By Joseph Ametepe
When believers who are suffering for the sake of Christ are asked what should be done for them, their answer is almost always, "Pray for us!" While sending medical supplies, food, clothing, blankets, financial support and even "Life Packs" to people who are displaced by persecution is practical and proper, the greatest need of those who are persecuted for Christ's sake, is "fervent prayers" on their behalf. This is consistent with scriptural examples
When Apostle Peter was imprisoned pending his execution by Herod Agrippa I, the church of Jerusalem stormed the throne of God on behalf of Peter. They poured out their hearts to God in earnest, eager, fervent, literally strained prayer concerning Peter (see Acts 12:5).
The writer of Hebrews who was under some attack from his critics, wrote an urgent personal appeal for prayer. He earnestly asked the Hebrew Christians to pray for him and others who were suffering for the Faith. He wrote, "I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon" (Hebrews 13:19 - NIV). The writer's added reason for urgent prayer was that he might be restored to them the sooner. Perhaps this refers to his hoped-for release from prison. (While we are not sure he was in prison, we do know for certain that he was suffering some kind of persecution for the sake of the gospel). He therefore requested prayer for himself.
For the sake of the gospel, Paul was under house arrest in Rome for two full years (see Acts 28:16, 30). Prior to this, Paul had been imprisoned for two years in Caesarea (see Acts 24:27). He was suffering for the cause of Christ. While in Rome, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write to the churches he founded through the preaching of the gospel. One of these churches was the church at Philippi. Paul bared his heart to them and shared his deep personal concerns. One of these concerns was asking the Christians at Philippi to pray for his release from his first Roman imprisonment. Through the Spirit, he wrote, "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope" (Philippians 1:19-20). The deliverance Paul was seeking here is his release from prison. The means which God would use to bring about this release would be the prayer of the Philippians and the help of the Holy Spirit. Paul attached great importance to the prayers of a feeble band of believers in the church at Philippi. He saw this praying band of believers as vessels through whom God's power could be unleashed to thwart the purposes and the mighty power of Rome. Paul firmly believed that believers can influence the destiny of nations and change the course of history through believing prayer. In answer to the believing prayers of the Christians at Philippi, Paul was released as he had eagerly anticipated. Prayer does play an important role in the lives of persecuted believers.
Writing to Philemon, a slaveholder who had been led to the Lord, possibly as a result of Paul's ministry (Philemon 1:19), the inspired apostle Paul, again expressed hope of being released from his first Roman imprisonment through Philemon's prayers and those of his household. By the Spirit, Paul wrote to Philemon, whom he called "our beloved brother and fellow worker" (Philemon 1:2), these words which expressed his confidence of being set free; "At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers, I will be given to you" (Philemon 1:22). Although Paul was being persecuted for the cause of the gospel, yet he expected to be released by the civil authorities in Rome in answer to the prayers of the believers in the household of Philemon. As a result of Paul's confident expectation of being freed, he specifically asked Philemon to prepare a guest room for him at Colossae. Paul hoped to visit Colossae and be a guest in Philemon's house. The letters to the Philippians and to Philemon, as well as those to the Ephesians and Colossians were written in Rome where Paul spent two full years under house arrest. In each of these letters, Paul requested for prayer for the gospel (Ephesians 6:19-20;Colossians 4:3-4) and counted on the prayers of other believers for his release from imprisonment (Philippians 1:19-20; Philemon 1:22). This is to emphasize the importance of praying fervently for persecuted Christians.
Again, the call for earnest prayer for those suffering for the sake of Christ is echoed in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Paul and his fellow workers were persecuted for the cause of the gospel in Asia. Part of the affliction they suffered for the sake of the gospel is recounted in Acts 19:23-41. According to the biblical record, Paul and his team members were burdened excessively, beyond their strength, so that they despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8). Paul related to the Corinthians that God brought good out of this situation. He taught them the valuable lesson of relying on Him, not on themselves (2 Corinthians 1:9). While God had taught Paul and his fellow workers a lesson of a lifetime, He wanted the Christians at Corinth to see how valuable their prayers were for persecuted Christians. Therefore, led by the Spirit, Paul urged the Corinthians to help them through their prayers. "You also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many" ( 2 Corinthians 1:11). Prayer, much prayer, fervent prayer is what the persecuted Christians need the most.
In these five Biblical stories we have illustrations of an established pattern for the church to follow in these days of persecution against the Church in many countries. God's people who are not themselves being persecuted must speak to God concerning those of His children who are suffering for the cause of Christ. Clearly, our primary role is helping our persecuted brothers and sisters through our prayers so that God will bestow His favor upon them in their sufferings. The early Christians' example of lifting up their persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer to God is what God wants the Church of today to follow.
Often, however, the Church substitutes practical help for prayer. As long as we send relief to the families of Christian martyrs or provide medical assistance, food, clothing, blankets, financial help and other forms of aid, we consider our work done. But in reality, our work has just begun. Practical help alone is not sufficient. Prayer to God on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters is the most essential and eternal help we can give to them. Prayer is the most powerful way we can support, serve and strengthen the persecuted Church. Prayer is not the least we can do - it is the most we can do. And yet, this is normally either much neglected or, at best, given lip service among God's people.
Perhaps, we are not sure of how to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. The purpose of this article is to help Believers learn what God's Word teaches about persecution. Understanding what God teaches about persecution will equip us to pray effectively and fervently for the Persecuted Church.
The Body of Christ, the Church, is one and yet has many members. We belong to each other. We need each other. We must care for one another. The Bible teaches that if one member of the Body suffers, all the members suffer with him (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). One of the ways believers suffer with other members who are suffering for the sake of the gospel is to constantly bring the suffering of their Christian brothers ands sisters to the throne of God. As we bring them to the throne of God, we are to do so with confidence in our Sovereign and mighty God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).
My prayer is that God will use this article to deepen our understanding of persecution and equip us to be more effective in our prayers for our precious brothers and sisters in Christ, who are suffering for His name sake. Our partnership with Him in earnestly praying for persecuted Christians according to His Word, will certainly advance His purposes for the Church in our day to the praise of His glory. What a privilege God has given us! Let's therefore learn what His Word teaches about persecution in the lives of His people so we can make our prayers count for eternity.
Definition of Persecution
Persecution is a word that is commonly used today. Every man-made religion includes in its teaching the subject of persecution. Is the Muslim's or Bhuddist's or Hinduist's definition of persecution the same as that of the Christian's? What is God's definition of persecution? If a Muslim kills someone in defense of his faith in Allah [which is not God as revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus] and is imprisoned for life, is that persecution in God's sight? If a born-again believer steals from his company and is caught and locked up, is that persecution in the eyes of God?
It is essential to define what persecution is as God Himself defines and describes it. Only by knowing the correct definition will we be effective in praying for ourselves and for others in persecution.
From the biblical record, persecution can simply be defined as suffering for doing what is right in the sight of the true and living God, (the sufferer, being one who is in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ). In other words, it is suffering for doing the will of God. It is experiencing hardship solely because the Believer obeyed God. It is being mistreated, oppressed, imprisoned, harassed, abused, insulted, scoffed at, scorned or slandered for honoring the holy and righteous God. It is being beaten, tortured or even being killed for standing for the truth as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It is being betrayed or hated because of the name of Jesus. It is suffering for doing good (as defined by God). It is suffering for the name of Jesus Christ. It is suffering for the sake of true righteousness as defined by the one and only true God. It is sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In short, it is suffering as a Christian.
Suffering that is not for the name of Jesus Christ or for the sake of true righteousness is not persecution in the eyes of God. Call it whatever you want, but it is not persecution as far as God is concerned. The repentant thief on the cross knew that he was not being "persecuted" for being a criminal. He admitted to his fellow criminal that they indeed were suffering justly, "For we are receiving what we deserve for our deed; but this man [referring to the Lord Jesus] has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). This illustrates what persecution is and is not.
Let me at this point state the Scriptural passages from which the above definition of persecution is derived. These passages are self-explanatory.
"What credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:20-23).
"Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed...and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong" (1 Peter 3:13-14, 16-17).
"If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name...Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right" (1 Peter 4:14-16, 19).
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me"(Matthew 5:10-11).
"They will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake...You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name" (Luke 21:12, 16-17).
From all these passages, it is clear that true persecution occurs only in the lives of those who are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ and are suffering only for His name's sake. That is what persecution is all about. One who is not in a right relationship with Jesus Christ and is not suffering solely for Him and His cause cannot called himself persecuted. Those who are persecuted, first of all, are connected to Christ through the new birth, and are daily committed to Christ and His cause.
Overview of Article
Having defined persecution, what it is and what it is not, and who suffers persecution, it is helpful to give an overview of this article. First, we will examine the principal truths revealed in the Bible about persecution. Second, we will look at the importance of preparing ourselves for persecution. Third, we will search the Scriptures to discover God's purpose for persecution in the lives of believers. Fourth, we will examine the prescribed responses for God's people in times of persecution. Fifth to be discussed is, the all-important question: "How long, O Lord?" - that is, the period of time we and others will live under persecution. Sixth, we will focus on the power offered to us by the Lord to enable to persevere as His witnesses while suffering persecution. Seventh, we discover what Scripture says about the provision of the Holy Spirit for the persecuted. Eighth, we will discuss the progress of the Church in times of persecution. Ninth, examples of petitions for persecuted believers will derived from the Scriptures - examples that will help us pray effectively and earnestly for our precious brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for His name's sake.
Principal Truths about Persecution
1. The Person of Christ is the supreme example of persecution and suffering.
• Perhaps, the most important truth revealed in the Scriptures about persecution is that Christ Jesus Himself is the supreme example of persecution and suffering. Understanding this principal truth about persecution is essential for each suffering and persecuted believer. It gives us the right perspective when we find ourselves experiencing persecution. Nothing we experience will ever compare with the suffering our Lord Himself endured for us throughout His earthly life and on the cross. No matter how fiercely we have been persecuted, we will never ever suffer like Jesus did for us.
• The truth that the Person of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of persecution and suffering is clearly stated in both the Old and New Testaments. Among the notable Old Testament Scriptures that speak about the sufferings of Christ are Psalms 22, 69 and Isaiah 53.
• Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm. It reveals Christ's sufferings as foretold by the prophet David. Bible Commentator, William MacDonald writes,
"Approach this Psalm with the utmost solemnity and reverence, because you have probably never stood on holier ground before. You have come to Golgotha where the Good Shepherd is giving His life for the sheep. For three hours the earth has been enveloped in thick darkness. Now 'Immanuel's orphan cry' echoes through the universe: 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' (Psalm 22:1)."
• At Golgotha, our Lord was despised by men. They wagged their heads at Him (see Psalm 22:6-7). He was surrounded by a band of evildoers. His hands and feet were pierced. His garments were divided (see Psalm 22:16-18).
• Psalm 69 is another Messianic Psalm which speaks of Christ's persecution. Again, as in the case of Psalm 22, this Psalm was given through the prophet David. Christ was hated without cause, given gall for His food, vinegar to quench His thirst while hanging on the cross (v. 21). . While at the cross they persecuted Him whom God Himself had smitten (v. 26).
• Perhaps, the most well-known Old Testament Scripture that shows graphically that Christ is the supreme example of suffering for the sake of righteousness is Isaiah 53. Christ is seen here as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, a Man of Sorrows who knew what grief was. Please take time to prayerfully read this chapter. Memorize it and often meditate on it. As you do so, allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you heart. You will begin to understand this principal truth about persecution - the Person of Christ is the supreme example of persecution.
• The New Testament record clearly affirms the truth that Christ is the supreme example of suffering. This was repeatedly disclosed by our Lord Himself. Over and over again, our Lord made it plain to His disciples that He would not just suffer, but suffer many things. After Peter confessed Jesus at Caesarea Philippi as the Christ, the Son of the living God (see Matthew 16:16), the Lord "Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day"(Matthew 16:21; cf. Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25). Christ also emphasized the fact of His suffering on several other occasions (see Matthew 17:12, 22-23; 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33; 22:15).
• The theme of His suffering also features prominently in the teachings of the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. Speaking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Risen Lord spoke about the necessity of His suffering. "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory" (Luke 24:25-26).
