and trunks of trees perished. For they drew the stoutest branches together with machines, and bound the limbs of the martyrs to them; and then, allowing the branches to assume their natural position, they tore asunder instantly the limbs of those for whom they contrived this. All these things were done, not for a few days or a short time, but for a long series of years
And we beheld the most wonderful ardor, and the truly divine energy and zeal of those who believed in the Christ of God. For as soon as sentence was pronounced against the first, one after another rushed to the judgment seat, and confessed themselves Christians. And regarding with indifference the terrible things and the multiform tortures, they declared themselves boldly and undauntedly for the religion of the God of the universe. And they received the final sentence of death with joy and laughter and cheerfulness; so that they sang and offered up hymns and thanksgivings to the God of the universe till their very last breath.

Now that is a different perspective on persecution!
Even if you acknowledge that the works of Eusebius are uninspired and perhaps even a little biased, there is no escaping that the early Christians suffered some of the worst tortures in history, and yet they welcomed it!

Does the New Testament teach the same thing? Indeed it does repeatedly:

Heb 11:35-38 – Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy.

Acts 5:41 - So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.

II Cor 2:10 - Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

To quote Nicodemus in trying to grasp a spiritual concept, “How can these things be?”
You cannot understand this behavior using worldly wisdom!
This kind of thinking is only spiritually discerned, through an ever-increasing faith, which comes from an ever-growing understanding of God’s Word

I can’t give you a quick, easy answer, but I’m going to briefly touch on 3 reasons that may help to explain this mindset. Like all spiritual truth though, the real understanding is going to come from personal Biblical study & prayer to God.
That devotion to personal study is a necessity. How can we even begin to say that we’re ready to die for Him, if we can’t even devote daily time to Him?!

1) God’s love & sacrifice

Probably the most obvious reason why one might have a different perception of persecution would be knowing God’s love for them. Undoubtedly, the more you know about His love and His sacrifice for you, the more you are willing to love and sacrifice back.

I John 4:19 - We love because he first loved us.

II Cor 5:14-15 - For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

2) Bigger life/death picture

Another reason for this kind of thinking would be having a bigger picture of life & death.

We’re all going to die and we’re all going to be judged (Heb 9:27).
Ultimately, how do you want to live & die during your one chance on Earth?

Would you rather spend it chasing your temporary selfish desires, or spend it standing firm in your beliefs, loving & helping others?

Would you rather die from the destruction of your body caused by sin, or be faithful to death for your Creator?

Take even the most extreme examples, keeping an eternal perspective – which would you choose:
a) Dying in your sleep 20 years from now, without ever sharing Jesus with anyone during that time - or -
b) Being tortured to death 20 hours from now for having preached the Truth and having boldly obtained the crown of martyrdom for Christ
Which would you want to choose, heading to eternity?

If we know we’d ideally want to boldly stare down death for the cause of Christ, why do we find ourselves shrinking back from confronting someone living in sin, or even just sharing our faith?

I’m not saying you should go out and try to offend people and hope to get killed. What we want to do is speak the truth in love and not hide the truth in fear.
(more about speaking the truth & confronting error next week, Lord willing)

3) Faith in promised reward

A third consideration is having faith that the reward is greater than the suffering.
We can all put up with a bit of adversity if we know the reward afterwards will make it worthwhile. Whether it’s a child eating their green beans so they can get chocolate cake for dessert, a family cutting back on expenses so they can save up for a big vacation, or training hard in a sport to try to win a championship, we all recognize that the bigger the reward, the more we are willing to sacrifice to get it.

Rev 2:10 - Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Mt 5:10-12 - 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.

Is there any sacrifice or suffering we could endure that would in any way equal what God has done for us or what Christ has prepared for those who are counted faithful?

Why need we mention the rest by name, or number the multitude of the men, or picture the various sufferings of the admirable martyrs of Christ? Some of them were slain with the axe, as in Arabia. The limbs of some were broken, as in Cappadocia. Some, raised on high by the feet, with their heads down, while a gentle fire burned beneath them, were suffocated by the smoke which arose from the burning wood, as was done in Mesopotamia. Others were mutilated by cutting off their noses and ears and hands, and cutting to pieces the other members and parts of their bodies, as in Alexandria. Why need we revive the recollection of those in Antioch who were roasted on grates, not so as to kill them, but so as to subject them to a lingering punishment? Or of others who preferred to thrust their right hand into the fire rather than touch the impious sacrifice?
In these conflicts the noble martyrs of Christ shone illustrious over the entire world, and everywhere astonished those who beheld their manliness; and the evidences of the truly divine and unspeakable power of our Saviour were made manifest through them.

Mt 10:28 - And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

If you aren’t a Christian, but you want to know more about the unshakable joy, confidence, and reward that comes from living for something bigger than yourself, come forward and let us know. We’d love to study with you or help you however we can.

Christians, from what perspective do you view persecution? Have you let the fear of other’s reactions keep you from teaching the truth of God’s Word? Do you need to make a change in your life in accordance with the Scriptures? Can we help?
Please come forward and make your need known, while we stand and sing the invitation song.