• Speaking to the rest of His disciples just before His ascension, the Risen Lord, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, saying to them,"Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:46).
• Let me attempt to share some of the "many things" our Lord suffered while doing the will of God. He was afflicted (Isaiah 53:7), arrested (Mark 14:48; Luke 22:54; John 18:12), abused physically and verbally (Matthew 27:29) and accused falsely and harshly (Matthew 27:12;Mark 15:3; Luke 23:2, 10). He was bound (Matthew 27:2; John 18:12), blindfolded (Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64), beaten (Mark 14:65), betrayed (Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:10) and blasphemed (Luke 22:65; John 10:33, 36). He was condemned to death (Matthew 20:18; Mark 14:64), called all kinds of names (Matthew 11:19; John 8:48, 52; 9:24; 10:20; 18:30), criticized repeatedly for doing what God sent Him to do (Matthew 9:1-7; 12:1-2, 24), confronted and challenged by the religious authorities (Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8), crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), and crucified for our sins (Matthew 27:35; Luke 23:33;John 19:18). He was deserted by His loyal friends (Matthew 26:57; Mark 14:50), driven out of His own city (Luke 4:29), despised by men (Isaiah 53:3), delivered into the hands of sinners, though He Himself was sinless and committed no sin (Matthew 26:47-49), denied by the man who promised to die with Him (Matthew 26:69-74), and His garments were divided up (Mark 15:24). He was grumbled against by the religious leaders and the people (Luke 15:2; 19:7;John 6:41, 61; 7:12). He was hated for doing what was right and for telling the truth (John 5:18;7:7; 8:40), and held in custody like a prisoner (Luke 22:63). He was insulted (Matthew 27:44;Mark 15:32), interrogated (Mark 14:61; 15:2, 4), and regarded as an insane fellow (John 10:20). He was led away like a criminal (Mark 14:44, 53; Luke 22:54, 66; 23:26), and laid hands on like a notorious gangster (Mark 14:46). Our Lord was mocked (Matthew 27:41), molested (Mark 15:17), made fun of (Mark 15:17), and mistreated (Matthew 27:34; Mark 13:19; Luke 18:32). He was oppressed (Isaiah 53:7) and opposed (Luke 13:10-17). He was persecuted by the Jews for healing a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years on a Sabbath (John 5:6, 16). He was plotted against (Matthew 26:3-5) and was pierced through for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5; John 19:34). He was ridiculed, reviled, reproached (Matthew 27:39-43) and rejected (Luke 17:25). He was scoffed at (Luke 16:14), sneered at by the rulers (Luke 23:35), spies were sent after Him by the religious leaders to catch Him in something He said so that they might hand Him over to the power and authority of Governor Pontius Pilate (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26). Many times the Jews picked up stones to stone our Lord (Matthew 12:14; John 8:59; 10:31; 11:8). Christ was seized (Matthew 26:48, 50), spat on (Matthew 26:67;Mark 14:65), slapped (Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65; John 19:3), struck by those who seized Him and later by an officer of the high priest (Matthew 26:68; John 18:22), slandered by the religious leaders (Matthew 27:62-65), stripped of His clothes (Matthew 27:28) and scourged (Matthew 27:26; John 19:1). He was treated with contempt (Matthew 27:29; Mark 9:12; Luke 23:11).
• This list could go on. But I trust the point is well taken. Christ is the supreme example of persecution and suffering. He not only came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), but also to suffer. And He indeed, suffered many things. This principal truth must constantly be brought to our hearts and minds. The sufferings of Job, Joseph, Jeremiah, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul and all others pale in comparison to the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The only person in history who did not deserve to suffer, suffer most. His sufferings are incomparable. Indeed, Christ's sufferings are unspeakable. We will never ever suffer for the sake of the gospel like Christ did. He is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. He is the Man of Sorrows. What a name for the Son of God who came to save us! Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
• My brothers and sisters in Christ, when our Lord spoke of suffering many things, those words were not mere words. They were solemn words, pointing to the fact that He indeed is the supreme example of suffering for the sake of righteousness.
• No one has ever been persecuted or will ever be persecuted like Jesus Christ. He was sinless yet He suffered many things. If there was anyone who should be exempted from suffering and persecution it was Christ, the Son of the Blessed One. Yet He suffered the most, thus becoming the supreme example of persecution.
2. Persecution of believers is predicted in the Scriptures.
• The second principal truth about the persecution of believers is that it is predicted in the Scriptures. In other words, the persecution of believers in all ages is not a surprise to God. He knew about it and spoke of it with great certainty. It is in His plan for His people. But this does not mean that God causes it. Satan, is the principal force behind the persecution of believers.
• Jesus, the Lord and Head of the Church, the supreme example of suffering, made most of the predictions of the persecution of believers. In the early stages of His ministry, before ever sending the twelve disciples on their first mission, the Lord Jesus predicted that they would face persecution. Matthew records for us Christ's most comprehensive prediction of the persecution of believers.
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they would hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes" (Matthew 10:16-23).
• Mark, Luke and John also recorded Christ's foretelling of the persecution of believers (seeMark 13:11-13; Luke 12:11-12; 21:12-17; John 15:18-21). Earlier, in His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord introduced the subject of persecution for the sake of righteousness.
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me"(Matthew 5:10-11).
• Our Lord not only predicted persecution in the lives of His people at the beginning of His ministry but also at the end of His ministry. Just before He went to the cross, our Lord predicted that His true followers would be persecuted. Speaking to the religious leaders in the temple, [His last public teaching] our Lord foretold the persecution His disciples would experience at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel.
"Behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you [the religious leaders] will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar" (Matthew 23:34-35).
• Soon after this, speaking to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, our Lord declared privately to them, "They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name's sake" (Matthew 24:9).
• All these examples show clearly that persecution of believers is predicted in the Scriptures. The fact that persecution is repeatedly foretold in Scripture makes it all the more important for us to realize that it is in the sovereign plan of God to allow persecution of His believing children. [Just as Job was permitted to suffer.]
• Since the early believers knew that persecution was predicted in the Scriptures, they were not surprised when they ran into persecution. They had been faithfully taught to expect it. Instead of retaliating or even vindicating themselves, they simply committed their cause to God, who judges righteously. Instead of seeking escape from trials, they prayed for boldness to proclaim Christ to all with whom they came into contact.
3. Persecution is part and parcel of our lives as believers.
• From the teaching of Christ and the apostles after Him, it is clear that persecution is part and parcel of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. Suffering was a major part of our Lord's life. Since a disciple is to be like his master, it is no surprise that suffering for the sake of righteousness is a normal Christian experience here on earth.
• This truth is revealed consistently in Scripture. In Psalm 34:19, we read these words, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all." Psalm 129 is one of the 15 "Songs of Ascents." This Song of Ascents rehearses Israel's past treatment at the hands of her many foes, then asks the Lord to insure an unpromising future for these cruel aggressors. In rehearsing Israel's past treatment, persecution featured prominently. "Many times they have persecuted me from my youth up, 'let Israel now say,' "many times they have persecuted me from my youth up," yet they have not prevailed against me" (Psalm 129:1-2). The expressions "many are the afflictions" and "many times they have persecuted me" clearly suggest that persecution or affliction is part and parcel of our lives as God's people.
• Instructing His disciples in the Upper Room, just before heading to Gethsemane and to Golgotha, to pour out His life blood for our sins, the Lord Jesus plainly told them, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33b). Earlier in this verse, our Lord clearly stated the purpose of His instruction in the Upper Room, it was that His disciples might have peace (see John 16:33a). When His disciples would be hated, pursued, persecuted, falsely condemned, and even tortured, they could have peace in Him. He overcame the world at the cross of Calvary. In spite of their tribulations, they could rest assured that they were on the winning side. Persecution will come into our lives as believers, but it doesn't mean we will be victims of it. We have victory even in persecution because Christ, the Victor is living in us.
• Apostle Peter once asked Christ what they would receive for leaving everything to follow Him. Our Lord's response shows that persecution will be among the things His followers receive as a part of their reward.
"Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
• Our Lord spoke here of present and future reward for those who forsake all for His sake and the gospel's. Notice that persecutions are a part of the present reward. It is a cause of rejoicing when one is found worthy to suffer for Jesus' sake.
• The Holy Spirit directed Apostles Peter and Paul who themselves experienced much persecution to write about the fact that persecution will be part and parcel of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.
• Through the Spirit, Peter wrote,
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:12-16).
• The natural attitude for a believer is to look on persecution as strange and abnormal. We are surprised when we have to suffer for the sake of the gospel. But the inspired Peter tells us here that we should consider it as normal Christian experience. We have no right to expect better treatment from the world than our Savior received. He is the supreme example of suffering and persecution. He left an example for us to follow. "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps"(1 Peter 2:21).
• Perhaps the clearest and most convincing passage in Scripture that stresses the fact that persecution is a normal Christian experience is 2 Timothy 3:12. In an emphatic manner, the Holy Spirit led the persecuted Apostle Paul to write to young Timothy, saying, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
• Notice very carefully the certainty with which Paul spoke of persecution in the life of the believer. By the Spirit, he said, "will be persecuted," not "may be persecuted." Persecution is an integral part of a devoted Christian life. Those who take a forthright stand for Christ become the object of savage attack. Satan doesn't waste his ammunition on nominal Christians. He turns his big guns on those who are storming the gates of Hades. The reason for this persecution is simple. A godly life exposes the wickedness of the ungodly. People do not like to be exposed for who they really are before God. Instead of humbling themselves and repenting of their ungodliness and turning to Christ, they seek to destroy the one who has shown them up for who they really are. Every young Timothy should be reminded of this. Otherwise, when he is called upon to go through deep waters, he might be tempted to think that he has failed the Lord or that the Lord is displeased with him for some reason. All believers who are truly living for Christ must be reminded of this principal truth - persecution is a normal experience of a committed Christian.
• To the church at Corinth, Paul described his life as a life of persecution."We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed... persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). "But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger" (2 Corinthians 6:4-6). For Paul, persecution was a normal experience of a Christian.
• Yet there is hope. There is victory assured for the believer. It will do us much good to hide this truth in our hearts and so prepare ourselves for the days of suffering for the sake of the gospel.
4. Persecution is a privilege God's people have in their walk with God.
• While we do not naturally think of persecution as a privilege, God's Word makes it very clear that it is indeed a privilege for believers. Paul counted it a privilege and so wanted to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings (see Philippians 3:10). Writing to the believers at Philippi, the Holy Spirit led Paul to reveal this principal truth - persecution is a privilege granted to us in Christ. He wrote, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).
• The Philippians should remember that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ as well as to believe in Him. Similarly, we should also come to a firm understanding that believing in Christ as well as suffering for His name is a gift of God.
• The Greek verb translated "granted" (charizomai) actually means give freely or graciously as a favor of God. The sense of the verse is captured in this translation: 'You have graciously been given the privilege of suffering for Christ.' This principal truth is not commonly taught in the Church today, especially in the West. What is commonly taught is that believing in Christ leads to prosperity. People are told if they follow the Lord they will be safe and comfortable. As a result, people focus on physical and material prosperity, forgetting that suffering for Christ's sake is not only part and parcel of our lives as believers, but also a privilege, a gift of God to His believing children.
5. Persecution of believers is in reality the persecution of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• In His confrontation with the chief persecutor of the His Church, the Risen and Glorified Lord Jesus revealed that persecuting His people is in reality the persecution of Himself.
• Saul, later called Paul, took it upon himself to persecute the church and destroy her presence and witness in Judea and outside of Judea. This was his burning passion. He personally went to the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any believer, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-3). Paul was not content with his success in persecuting believers in Jerusalem and Judea. He wanted to put out the light of the church once for all. But he would soon learn that that was an impossible task.
• On his way to Damascus, the Lord of glory, the Risen Christ, confronted him in a dramatic and life changing way.
"As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? 'And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:3-5).
• Paul was deeply convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was dead and buried in a Judean grave. Since, Jesus of Nazareth the leader of the sect had been destroyed, all that was now necessary was to destroy His followers. Then earth would be free of this "deceptive and unwanted religion." But that was not to happen. With crushing force, Paul learned that the Nazarene is not dead at all, but that He had been raised from the dead and had been glorified at the right hand of God in heaven! The encounter with the glorified Savior changed the entire direction of Paul's life.
• On that day, Paul also learned and unforgettable truth about the mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Please notice that when the Lord Jesus confronted the chief-persecutor of the church, He did not say, "Why are you persecuting them?" He said, "Why are you persecutingMe?" In that moment of confrontation, Paul learned that there was a mysterious but real link between the Head of the Church in heaven and the members of that Church on earth - so much so that for Paul to put his hand upon a Christian was the equivalent of putting his hand upon the Christ. Paul never forget this truth - to persecute the disciples of Jesus is to persecute the Lord Himself. In other words, pain inflicted on the members of the Body on earth was felt by the Head of the Body in heaven. We too must never forget this truth.
6. Persecution will not separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39).
• Another principal truth taught in the Scriptures about persecution is that persecution will not be able to separate the persecuted from the love of Christ who is at the right hand of God interceding for him or her. This is a marvelous truth that every believer should endeavor to hide in his or her heart. Persecution will not separate us from the eternal love of God. Praise be to God!
• Writing to the believers at Rome, Paul asked a heart searching question through the Holy Spirit, to which the Spirit Himself also provides a definitive and conclusive answer.
"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'for your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).
• Commentating on these words, Bible Commentator William MacDonald writes,
"A search is made for every adverse circumstance that has been effective in causing separations in other areas of human life. But none can be found. Not the threshing flail of tribulation with its steady pounding of distress and affliction, nor the monster of anguish, bringing extreme pain to mind and body, nor the brutality of persecution, inflicting suffering and death on those who dare to differ. Nor can the gaunt specter of famine - gnawing, racking, and wasting down to the skeleton... Nor can peril - the threat of imminent and awful danger. Nor can the sword - cold, hard, and death-dealing.... Instead of separating us from Christ's love, these things only succeed in drawing us closer to Him. We are not only conquerors, but more than conquerors....But all of this is not through our own strength, but only through Him who loved us. Only the power of Christ can bring sweetness out of bitterness, strength out of weakness, triumph out of tragedy, and blessing out of heartbreak...The outcome of Paul's search is that he can find nothing that can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. No wonder these words of triumph have been the song of those who have died martyr's deaths and the rhapsody of those who have lived martyr's lives!" Well said!
• Satan is opposed to God. He has come to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). His goal is to derail God's plans for His believing children. His purpose is to destroy God's work in the lives of God's people. He sets up himself against all that is good and all that is of God. No wonder he is the principal force behind the persecution of believers. Persecution is therefore a fierce spiritual battle between Satan, a worker of unrighteousness, and God's believing children, servants of righteousness. It is a real battle between the forces of darkness and the sons of Light.
• That the principal force behind the persecution of believers is Satan is clearly seen in the life of righteous Job. Job was a blameless and upright man. He revered God and shunned evil. He was blessed with children, cattle, camels, etc. and countless numbers of committed servants. Job really took God seriously. He worshiped Him. He walked with Him in integrity. As was his regular custom, he woke up early to seek God on behalf of his children, sacrificing a burnt offering and seeking forgiveness for their sins after his ten children have had their parties. Job was living for the will of God. He was honoring God in every area of his life. He was following hard after God. (see Job 1:1-5).
• But a day came when the angels came to present themselves before the LORD. We are told Satan also came with them. This scene was a scene in heaven. God pulled back the curtains to give us a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes. Satan's name means adversary. Being so proud of Job, God spoke commendably of him to Satan. "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil"(Job 1:8). Satan responded to the Lord with an accusation. The only reason Job feared God was that God had been so good to him. According to Satan, if the Lord had not put a protective hedge around Job, then he would have cursed his Creator to His face (Job 1:9-11).
• The Bible clearly shows that Satan was behind the sufferings that came into Job's life. Satan was granted permission to test Job by robbing him of his precious children and possessions. However, the adversary and accuser, the devil was not permitted to touch Job's person at this point. Satan wasted no time at all to bring a series of dreadful calamities in rapid succession in Job's life, starting with the destruction of his cattle and donkeys to the destruction of his children, all in one day (see Job 1:13-19). In spite of all these terrible losses, Job was empowered to worship God, saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).
• Although Job worshiped God and did not blame God as Satan thought Job would do, he did not let up. Satan was not ashamed that he lost. He was relentless in seeking to destroy a godly and upright man, who in spite of the losses in his life continued to honor God. So, we find Satan appearing before the LORD once again in another scene in heaven. God again spoke commendably of Job. "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause" (Job 2:3). Satan was not at all impressed by this commendation. He told God that Job's faithfulness to Him would soon vanish if he were allowed to touch Job's person. Again, God granted Satan permission to bring untold suffering on the person of Job. But again, God placed a limitation on Satan. He was to spare Job's life. So great was Job's misery and pain that his own beloved wife urged him to curse God and die (see Job 2:4-9). Job, however, stood firm.
• The truth that Satan is behind the persecution of God's people is also seen in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. At His baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, God's voice thundered from heaven as He spoke commendably of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, after the baptism of Christ, the Spirit of God came upon Him "and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased'" (Matthew 3:17). But watch what happens immediately after God the Father's praise of God the Son, Jesus Christ. We are told, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1). The devil tempted the Lord Jesus in three areas but Christ prevailed over him each time. He used the written Word of God as His weapon against His adversary (seeMatthew 4:2-10). After his defeat, the devil left Jesus for an opportune time to strike again (seeLuke 4:13). Again God's Word reveals to us that Satan is the main power and force behind the persecution of believers.
• The truth that Satan is behind the persecution of believers is further illustrated in the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot. While the Lord Jesus was celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, we are told of the wicked work of the devil. By the Holy Spirit, John, the beloved apostle wrote; "During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him" (John 13:2). Just as the devil put into Judas Iscariot's heart to betray our Blessed Lord, so also he is influencing some today to persecute believers. He is the force behind the persecution of the church.
• The Holy Spirit led apostle John to stress this point in the case of the Lord Jesus. So we read again, "So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly'" (John 13:26-27). The devil was not only satisfied with putting the desire into Judas's heart to betray our Lord, but he also saw to it that he influenced Judas to complete the wicked work of betrayal. John used the two most common names of the archenemy of God and His people in this story, that is, the devil and Satan.
• The lesson is clear, Satan or the devil is the principal force behind the persecution of believers. Persecution is a real spiritual battle. Satan is the force behind it. But thanks be to God! The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Corinthians 10:4).
• The Lord Jesus knew very well that Satan is the principal power behind the persecution of believers. He knew that the devil would do everything in his power to persecute His disciples. As a result, our Lord prayed specifically for God's preserving and protective power to be over His own. In His high priestly prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ specifically requested the Father twice to keep those He was leaving behind in the world.
"I am no longer in the world; yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me... While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled... I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:11-12, 14-16).
• The heartbeat of the Lord Jesus in His prayer for His Church is that God Almighty Himself will preserve and protect them from the evil one, who is none other than Satan. Notice that the Lord Jesus spoke of the world's hatred of His disciples. That speaks of persecution believers will face in all ages. Since believers have the characteristics of the Lord Jesus, the world will hate them as they hated Him. Believers are in the world but not of it. Believers do not fit in with the world's scheme of things. Living in the world therefore means that they will have tribulation (John 16:33). But the Lord Jesus not only assured us that He has overcome the world, but also that the Holy Father Himself will preserve us from evil and the evil one. The keeping power of God is such that none of them will perish even in the most evil persecution.
• Clearly, it is not God's desire to take us out of the world to free us from persecution. Therefore, the Lord Jesus did not pray that the Father should take believers home to heaven immediately. They must be left here to grow in grace and to witness for Christ. Rather, His desire is to preserve us in our witness for Christ in this world. The Lord Jesus Himself guarded those whom God had given Him by the Father's name, that is, by His power and authority. But now that He was going away, He asked the Father to preserve believers by His power.
• The Greek word for "keep" is tereo. It also means hold, protect, preserve someone or something for a definite purpose or keep someone unharmed or undisturbed by or through something. Believers are left in the world for the purpose of bearing witness for Christ. God is assuring believers that as they bear witness for Christ in this world, He will preserve and protect them by the power and authority that are invested in His name. God will not leave any of His persecuted child at the mercy of the evil one, the devil. They can count on His preserving and protective power in their persecution.
• Apostle Paul was confident of God's preserving and protective power in his persecution that led to his death. Facing death, the Holy Spirit led Paul to declare his deep conviction in God's power to preserve him. "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18). Certainly, this is a good note to end the discussion of this principal truth about persecution.
Preparation for Persecution
Preparation for persecution was part of Christ's ministry to His disciples.
• The Lord Jesus did not only predict persecution but He also prepared His disciples for persecution to come. He would not send His disciples into the world without preparing them for the inevitable - persecution in the lives. From Matthew's Gospel we find that before the disciples were ever sent on their first evangelistic mission to the nation of Israel, our Lord wisely prepared them for suffering for His name's sake.
• God is in the business of preparation. Before God created man, He prepared the earth for man to dwell on and cultivate (Genesis 1:1-25). He made sure man was put in an environment that was suitable for the purpose of his existence. Before He sent His disciples on their first evangelistic mission in Israel, the Lord Jesus prepared them (Matthew 4-10). Presently, the Lord Jesus had gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. When the preparation is done, the Lord Jesus promised to come for us (John 14:2-3). It can therefore be said that, God always prepares His people for what is to come next into their lives. So it is in the case of persecution. God prepares His believing children for persecution. He doesn't thrust them into persecution unprepared.
• Our Lord's preparation of His twelve disciples for persecution began with picturing them as sheep in the midst of wolves. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (or wise) as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The Lord was counseling them concerning their behavior in the face of persecution. They would be like sheep in the midst wolves, surrounded by vicious men bent on destroying them. They should be as wise as serpents, avoiding giving needless offense or being tricked into compromise.
• The Lord Jesus changed from the metaphoric language in verse 16 to plain language in the following verses. If they missed what He had just said, our Lord made sure they clearly understood what comes next. So He spoke to them in plain language, saying,
"Beware of men, for they will hand you over over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles...Brother will betray brother to death, and a father and his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next..." (Matthew 10:17-18, 21-23).
• Toward the end of His ministry here on earth, our Lord again prepared His disciples for coming persecution. Speaking in the Upper Room, on the night that He was betrayed, our Lord made sure His disciples were well-prepared for persecution in their lives. Using Himself as the the supreme example of suffering and persecution, our Savior solemnly declared to His followers,
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they would keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me" (John 15:18-21).
• Our Lord's disciples were thoroughly prepared for persecution. They were not to be surprised or disheartened if the world hates them. Please take note that the "if"in the passage does not express doubt that this would happen to the disciples of Christ; it was certain. It was inevitable. It was bound to happen. It was sure. Clearly, the world hated the Lord Jesus, and it will hate all who resemble Christ in conduct and character. A committed follower of Christ should not expect any better treatment from the world than his Master received.
• Our Lord concluded His ministry of preparing His disciples for persecution on that night in the Upper Room with these last words that must have sunk deep into the hearts of His disciples:
"These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them" (John 16:1-4).
• The disciples were warned in advance so they would not be moved by these afflictions when they happened. They would remember that their Lord had predicted persecution and also prepared them for it. They would know it was all part of His plan for their lives.
• Following the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, Apostle Paul also prepared believers he ministered to for persecution. Paul and Barnabas didn't preach "prosperity gospel" on first their missionary journey. They preached "persecution gospel" to new believers and so prepared them for suffering for the sake of Christ. After Paul's near death experience at Lystra, we are told the missioners preached the gospel in Derbe and made many disciples (not mere decisions). They then returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:21-22).
• If Paul were preaching today, he would not be invited to preach in most of our churches, especially those which are "seeker-sensitive." His message about persecution would not be welcomed. Why? The message preached in these churches promises to those who trust in Jesus Christ material prosperity, good health, happiness, and a sunny path through life. Preaching in these churches declares that lack of material prosperity, happiness, good health, and pain-free life is evidence of lack of faith. Apostolic preaching is so different from that. Apostolic preaching took for granted that tribulation, persecution and affliction would be the lot in life of those who love the Lord. Young believers were therefore prepared for that. The religious freedoms we enjoy in many Western countries cause us to forget the high price believers, who are open and committed in other cultures, pay for their faith. But even in countries where freedom reigns, persecution and opposition can still arise when a firm stand is taken for Christ against certain things in our society.
• In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica Paul reminded the believers, who were suffering for the sake of the gospel that he had prepared them for that. Paul and Silas and Timothy had a fruitful ministry at Thessalonica. Through their preaching of the gospel, many Gentiles came into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But Paul and his team would not be at their work for long. Persecution arose. Jealous Jews and wicked men from the market place attacked the house of Jason, seeking for Paul and his fellow-workers. There was an uproar. Paul and his team had to leave town (see Acts 17:1-9). But God did a God-sized work through them. A church was established and grew even in the face of persecution. Since Paul felt his work was not finished at Thessalonica, he wanted to go back. But he was hindered by Satan (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14-18). When they could not endure it longer, Paul and his team decided to send Timothy to strengthen and encourage the believers as to their faith (see 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). Paul's instruction to Timothy was to encourage the believers so that no one would be shaken or disturbed by the afflictions they were facing for confessing Christ. Satan was probably dropping subtle suggestions that maybe they were wrong after all in becoming Christians. Knowing this Paul reminded them, "You yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know" (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
• Notice the expression, "we kept telling you in advance." These believers were prepared ahead of time for persecution. Now, they needed encouragement not to buckle under the pressure of persecution. Paul therefore reminded them that even when he was in Thessalonica, he used to tell them that believers were appointed to afflictions. His prediction came true in their own lives. How well they knew it.
• Just last month ago, I read a book called "The Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway. Brother Yun is one of China's house church leaders, a man who despite his relative youth has suffered prolonged torture and imprisonment for his faith. Brother Yun wrote of training missionaries to take the gospel outside of China, all the way back to Jerusalem, where it first came from. Among the main subjects taught in the training of the would be missionaries is preparation of believers for suffering for the sake of the gospel. He wrote, "Each Back to Jerusalem missionary receives training in several main subjects. These include: 1. How to suffer and die for the Lord. We examine what the Bible says about suffering, and look at how the Lord's people have laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel throughout history." He added "This is not a "normal" seminary or Bible College!"
• Recently, the Lord brought a lovely and godly couple, Dave and Nancy, into my life. Nancy told me how her father had prepared them for persecution. Following her father's footsteps, Nancy, also spent time preparing her two children for persecution. She told them, "I want you kids to know that we are blessed in this country. We are not facing persecution today. But I want you to know that it could come anytime. So be prepared for it." What a wise mother, preparing her children for persecution!
Purpose of Persecution
Our God is a God of purpose. He has a purpose for everything He does.
• We will now examine the Scriptures to see for ourselves what God says in His Word about His purpose for allowing persecution into the lives of His people. So far, from my studies in the Scriptures, I have discovered nine purposes for which God permits persecution into the lives of His believing children.
1. Proof of our faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7)
• The first purpose is the proof of our faith. God uses persecution to prove the reality of our faith. Faith is precious to God. He places high value on it. Faith or trust in Him pleases Him like nothing else. His Word declares, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). God's desire for those who are born again by the Spirit of God, and brought into a saving relationship with through Jesus Christ and thus belong to Him is that they live and walk by faith. The Scripture declares, "the righteous man shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). This truth is further affirmed in the Bible, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). The Word of God also teaches that "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
• Because faith is so important to God, He uses persecution to prove its reality. Writing to first century believers who were suffering and scattered, the Holy Spirit led Peter to reveal this. He wrote, "if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable..." (1 Peter 1:6-7). The believers Peter was writing to were no doubt suffering persecution for their testimony for Christ. To provide comfort for these suffering believers, the Holy Spirit comforted them through Peter's writing with the knowledge that their sufferings for the sake of the gospel are neither purposeless nor fruitless. The sufferings of unbelievers, if they persist in their unbelief, are a foretaste of the pangs of hell which they will endure forever. But that is never the case for the believer in Christ. These believers were taught a precious lesson: one of the beneficial purposes of persecution in the life of the child of God is to prove the genuineness of his faith. One can say, faith that is not proven is not faith. God uses persecution to prove the genuineness, the reality of our faith. The fire or furnace of persecution proves our faith to be real. That's one reason God allows afflictions, trials, persecutions and distresses in our lives. God's desire for us is that we will also learn and live by this truth: He uses persecution to prove the genuineness of our faith.
• The second purpose is the purification of our faith. God uses trials to purify our faith. God's heart concern is to remove any and all impurities in our faith. He wants to remove the dross from our lives. A faith full of impurities will not please Him. Therefore He must rid us of all that contaminates our faith. He must test our faith. For faith that is not tested is no faith.
• Writing to scattered Jewish believers of the first century, the Holy Spirit said through James, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trial knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3).
• James here pictures faith as a precious metal which is being tried or tested by the Assayer (God) to see if it is genuine. Its genuineness will be determined by how pure it is. The testing process is therefore a purification process. Our faith is subjected to the fires of persecution, suffering, sickness, or sorrow. Without problems, we would never develop character. We should therefore view various trials we face for the sake of the gospel not as enemies, bent on destroying us, but as friends which have come to help us to develop Christian character.
• Purification of our faith is a good thing and we need it from time to time. We clean our teeth everyday to keep them clean from the buildup of plaques and bacteria. God also allows various trials for the sake of Christ to come into our lives to clean up the buildup of unbelief and doubt that threaten to dull the sharpness and the shine of our faith.
• Peter, in his writing about the purification of our faith in persecution, contrasts our faith with gold: "being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire" (1 Peter 1:7b). Of all the substances known to man, gold is one of the most imperishable. It can be subjected to intense heat and might seem indestructible. But the truth is that gold perishes through use, pressure and fire. However, true, genuine, purified faith is indestructible. The believer may undergo severe tests and trials, but instead of destroying his faith, trials and tests for the sake of Christ only become food for faith to feed on.
• When God uses persecution to purify our faith, something else happens, He weeds out those who are mere professors. When prevailing conditions are favorable, it might be easy to be a believer. But when public confession of Christ brings persecution and suffering, then casual followers drift away and are lost in the crowd. The purification of faith can be proved only by the fire of persecution.
3. Praise at Christ's revelation (1 Pet. 1:7c)
• The third purpose is for praise at the revelation of Christ. Proven, genuine, purified faith will result in praise when Jesus Christ comes back to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Peter encouraged the suffering believers he wrote to with this truth: "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire may be found to result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ'(1 Peter 1:7). This means that God will reward every instance of faith that stood the test of persecution for His name's sake. He will praise those who are joyful though surrounded by trouble. He will award honor and glory to tried and suffering believers who were able to accept their trials, tribulations, persecutions and afflictions for His sake as a vote of confidence from Him.
4. Personal and permanent reliance on God (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
• The fourth purpose is personal reliance on God. God uses persecution in the lives of His people to deepen their dependence on Him. God is dependable. He is reliable. He is also trustworthy. He wants us to depend on Him at all times. He wants us to rely on Him always. He wants us to trust Him every moment of our lives. But we have the tendency of relying on or trusting in ourselves.
• Paul opened his heart and shared a deep personal experience in his life with the believers at Corinth. Persecution came into his life to the point that Paul and his fellow workers felt death itself was knocking at the door of their lives. Paul and his team were completely overwhelmed and burdened beyond belief.
• He wrote in the Spirit,
"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia [i.e., the west coast province of Asia Minor], that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
• The Corinthians clearly understood the purpose of the trials and persecutions Paul and his co-workers faced. They were to learn from that. God allows His committed children to enter persecution in order to deepen their reliance on Him. God did not create us to be independent of Him. He created us to depend on us. He uses persecution to draw us closer to Him and to cause us to lean more and more on Him than on ourselves. A Christian sister has been going through some trying times at home with her atheist husband. After praying and pondering she wrote, "I am learning that God is allowing these trials in my life to cause me to lean more on Him and totally rely on Him as my all in all." God wants His believing children to personally and permanently depend on Him. He allows persecution in our lives to achieve this goal.
• A fifth purpose is potential for spiritual growth. God uses persecution in our lives to bring about exponential spiritual growth. Most of the growth we experience in our walk with God comes through tough and trying times. These times reveal what we are really made of. Potential for spiritual growth can result from these trials.
• Apostle Paul is a good example of this. He had gone through many trials for the sake of the gospel. Through them all, Paul continued to grow spiritually. Having suffered beatings and imprisonments for the sake of the gospel, Paul and those he was traveling with were caught in a violent storm at sea. In the midst of this storm in which all hope of being saved was abandoned, Paul stood out as a shining star. Through the storm Paul had grown spiritually. His trust in God moved to the next level. If it was at a faith level of 8, then it climbed to level 9.
• Paul spoke to the hopeless voyagers saying,
"This very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep your courage, men, for I believe that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts 27:23-25).
• Talk about an exponential spiritual growth! It is clearly obvious in these words.
• But Paul was not one who thought he had arrived and needed no more growth. He wanted to know more of Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (seePhilippians 3:10).
• To the Philippians he wrote these words in the Spirit,
"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14).
• Potential for spiritual growth abounds for us in persecution.
• A sixth purpose is the development of perseverance. Perseverance in the believer's life is developed in persecution. Perseverance then leads to the development of proven character.
• The Bible says in Romans 5:3-4; "we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulations bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope." This truth is repeated in James 1:3-4; "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance has its perfect result, so that you may be perfect an complete, lacking in nothing."
• God is making it clear that He allows various trials into the lives of His children to produce perseverance, steadfastness, endurance resulting in proven character. Proven character is not a matter of the number of degrees attached to one's name. It is not even a matter of how big a church one pastors, nor what position one holds in the church. It is developed in the tribulations of our lives. We could never develop perseverance if our lives are trouble-free. When God sees us bearing up under our trials and looking to Him to work His purposes through them, He is delighted and awards His Good Endurance Seal of Approval. We have been tested and approved. What joy and hope that fill our hearts!
• God is trying to produce Christlikeness in each of His children. This process necessarily involves suffering. Trials never seem pleasant; they seem very difficult and distressing. But afterwards they yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by them (Heb 12:11). How often we hear a believer say, after passing through some great crisis, "It wasn't easy to take, but I wouldn't give up the experience for anything."
• A seventh purpose is the privilege to bear witness for Jesus Christ. God provides opportunities for us to testify of Him to people we will never have met in life. In His prediction of persecution in the lives of believers, our Lord made it clear to them that one of the purposes for allowing persecution in their lives is to bless them with the privilege of witnessing to others. "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles" (Matthew 10:17-18). "They will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony" (Luke 21:12-13). Our Lord is clearly teaching here that His disciples would have the incomparable privilege of testifying before rulers and Gentiles even in their hour of seeming defeat when they are persecuted by both civil and religious authorities. God would be working all things together for their good.
• This truth is clearly illustrated in Paul's life. His persecution for the sake of Christ brought him before governors and kings and soldiers whom he would never have met without persecution (see Acts 21-28; Philippians 1:12-13). God's desire is that His gospel is preached to all creation (Mark 16:15). He wants everyone to hear the good news and have the opportunity to respond to its life-giving message. So, sometimes, He allows persecution in the lives of His believing children in order to give them the privilege to bear witness of Him before people they would normally not have crossed path with in life. God is wise. He is caring. He is compassionate. He desires all men to be saved and He wants us to play a privileged in that. How grateful we should be!
8. Preparation for comforting others who are going through trials in their lives (2 Cor.1:3-4)
• The eighth purpose is preparation to be ministers of God's comfort. God allows persecution into the lives of His children in order to prepare them to comfort others in their troubles. Going through persecution is not without the comfort of God. God takes it upon Himself to personally comfort believers in all their afflictions. But God does not comfort us just to be comfortable, but to be comforters of others. In other words, God allows persecution in our lives to make us ministers of His comfort to others, after we ourselves have been comforted by Him.
• The Holy Spirit led Paul to share this purpose with the believers in the church at Corinth. By the Spirit, Paul wrote,
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
• To be a true comforter, not like Job's three friends, we must first receive the comfort of God ourselves. But how do we receive that comfort? It is not in prosperous and happy times, but in times of persecution for the sake of Christ. Having received God's own comfort in our times of persecution, we are equipped, enabled and empowered to comfort others in their troubles with God's comfort. It is only God's comfort that consoles the distressed heart. It reaches down into the heart and soul of the sufferer. Any other comfort, at best, works only on the surface. It is superficial. It is temporary. It leaves a gnawing emptiness in one's heart. God doesn't want us to carry such "comfort" which is no comfort to others. He wants to minister through us His comfort that makes a permanent and lasting difference in the lives of sufferers.
• A ninth purpose is partaking in the glory Christ Jesus our Lord. Through persecution for Christ's sake, we are prepared to share in the future glory of Christ. Christ's own life followed this pattern, first His sufferings and then His glories that followed (see Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:1).
• Writing to the church at Rome, the Holy Spirit teaches God's people that their sufferings are preparing them to partake in the glory Christ.
"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us"(Romans 8:16-18).
• The Holy Spirit is making it clear here that being in God's family brings blessings that boggle the mind. One of them is being heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. All that the Father has is ours. We have not yet come into possession and enjoyment of it, but nothing can prevent our doing so in the future. But before we enter the fullness of the future life of partaking in the glory of Christ, we have to go through the suffering. The path to glory goes through the valley of suffering. The "if" in the above passage is equivalent to "since." Believers are children of God. They do suffer for Christ's sake. The purpose of suffering for His sake is to share in His incomparable glory.
• In 2 Corinthians 4:17, the Holy Spirit reveals that our present sufferings are light afflictions which are only for a moment and that an indescribable glory awaits us. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). The glory that is awaiting each believer is far beyond all comparison. If we could only appreciate the glory that is to be ours, we could count our present sufferings along the way as trivia!
• Partaking in the future glory of Christ is one of the many reasons why God allows persecution into the lives of His believing children. This wraps up our discussion about God's purpose for allowing persecution into our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.
Prescribed Responses in Times of Persecution
God has prescribed several responses for believers in times of persecution. God knows that many will be watching His persecuted children as to how they respond under pressure for standing for righteousness. He has therefore carefully defined what our responses should be while suffering persecution for His name's sake.
• The following are the responses I have discovered from the Scriptures.
• God did not intend for persecution in our lives to lead to a pity party. Rather, it is to lead us to the praise of Him. This response is best illustrated in the life of Job. Job was a blameless and upright man. He feared God and shunned evil. He was doing the will of God in every area of his life. But Job suffered persecution brought upon him by the work of Satan, who has come to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Job lost all his possessions and his precious children in one day. But in spite of the terrible calamity in Job's life, "he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD'" (Job 1:20-21). Satan's wicked desire was that Job would curse God and die (see Job 1:11; 2:5). But Job blessed God rather than blamed or cursed Him. What an example!
• The Lord Jesus taught His disciples to rejoice and be glad in their persecution. "Rejoice and be glad, for you reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you"(Matthew 5:12; cf. James 1:2). To suffer for Christ's sake is a blessed privilege that should cause joy. This joy is expressed in praising God. When Peter and John were persecuted for healing the crippled beggar they went to the rest of the apostles and the disciples and lifted up their hearts in praise of God. They praised Him in these words: "O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them..." (Acts 4:23)
• When Paul and Silas were persecuted for obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel, they praised God in their prison cell. The Bible says, "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). God acted on behalf of Paul and Silas as they praised Him. He also acted in the lives of the jailer and his household. They heard the gospel and believed and were saved.
• Praising God in times of persecution is a response that honors the wisdom, sovereignty and power of God.
• A second prescribed response in persecution is praying to God.Persecution is a time to draw closer to God in prayer.
• Speaking about the Great Tribulation, our Lord commanded that prayer should be made. Believers should pray that the crisis will not be in winter with its added travel hazards (Matthew 24:20; Mark 13:18).
• James asked, "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray"(James 5:13). Suffering is to lead us to prayer. Again, the apostles and disciples in Acts lived out this response. The apostles and the disciples lifted up their voices in prayer to God. After they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:23-31). In their affliction for the sake of the gospel at Philippi, Paul and Silas prayed in their prison cell (Acts 16:25).
• Prayer is a proper response in times of persecution.
• A third response in persecution is to persevere. The Lord Jesus Himself taught this repeatedly to emphasize such a response.
• "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved" (Matthew 10:23).
• The Lord Jesus Himself was persecuted but He persevered (see Hebrews 12:1-3) leaving us with an example. Those who are persecuted are to follow in His footsteps, not to quit, not to throw in the towel. The apostles persevered in their sufferings for Christ's sake (Acts 4-5; 14:1-5).
• Persevering in persecution is a response that is Christ-like.
4. Praying for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44)
• A fourth response in persecution has to do with the specific command to the persecuted to pray for their persecutors. Those who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel are exhorted to pray for their persecutors. The Lord Jesus commanded; "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
• This response is in some way different from the general response of praying to God. In this response, God wants His persecuted believing child to focus his or her prayer on the ones bringing persecution upon his or her life. The persecuted speaks to God on behalf of his persecutor. Whether the persecutor is a ruler, a governor, a king, a torturer, a dictator, or a wicked soldier, the persecuted is commanded to pray specifically for that person. This particular response is important to God. He repeated it and illustrated it in the lives of our Lord Jesus Christ and Stephen (see Luke 6:27; 23:34; Acts 7:60; Romans 12:20).
• Praying for those who persecute us is a response that reflects the life and character of Christ in the persecuted believer.
• A fifth response in persecution is promptly fleeing to a place of safety. While the persecuted are to persevere in persecution, there comes a time when they are clearly commanded to flee. This does not mean they are acting cowardly or irresponsibly by deserting infant believers or their ministries.
• Our Lord Himself commanded fleeing as a prudent response in times of persecution for His name's sake. Instructing the twelve disciples before sending them on their first evangelistic mission to the nation of Israel, our Lord specifically commanded them to flee. "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next..." (Matthew 10:23).
• Toward the end of His ministry, He repeated this command.
"Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house" (Matthew 24:15-17; cf. Mark 13:14).
• When God reveals to the persecuted believer that he should flee from the persecution, He must be obeyed. To stay behind is a not virtue. One will suffer the consequences of disobedience. That's discipline not persecution.
• Paul and Barnabas persevered in persecution (see Acts 14:1-5). But they also fled to a place of safety when it was clearly evident to them that staying would not help them but harm them (seeActs 14:6-7). When the first wave of persecution occurred in Jerusalem, many of the disciples fled and were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (see Acts 8:1-2). Some even made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch (see Acts 11:19). They were not forsaking their responsibilities. Rather, they were obeying the direct command of the Lord Jesus resulting in the advance of the church.
6. Proper conduct (Phil. 1:27)
• A sixth response in persecution is proper conduct. As believers, we bear God's name. His reputation is at stake in our lives. It is more so in times of persecution. How we carry ourselves is crucial. God knows that. So He commanded persecuted believers to conduct themselves properly in a manner worthy of His name.
• To the persecuted church at Philippi, the Holy Spirit said through Paul;
"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Philippians 1:27).
• The context of this passage is clearly persecution. The Philippians were exhorted to be in no way alarmed by their opponents (see Philippians 1:28). Further, they were reminded that they had been given the privilege, not only to believe in Christ Jesus, but also to suffer with Him (see Philippians 1:29). However, in the midst of suffering for the sake of Christ, they were specifically commanded to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
• Before the Holy Spirit led Paul to write this exhortation, Paul himself had properly conducted himself in his trials for the sake of the gospel. While imprisoned in Caesarea, Paul conducted himself in manner worthy of the gospel. He was calm and well-composed. He was courteous even when accused of being out of his mind. He was respectful of authorities (see Acts 24-26).
• God is deeply concerned about our conduct in persecution. Through Apostle Peter, He repeated His exhortation for persecuted believers to live their lives in a manner that is consistent with the name they bear."Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:16). The context of this passage is also persecution, particularly it focuses on the theme of the Christian and his relation to persecutors (see 1 Peter 3:9-4:6). Notice what is being reviled. It is not the misconduct or the misdeeds of the believer, but his good behavior. Even if the believer's life is blameless, the enemies of the gospel will still find fault with him and bring false charges against. But when the case is examined and the charges are found to be empty, the accusers will be ashamed. That's why it's important to conduct oneself properly in times of persecution.
Period of Living in Persecution
One of the major questions every suffering believer asks is, "O Lord, how long?" We all naturally want to know when God will bring us out of the furnace of affliction.
• King David who was persecuted repeatedly asked God, "O Lord, how long?" (see Psalm 6:3; 13:1-3). When God allows persecution into our lives and the clouds are dark and there is silence from heaven, we feel forgotten and forsaken. God's persecuted children, down through the ages experienced this feeling of abandonment by God. Feeling forgotten and forgotten we ask, "How long, O Lord?"
• David's cry in persecution perfectly illustrates this. Please, listen to his cry.
"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God" (Psalm 13:1-3).
• Four times in the first two verse of this Psalm, David asked the question, "How long?" Pursued hotly by the enemy (perhaps by jealous and insecure King Saul), David wondered what was delaying the chariot of God. Would help never come to free him from the terrible burdens that were crushing him.
• Even though God prepares us for persecution ahead of time, yet none of us says to God, "God, I'm now ready for persecution! Bring it on!" Also, none of us who is being persecuted ever pray to God, "God, I'm in this for the long haul. I'll stay in this persecuted situation for years and years. Let's go for it!" Even the most godliest men wanted out of persecution. Joseph wanted out of prison in Egypt and asked the cupbearer to speak to Pharaoh to get him out of the dungeon (see Genesis 40:14-15). When Paul was in his first Roman imprisonment, he asked for prayer to be delivered and expected deliverance (see Philippians 1:19-20). He didn't want to stay in prison till his death. He was released. He served the Lord a few more years before he was arrested the second time. That imprisonment led to his passage into glory.
• Is there an answer for this question, "O Lord, how long?" When it comes to giving a specific time for believers to live in persecution, God has spoken very little. His focus is not so much on how long, but on what He is doing in and through us. We need to understand that. In His sovereign wisdom, God determines how long we stay in a persecuted situation.
• The few times God spoke on the period of living in persecution, He used the phrase "a little while." In the Greek, it is simply one word, "oligos."
• "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials" (1 Peter 1:6).
• "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you into His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10).
• Compared to eternity our sufferings are only for a little while. This is a comfort for every suffering believer. When contrasted with the eternal glory, life's afflictions are less than momentary (see also 2 Corinthians 4:17). The various trials we face in life are only for a little while, but the glories that follow will be for all eternity. Praise be to God!
• Speaking in the context of of the Great Tribulation, the Lord Jesus introduced a time element in His teaching on persecution, saying, "Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days" (Mark 13:20; cf. Matthew 24:22). God knows how long to keep us in persecution. He will not keep us in persecution beyond the time He has set for us. Thanks be to God! However, I believe our focus in persecution should not be on "when," but "what do You want to do in me and through me ?" That's where our focus should be. We can perfectly trust our wise and sovereign God to take of the "how long."
Power for Persecution
Since persecution is inevitable in the lives of believers, the question is, "In whose strength and power do we suffer in persecution? In our power or God's power?"
• Many of us want to see the power of God displayed in the healing of the sick. Many of us also want to see the power of God demonstrated in delivering drug addicts, prostitutes, and the demon-possessed. There is nothing wrong with these. I believe God is still able to heal and deliver all who are oppressed by the devil. Nothing is impossible for Him to do if He chooses to do so in order to bring glory to His name.
• While there is nothing wrong in seeing the power of God displayed in performing miracles and delivering the spiritually oppressed, do you know that the power of God is gloriously put on display in those who are suffering for the name of Christ?
• The Lord Jesus Himself demonstrated His power over disease, demons, death, the devil and over nature itself. But do you know that the greatest display of His power was at the cross where He endured unimaginable suffering for ours sins? We often don't think of the fact that God's power is gloriously demonstrated in suffering. When Christ, on the cross, cried out with a loud voice and yielded His spirit, the power of God was put on display in a unique way. The veil of the temple, we are told, was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth, we are told, shook and the rocks were split. The tombs, we are told, were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Further, we are told that these resurrected saints came out of the tombs after His resurrection and entered Jerusalem, appearing to many (see Matthew 27:51-53). Christ, truly suffered by the power of God. His persecuted believers must also suffer by the power of God.
• Paul suffered a great deal for the sake of the gospel. Knowing that he had come to the end of his life and ministry, Paul gave one final advice to young Timothy. This particular advice has to do with how one suffers for the sake of the gospel. Timothy needed to be reminded of how one suffers for the name of Christ. Paul knew that Timothy would be facing persecution for the sake of the gospel in the near future. By divine inspiration, he wrote, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8). Paul was first imprisoned in Rome from A.D. 60-62. Paul was freed to continue his ministry. But soon persecution of Christians began shortly after Rome burned in July of A.D. 64. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for that catastrophe, and Christianity was made an illegal religion. It was during this time that Paul, a champion of the Christian cause, was arrested and imprisoned a second time in Rome.
• Preaching the gospel during this time was a crime. Those who dared to testify publicly of Jesus, their Lord and Savior were persecuted. But this should not daunt Timothy. He should not be ashamed of the gospel, even though it involves suffering. Neither should he be ashamed of Apostle Paul who was shut up in prison, with the death sentence hanging on his head. Many "fair-weather" believers had already turned their backs on Paul. They feared to identify themselves with him, lest they invite persecution and possibly death upon themselves. These chose the easy way out - compromise. However, Timothy was exhorted to take his share of the sufferings that accompany the gospel. He was to join with Paul in suffering for the gospel. The expression "join with me in suffering" is simply one word in the Greek"sunkakopatheson" from the verb "sunkakopatheo." It simply means "suffer together with someone."
• Timothy was to join Paul who was in prison to suffer for the gospel according to the power of God. This was how Paul was suffering. He was suffering by the power of God. Paul could not face death in his own strength and be so confident. Each day he remained in prison was a day for God's power to be manifested through him. Even as he suffered death through execution with a sword by decapitation, that is, beheading, it was by the power of God. So Paul exhorted Timothy that whatever he would suffer for the sake of the gospel, he should bear it according to the power of God.
• God intends for every persecuted believer, who is suffering for the sake of the gospel, to suffer not in his own strength, but in the power of God Almighty. God's power is abundantly available for all suffering believers. He wants persecuted believers to draw from the reservoir of His power to bear under persecution and thus bring glory to Him.
Provision of the Holy Spirit for the Persecuted
God has promised the provision of His Holy Spirit for those who are persecuted for His name's sake.
• Without the Holy Spirit's ministry in the believer, he will completely fail and fall apart in persecution. The Holy Spirit is indispensable in the believer's life. He guides the believer into the truth. He makes God real to the believer. He sanctifies the believer. He testifies to the spirit of the believer that he is indeed a child of God. He helps the believer to pray effectively. He intercedes for the believer. He indwells the believer. He promotes Christ in the believer's life. He empowers the believer to live the Christian life and be an effective witness for Christ. For further study on the functions of the Holy Spirit, refer to the article, "The Spirit's Role in Sharing the Gospel."
• Since the Holy Spirit's role is essential in every area of the believer's life, it is no wonder, He features prominently in the life of those who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel. Our Lord Jesus Himself spoke of the provision of the Holy Spirit for those who are persecuted for His name's sake. What the Lord Jesus said about the provision of the Holy Spirit for suffering believers is so important that three of the gospel writers recorded it for us.
"But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (Matthew 10:17-20).
"When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13:11).
"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say" (Luke 12:11-12).
• The Holy Spirit plays a major part in the lives of persecuted believers. In the above passages, we are specifically told that the Spirit will assist those who are suffering for Christ's sake to make their defense in court. They don't have to worry or plan ahead what to say. The Holy Spirit will take over and do the speaking for them. He knows how to present the case for Christ. He knows how to reach the hearts of those judging persecuted believers. The Holy Spirit was in the sufferings of Christ Himself and the apostles and those who followed after them. He is here today to play an active role in the sufferings of believers.
Progress of the Church in Times of Persecution
Persecution often results in the progress of the Church. It leads to the growth of the church rather than her demise or death. This has been the story of the Church ever since her birth at Pentecost.
• Persecution has never succeeded in putting the church out of business. It has never succeeded in putting out the light and witness of the church. It has never prevented the church from flourishing. It has never slowed down or stunted the growth of the church. It has never altogether silenced the voice of the church. Rather, it has served to speed her advance to the ends of the earth. Persecution has always served to propel the church in her forward march and resulted in her progress. Instead of defeat and death in persecution, persecution, rather brings victory and vitality to the church. I am reminded of a favorite hymn of mine, "The Church's One Foundation." The third stanza of this hymn beautifully captures the thought I have just expressed above. It says, "'Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits her consummation of peace forever more; till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest." How I love this hymn! It gives us a picture of the suffering the church goes through - persecution. But notice also that it speaks of the triumph of the church and her peace and rest. Persecution only serves to intensify the victorious testimony of the church.
• God never intended for His church to be destroyed by persecution. Rather, God advances His glorious purpose for the church even through persecution. God uses the suffering of the church for the advancement of the gospel. This has been the story of the great Church ever since her birth on the day of Pentecost. Down through the ages, the Church experienced great progress through the persecutions she suffered. Even today, the persecution of believers in Communist China has only served to spread the growth of house churches in China. In one sense, persecution is not a foe but a friend for the church. It leads to her progress. It leads to her growth, qualitatively and even quantitatively. It leads to her vitality and freshness. It leads to victory and forward march of the church. Truly, God works all things for the good of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28). Those who love Him are the members of the true Church. They suffer for His name's sake and yet triumph.
• The progress of the church in times of persecution proves the power of God and the purpose of God. God's power is available to preserve the church in times of persecution. As a result, His purpose for the church can never be thwarted. The believer can rejoice in this fact. The Lord Jesus, the Head and Lord of the Church, with great authority of One who indeed is God, promised, "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18). Persecution cannot annul this mighty promise given by One in whom all the promises of God are yes; through Whom is our Amen to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:20).
• Writing about the progress of the church in times of persecution is a fruitful exercise. But also, it can be a long exercise. But I do not intend to make it long. I will therefore focus on how the first century church advanced and prospered in spite of the persecutions she faced.
• Persecution in the first century church of Jerusalem began with the imprisonment of Apostles Peter and John. While going up to the temple at 3 p.m. - the hour of prayer, they met a lame beggar. He wanted money, but God working through the Apostles, healed the man. The result was that a crowd gathered to watch the lame man, now healed, jumping, walking and praising God. Peter took advantage of this opportunity, not to point to themselves, but to preach and promote the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his preaching, Peter called the crowds to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 3:1-26). The priests who were sacrificing in the temple for the evening sacrifice and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came and interrupted Peter in the delivering of his message. Peter and John were arrested and shut up in prison. But many of those who heard the message believed, even though the Apostles were shut up in prison. On the next day, Peter and John faced the dreaded Sanhedrin, the very ruling Council that condemned Christ to death. The Sanhedrin threatened them and commanded them not to speak at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John stood their ground during their interrogation. Since they could find no basis to punish them at this point, they released them. Peter and John went to their friends and had a prayer meeting. The result of this prayer meeting was that the place where they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (see Acts 4:1-31). Please notice that persecution did not silence the voice of the church. Rather, it brought fresh boldness and vitality among God's people to do His will.
• The apostles and the growing church in Jerusalem continued their bold witness. God Himself was adding to His church multitudes of men and women who believed in Christ. People were coming from the vicinity of Jerusalem bringing people who were sick or afflicted with demons. Through the Spirit, supernatural healing was taking place. In the midst of this God-sized work, the high priest and all his associates, filled with jealousy, rose up against all the apostles. They arrested them and put them in a public jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and released the prisoners, with a command to preach the whole message of life. The apostles obeyed. They entered the temple and preached the life saving message of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile the high priest and all his associates came together. Thinking that the apostles were still in the public jail they sent for them. Those who were sent came back empty-handed. While they were making this report, someone came and reported that the apostles were in the temple teaching the people. They were immediately sent for and brought to face the perplexed and angry Council. While being questioned, the apostles stood their ground. They flogged them and further threatened them not to speak in the name of Christ. But again, persecution did not succeed in silencing the voice of the church. Instead of running into caves hiding themselves for the rest of their lives, the apostles rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's name. They had fresh boldness to the point that every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (see Acts 5:14-42). The church grew in spite of persecution.
• After the death of Stephen, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, spearheaded by a man named Saul. Many of the believers were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. The apostles remained in Jerusalem. The scattering of the believers led to the spreading of the word to various regions. Philip came to Samaria. There he preached the word of God and performed many miracles. Many believed and were baptized. Peter and John came down to Samaria and prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. Despite the persecution, God's purpose was being fulfilled for the church. The Lord Jesus, the Great Builder of the Church, commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Please notice where the scattered believers went - "Throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1). God was bringing good out of this persecution to fulfill His purpose for the church. How wonderful! Philip's ministry did not only benefit the Samaritans but also an Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts 8:4-40). The gospel was making inroads to the end of the earth.
• Saul, the persecutor of the church did not succeed in destroying the church as he determined to do. He was confronted by the Risen Christ, changed, called and commissioned to carry the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. He began his preaching ministry in Damascus (see Acts 9:1-31). One way God can bring progress to the church in times of persecution is to convert the persecutor and call him into the ministry of the gospel.
• According to Dr. Luke, the writer of Acts, those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, we are told, however, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks about the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19-20). Luke reported about the result of their ministry: "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:22). The gospel was to be carried to the ends of the earth from Jerusalem. Persecution didn't thwart this plan, it only brought about its fulfillment.
• Reflecting on the effect of his persecution, Paul saw persecution as only serving to advance God's program and purpose for His Church.
• By the Spirit, he shared this truth with the believers at Philippi.
"Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear" (Philippians 1:12-14).
• Notice Paul speaks of the greater progress of the gospel that came about in spite of persecution. Believing brothers gained new boldness and spoke the word of God without fear. This pattern has been repeated throughout the centuries, even until now. Persecution does lead to the greater progress of the gospel, and for that matter, the church.
Petitions for the Persecuted Church
God wants His believing children to come to Him with specific requests based on His Word. Although God wants us to be specific in our prayers, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. How awesome! How thrilling!
• The body of Christ is one, though it is made up of many members. The Scripture teaches that we belong to each other. We need each other. We should have equal concern for each other (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-25). It also teaches that if one part of Christ's Body suffers, every part suffers with it; and if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (see 1 Corinthians 12:26). There is no doubt that many Christians are suffering for the sake of the gospel. The clear teaching of Scripture is that we suffer with them. I believe the most practical and powerful way to suffer with our persecuted brothers and sisters is to carry them on our hearts before the throne of God. To do so effectively we must present specific requests on their behalf. This is the heart and soul of this article. Knowing that God will only honor prayers that are according to His revealed will, I have derived from His Word, with His help, a list of specific prayer requests to be brought on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters. I thought it wise and practical to give the Scriptural references as well as their explanations. This will help us pray with understanding. Moreover, I believe the Holy Spirit will Himself guide you as you interact with His written Word to pray the prayer of a righteous man which which is powerful and effective (see James 5:16).
• Though sinless in His nature, and committing no sin in His life and ministry here on earth, our Lord suffered a great deal. He was insulted, beaten, spat upon, slapped, scourged and crucified. Yet in all these, our Lord did not retaliate. He did not even make one threat. But He knew one thing to do, that is to continually entrust Himself to His Father. This is clearly stated in 1 Peter 2:23. "And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously."
• The tense of the Greek verb (paradidomi) translated "entrust" is imperfect. This tense describes a continuous action in the past. What this means in this context is that our Lord repeatedly, constantly entrusted Himself to God throughout the period of His suffering. Christ did this to set an example for His suffering believers to follow. They too must constantly entrust, commit, commend, and give over themselves to God who alone judges righteously.
• The exhortation of entrusting oneself to God while suffering for the sake of righteousness is emphasized in 1 Peter. Exhorting the suffering and scattered believers, Peter, by the Spirit, wrote, "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right" (1 Peter 4:19). In His sufferings, our Lord Jesus entrusted Himself to God, the Righteous Judge. Now, suffering believers are being urged to commit their souls to God, the Faithful Creator. God is our Creator in a twofold sense- we are His as part of the original creation (see Genesis 1:26-27) and of the new creation (seeEphesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). In either case, we are objects of His love and care. It is only reasonable that we should entrust ourselves to the One who made our souls and saved them.
• God will honor such a request on behalf of His children who are suffering for the sake of the gospel, whether they are near or far, known to us or not. He knows all things and He is everywhere and can use our prayers to make a major difference in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Let's therefore commit ourselves to lifting up this specific request to God.
2. Pray that they may be encouraged in their suffering (1 Thess. 3:2-3).
• We all get discouraged from time to time. It is more so when we are going through hardships solely for the cause of the gospel. The story of John the Baptist perfectly illustrates this. John was the only prophet who was called by the title, "the prophet of the Most High" (Luke 1:76). And yet there came a time in John's life when he was discouraged and needed encouragement. Shut up in prison by Herod Antipas for standing for righteousness, the discouraged prophet sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus: "Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?"(Matthew 11:3). The Lord Jesus responded to John with a quotation from Isaiah 35:5-6; and 61:1, which proved that He indeed is the Messiah, the Expected or Coming One. John received this encouragement from the Lord Jesus just before he was beheaded by the direct order of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea from B.C. 4 - A.D. 39.
• While shut up in prison in Rome for the sake of the gospel, Paul mentioned several people whom God used to encourage him. Among these people were Aristarchus, his fellow prisoner, Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, Jesus who is called Justus. These, Paul declared, "are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they proved to be an encouragement to me" (Colossians 4:11).
• Knowing how much suffering believers need encouragement, Paul sent Timothy to encourage the persecuted church at Thessalonica. Paul said they wanted to come to the suffering believers at Thessalonica, but Satan hindered him more than once (see 1 Thessalonians 2:18). By the Holy Spirit, Paul further wrote,
"Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this" (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
• Without the encouragement of Timothy, the Thessalonian believers, who were going through the fiery furnace for their faith in Christ, would have been taken advantage of by the tempter to create confusion in their hearts.
• The Greek verb for 'encourage' is parakaleo, from which the English word Paraclete derives. The verb also means to comfort, to cheer up. Our suffering brothers and sisters need so much cheering up in their afflictions. God is able to use our prayers to cheer them up in many different ways.
• There is a natural tendency in all of us to quit when the going gets tough. We want to give up. We want to throw in the towel . But God wants us to endure through the hardships we are suffering for the sake of the gospel. Since it is God's desire for suffering believers to endure, He will answer our prayers for the endurance of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for the faith.
• The Lord Jesus Himself, not only taught about enduring (see Matthew 10:23; 24:13) but He also practiced what He preached. He set the example of endurance for His suffering believers. In Hebrews 12:1-3. We read,
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which easily entangles us, and let us run withendurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
• The endurance of Christ is clearly emphasized in the above passage. It is also set before us as an example to follow. Our Lord endured untold hardship, hatred and hostility from the very sinners He came to save, yet He didn't give up. Persecuted believers are instructed to follow in His footsteps of enduring their hardships for the sake of the truth.
• The Greek verb for endure (hypomeno) means remain instead of fleeing, stand one's ground, hold out, endure in trouble, affliction, persecution. The noun form of this verb (hypomone) also means patience, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance. The call to endure while suffering for the sake of Christ involves standing one's ground and showing steadfastness of heart.
• In the Spirit, the writer of Hebrews earlier stressed the need to endure while suffering for Christ. Writing to the suffering Hebrew Christians, he counseled them through the Spirit,
"But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised" (Hebrews 10:32-36).
• As an example of suffering and patient endurance, the prophets and Job are also set before us. They endured and were counted blessed (see James 5:10-11). Other passages that teach endurance of suffering believers include 2 Corinthians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 3:11; 2 Timothy 3:11; 1 Peter 2:18-20.
• God wants His persecuted children to faithfully stand their ground in their persecution. Therefore praying for them to endure in their affliction is according to His revealed will. He will answer our prayers for endurance for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted far and near.
4. Pray that they will suffer for the gospel by the power of God (2 Tim. 1:8).
• No one can suffer solely for the sake of the gospel in his or her own strength. It is impossible. It takes the power of God working in and through us to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
• When Paul was called, the Risen Lord made it so clear to him that he would suffer. Through Ananias, the Glorified Lord, delivered this message to Paul: "But the Lord said to him [Ananias], 'Go, for he [Paul] is chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake'" (Acts 9:15).
• Paul really did suffer much for the sake of Christ's name. He wrote a summary of his sufferings for the sake of Christ's name in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Paul's life was in constant danger. He was beaten times without number, shipwrecked three times and was imprisoned many times. In whose power was Paul able to bear under such untold hardship? The Holy Spirit led him to answer this question in his last pastoral letter to young Timothy. Timothy himself knew all about Paul's persecutions and sufferings (see 2 Tim. 3:10-11). Now Paul instructs him to suffer by the power of God. "Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8). The implication is that Paul himself had suffered for the sake of the gospel not according to his power but according to the power of the Almighty God.
• This is exactly how God wants those who are being persecuted for the sake of Christ to suffer - by the power of God.
• We can therefore pray with confidence for our believing brothers and sisters to suffer for the sake of Christ by the power of God. For sure, God will Himself supply His divine power for them in their suffering.
• The believers in Thessalonica were being persecuted for their faith. Their suffering was such that they felt they had been left behind to suffer the wrath of God. Apostle Paul whom God used to establish this church wrote of his boast about their steadfastness in all their persecution."Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance [or steadfastness] and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure" (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
• Paul and his fellow-workers took great pride in the fact that the persecuted Thessalonian believers were steadfast and full of trust in God in all the persecutions and trials they were enduring. What a great example of steadfastness in persecution! The God who enabled these first century believers to remain steadfast and full of faith in all their persecutions is willing to do the same for His persecuted children today. We can therefore approach His throne of grace and intercede on behalf of the persecuted church in our day for God to make them steadfast in all their afflictions, brought on them because of Christ's name.
• Persevering under trial brings blessing. James wrote: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
• God's blessings comes to us in different ways. Being steadfast in all our persecutions and afflictions is one way God's blessings come to us. Most Christians don't look forward to receiving God's blessings by being steadfast in all their persecutions and afflictions. We will rather choose an easier way to receive God's blessings.
• Though the Jerusalem apostles were imprisoned, threatened, flogged and given strict orders not to speak in the name of Jesus, they went to the temple every day and from house to house kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (see Acts 5:17-42). They had received a direct command from God to preach. They would not cower under the threat of men no matter how great and powerful they were. The driving motivation of the apostles is found in these words: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). God's command to preach the gospel to all people in all places is higher than any command of man. So despite opposition by the very people who condemned Christ to death, the apostles sounded forth the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
• On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas faced stiff opposition. Their ministry in Iconium bore much fruit. Luke reported that the missioners "spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks" (Acts 14:1). Opposition however arose as the unbelieving Jews stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the believers (Acts 14:2). Instead of being silenced by the opposition, Paul and Barnabas "waxed bold" (KJV rendering). This is how Luke reported their boldness to preach on in the midst of great opposition. "Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3). Paul and Barnabas persevered in the face of opposition for a long time and testified of God's grace until such a time that an attempt was made to mistreat and stone them. When they became aware of that they fled to other cities, not to rest, but to continue preaching the gospel (Acts 14:4-7).
• In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, through the Spirit, Paul made it clear to the young church at Thessalonica that they had preached the gospel to them in a time of opposition. "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition."
• From these illustrations, we learn that it is God's desire to pray for those who are suffering for the sake of the gospel to share the gospel with all boldness even in the midst of opposition.
7. Pray that they will know when it is time to flee from persecution (Matt. 10:23a).
• From the life of Paul and Barnabas, we have seen that it is sometimes necessary to fearlessly stay one's ground and proclaim the message of the gospel. Though there was much opposition to their ministry at Iconium, Paul and Barnabas stayed for a long time building up those who had believed in the Lord through their ministry (see Acts 14:1-3). But then the time came when they had to flee and they did (see Acts 14:4-7).
• The Lord Jesus Himself instructed His persecuted believers to flee."But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next" (Matthew 10:23). He repeated this instruction later in His Mount of Olive Discourse. "Those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains"(Matthew 24:16; cf. Mark 13:14). The repeated instructions clearly show that there is nothing wrong about fleeing persecution. However, one must know if the time has come to flee a particular persecution. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is able to reveal to us whether the time has come to flee. We should therefore pray for persecuted believers to know when it is time to flee and to do so when that time has been revealed to them.
• When Paul was called, it was made clear to him that he would suffer (see Acts 9:15). After his third missionary journey Paul came to Jerusalem. This visit nearly resulted in his death. Working through the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem, God delivered Paul from the angry crowd which was beating him to death (see Acts 21:27ff.). Next, Paul narrowly escaped the dreaded flagellum used for scourging criminals by reasoning with the centurion and the commander of the Roman army in Jerusalem (see Acts 22:24-29). Desiring to know the reason why Paul had been accused by the Jews, he brought Paul before the Sanhedrin. All hell broke loose. A great uproar and dissension occurred between the two major parties in the Sanhedrin, namely the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Paul was nearly torn to pieces in the ensuing great conflict. The commander quickly ordered the troops under him to take Paul away from the dissenting group by force to save Paul's life (see Acts 23:7-10).
• Paul had endured so much in a short time. The Risen Lord knew what Paul was going through for His name's sake. The Bible tells us, "But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, 'Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also'" (Acts 23:11). Later in his life, Paul shared this experience with Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:17a.
• Paul was blessed with Christ's presence and His precious promise. The Lord Jesus Christ has not changed. He is the same yesterday and today and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). He is willing and able to bless those who are suffering with His presence and promise. We can therefore pray for believers who are being persecuted for the sake of the gospel to sense the presence of Christ with them in their trials.
9. Pray that persecuted believers will stay on guard against those who strongly oppose their message (2 Tim 4:15).
• Writing his last letter to young Timothy, his son in the faith, apostle Paul, imprisoned for his faith, warned Timothy to stay on guard against Alexander the coppersmith. Alexander did Paul a great deal of harm (2 Tim. 4:14). Paul didn't give us the details of his experience with Alexander. Paul, however, was concerned for other believers. Directed by the Holy Spirit, he warned Timothy to stay on guard against the metalworker. God expects all His believing children to be on guard against certain people. Failure to do so will result in their harm and hurt.
• Persecuted believers who are already in danger should therefore be earnestly prayed for to stay on their guard against those who strongly oppose the message of the gospel.
10. Pray that they will sense the support of other believers (2 Tim 4:16).
• While the Lord Jesus stood by Paul in his trial, his fellow believers stayed away. They deserted him. Paul felt alone. Since Paul was part of the Body of Christ, it was natural for him to expect some concern and care from fellow believers. But sadly at his first trial, no one stood up to speak a word on behalf of this great and yet humble apostle, whose writings have enriched many lives throughout the centuries. Absolutely, no one would undertake his defense. No one wanted to identify with Paul and played a supporting role in his trial.
• Paul wrote of this sad experience to his friend and fellow-worker, Timothy, in these words: "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; but may it not be counted against them" (2 Timothy 4:16). Notice the expressions "no one supported me" and "but all deserted me." These expressions show how utterly abandoned Paul felt. This should not have been. God's people should have rallied themselves behind Paul and the cause for which he stood.
• Today, some persecuted believers are in this same situation. But God wants us to lift up our cries on their behalf for them to sense the support of fellow believers. God knows the ways in which to make these persecuted saints sense the support of their fellow believing brothers and sisters. Ours is to be faithful in praying to this end.
• No one supported Paul at his first defense. The believing family of God, especially the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, were not at his side. The Jerusalem apostles and elders counseled Paul to take four men who were under a vow and purify himself along with them. Paul was also instructed by the elders of the Jerusalem church to pay for the expenses of these men. They reasoned that if Paul did all these things then all would know that there was nothing to the things which they (the Jewish people) had been told about Paul, but that Paul himself walked orderly, keeping the Law. Paul humbly and respectfully followed the instructions of the elders of the Jerusalem Church. But instead of coming to the conclusion that Paul kept the Law, the crowds in the temple grounds screamed at the sight of Paul, seized him and sought to kill him. Thankfully God intervened and saved Paul from the enraged crowds (see Acts 21:19-33).
• Paul felt deserted and lonely. But there was no bitterness in his heart for all that. Like the Savior before him, Paul prays that it might not be charged against them. Paul refused to hold grudges in his heart against those who failed him by forsaking him. His prayer was, "may it not be counted against them." Paul's heart was totally freed from bitterness. This would have been a hindrance to him not only in his work with the Lord but also in his walk with God.
• Today, some persecuted believers are in this same situation. They have been hurt by their fellow brothers and sisters. They have been forsaken by those who should have been at their side. We must lift up our voices to God on their behalf that God will set them free from bitterness of heart
12. Pray that God Himself will sustain and strengthen them in order to fully accomplish His purpose through them in their suffering (2 Tim. 4:17).
• The Lord Jesus stood by Paul while his friends forsook him. The Lord also set his heart free from holding grudges against those who failed him. Now Paul writes of something else the Lord did for him. The Lord strengthened him. For he wrote, "But the Lord stood with me andstrengthened me that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (2 Timothy 4:17).
• Paul was divinely strengthened to preach the gospel at his trial. The message went forth without hindrance, and a Gentile law court heard the message of salvation (see Acts 24-26). The word "strengthened" (endunamoo) is not a common word. It also means to empower. It is found only eight times in the New Testament. It is used in Acts 9:22 at the beginning of Paul's ministry: he "increased... in strength." Here it is used again, but now at the end of his public ministry - a touching reminder of the sustaining strength of the Lord throughout His servant's life.
• Like Paul, present day persecuting believers also need the sustaining strength of the Lord Jesus Christ so that they may also fully fulfill His purpose for their lives. Therefore, it is important for us to pray for the Lord's sustaining strength in their lives so as to accomplish what God has called them to do even in their suffering.
13. Pray that God will save them from every evil attack (2 Tim 4:17b-18a).
• Paul spoke of being delivered out of the lion's mouth (2 Timothy 4:17b). Paul was looking to a past deliverance in his life. But Paul also looked ahead to the future. There is deliverance for him in the future. So he testified, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed" (2 Timothy 4:18a). The NIV's translation reads, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack." The Greek word for "rescue" (rhuomai) also means save, deliver, or preserve someone from something.
• Please note that when Paul said the Lord would deliver him from every evil attack, he did not imply that he would be indefinitely delivered from the sword of Nero. Paul knew that the time of his death was fast approaching. He spoke of that in 2 Timothy 4:6. So the question is, what then did he mean? What he meant here was that the Lord would save him from doing anything that would be a blot on the closing days of his testimony. He knew that it is not enough to start well but also to finish well. Satan, no doubt was doing all his best to trip up Paul at the finish line, to recant his faith, to deny the Lord at the brandishing of the executioner's sword, to act cowardly or to quit the race at the finish line.
• Paul was confident that God would save him from all these evil attacks on his life before he entered into glory.
• All the way to the finish line of the Christian race, Satan will not give up his wicked desire to trip up believers, even persecuted believers. It is therefore so crucial to pray that God will save our persecuted brothers and sisters from all Satan's wicked and evil attacks to make them fail at the finish line. Satan's strategies are still the same.
14. Pray that God Himself will safely bring them into His heavenly presence (2 Tim 4:18b).
• The Lord stood by Paul. The Lord set his heart free from bitterness. The Lord strengthened him to preach the gospel message at his trial. The Lord also promised to save from every evil attack. But that was not all. He also promised to bring Paul safely into His glorious presence. Paul wrote, "and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18b). No matter how determined Satan and his forces were, they could not stop God from bringing Paul safely home into His glorious and blissful presence. Assured of this, Paul burst into a doxology: "to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18c).
• Certainly, God's goal is to bring each believer home into His glorious presence. So we can therefore pray that He will accomplish that in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters who may have already been sentenced to death.
15. Pray that they will set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts at all times (1 Peter 3:15).
• Speaking in the context of persecution, Peter was led to instruct the first century persecuted believers not to be terrified by the threats and intimidations of their persecutors (see 1 Peter 3:14) but to set apart Christ in their hearts. "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15).
• The lordship of Christ should dominate every area of our lives - our possessions, our occupation, our library, our marriage, our spare time, and even in our suffering for the sake of the gospel, Christ should be set apart, consecrated in our hearts as Lord. As Christ's lordship controls every area of our lives, we will readily make a defense to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. When we speak of our Savior and Lord to others even in a time of suffering for His name, we should do so without harshness, bitterness or flippancy. Gentleness and reverence must characterize speaking to others about our Gentle Lord and God, doing so with a heart that sets Him apart as Lord of all.
16. Pray that all those who are suffering as Christians will not be ashamed but glorify God (1 Peter 4:16).
• Suffering for wrongdoing brings shame and guilt. This is the reason why the Holy Spirit led Peter to exhort the first century believers he wrote to, not to suffer as murderers, thieves, or evildoers or troublesome meddlers see (1 Peter 3:15). There is no glory for God in this type of suffering - only shame for the testimony of Christ.
• "If anyone suffers as Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:16). Those who are suffering for the cause of Christ should not be ashamed at all. But this is not always the case. Some persecuted believers are plagued with shame and guilt. Satan loves this and takes full advantage of such guilt and shameful feelings. These believers need to know that there is no disgrace for anyone who suffers as a Christian. Whether they experience loss of business, or home, or desertion by parents, children, and friends, or hatred, or misrepresentation, or slander, they should not be ashamed. Rather, they should glorify God in their trials. God doesn't want our persecuted brothers and sisters to live in the dungeon of shame for doing what is right in His sight. Instead, He wants them to magnify His name. He will therefore listen to such a specific prayer, for it will result in the glorification of His name.
• A common teaching about suffering in many religions is that allsuffering is a curse of sin. This teaching has survived throughout the centuries. The three friends of Job, not knowing what God was doing in Job's life quickly jumped to the conclusion that his suffering was a curse he deserved to bear for his sins. Later the disciples of our Lord also jumped to the same conclusion when they saw a man blind from birth. Our Lord corrected their wrong thinking as He made it clear to them that this suffering was not due to the curse of sin but that this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in the man's life (see John 9:1-3).
• Persecuted believers who are suffering for the cause of the gospel should never feel that their suffering is a curse. As a result, Scripture repeatedly teaches that suffering for the cause of Christ is a blessing not a curse.
• "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me" (Matthew 5:10-11).
• "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man" (Luke 6:22).
• "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed..." (1 Peter 3:14).
• "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:14).
• God wants His suffering children to know that their suffering for His name's sake is a blessing. We should therefore pray that our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for Christ's sake will know in their hearts that they are blessed.
18. Pray that they will commit the Word of God into memory and use it against the lures and lies of Satan (Matthew 4:2-10).
• We have learned that Satan is the principal force behind the persecution of believers. He employs all kinds of tactics against the believing children of God. But his ways have really not changed. When God has allowed persecution in the lives of His children, it is very important that they stand on His truth. They must not let the devil, who is the father of lies (John 8:44), to lure them into doing something that will be a violation of God's principles. The only thing that can overcome the lies of the devil is the Word of God. The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
• While the Lord Jesus was being lured by the devil to do evil, He repeatedly used the written Word of God to refute the devil's temptations. He said repeatedly, "it is written." Our Lord used God's truth to counteract the attacks of the deceiver. Similarly, believers who are suffering in persecution must use the Word of God to counteract the lies of the father of lies. To do so means that they must commit the Word of God into memory. They must hide God's truth in their hearts so that they may not sin against God (Psalm 119:11) in their persecution. We can therefore pray that the Holy Spirit will help them commit the truths of God into memory so as to use it as their weapon against Satan's deception in their persecution
• Satan was definitely behind the sufferings of Job. His main goal was to hurt Job and provoke him to the point of cursing God to His face. He boldly told God, "Put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face" (Job 1:11). God gave permission to Satan after his bold claim, saying to him, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him" (Job 1:12). Obviously, it was not God who was going to touch all that Job had. It was Satan. Satan was so confident that by touching the possessions of Job, Job's world would fall apart to the point of causing him to actually speak against God. He was certain, as soon as Job lost all that he had, he would lift up his mouth against heaven and blaspheme the God of heaven or blame Him.
• Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Job endured this satanic attack in his sufferings. Instead of cursing God, Job calmly and courageously worshiped God (Job 1:20). Instead of blaming God, Job blessed Him (Job 1:21). Satan was exposed as a liar. But he was not ashamed. He told God a second that Job would curse Him to the face if he touched Job's person. "Satan answered the LORD and said, 'Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face'" (Job 2:4-5). Given limited permission again, Satan went and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 2:7). While Job was suffering in his afflictions, Satan struck again, using Job's wife to get him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But again, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Job triumphed. The Bible says, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).
• Since Satan has not gone on retirement, you can be sure that he is still provoking persecuted believers to curse God to His face. We must therefore lift up specific prayer on their behalf not to be influenced by the devil to curse God. Let's pray that the Holy Spirit will assist them to bless God rather than blaspheme or blame Him.
• Paul's story of being confronted by Christ and converted from being the chief persecutor of the church to the champion preacher of the gospel was recorded in the Holy Scriptures three times (Acts 9:1-25; Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-29). The repetition is not because the Holy Spirit was running out of ideas. Repetition in Scripture is always for emphasis. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is stressing to us that Paul's conversion was a major turning point in the history of the church. Paul was greatly used by God to advance His purpose for the church. No one who reads the Scriptures with a humble and teachable spirit misses this point. But I also believe that the repetition of Paul's conversion is to give us a picture of what God can do in the lives of some of the persecutors of the church. He is able to confront them and change them from persecutors into preachers of His Good News.
• When the Lord Jesus confronted Saul on the Damascus road, His words to him were; "Get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you as a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you" (Acts 26:16). Paul was not only changed, but he was commissioned to carry the Good News to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the worst enemy of the first century church in Jerusalem and beyond became her best friend. Sometimes our worst enemies become our best friends. This can only happen through the transforming work of Jesus Christ.
• Is God able to transform enemies of the church into her friends today? I believe that He is more than able to confront some of the persecutors of the church, convert them and charge them with the task of spreading the Gospel. So we can pray to God to repeat this work in our generation. When Paul was changed and charged with the glorious privilege of spreading the Good News he did not prove disobedient to the call (Acts 26:19). Certainly, in praying for persecutors to be changed into preachers of the Glad Tidings of Christ, we should also ask God to help them to be obedient to His call upon their lives.
• One of the essential needs in persecution is the comfort of God. Without this comfort, life in persecution will be unbearable. God knows that very well. Therefore, He takes it upon Himself to personally comfort all His persecuted children with His own comfort.
• Sharing his experience with the believers at the church of Corinth, Paul described God as the God of all comfort who comforts His afflicted children. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
• Paul experienced great affliction in his ministry, even despairing of life itself. He also felt that he and his co-workers had the sentence of death upon their lives (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-9). But God did not abandon Paul and his fellow workers in their state of despair and distress. He personally comforted them with His own comfort. How special! In all Paul's affliction, he was conscious of God's comforting presence. In the above passage, Paul gives us one of the many reasons why God comforted he and his fellow-workers who suffered persecution with him. It was so that they in turn might be able to comfort others with the very same comfort they themselves have received from God.
• The word "comfort" (parakleseos) means consolation in time of sorrow. It is also refers to the encouragement and exhortation that come to us from the one who is beside us in time of need. Clearly, there is a practical lesson in this passage for all of us. When are comforted by God in all our troubles, we should seek to pass on this comfort to others. To say it in another way, we are not comforted to be comfortable but to becomforters.
• In the same letter, Paul again wrote of the comfort of God in all their his affliction and stated that God comforts the depressed (see 2 Corinthians 7:4-7, 13). Also in 1 Thessalonians 3:7 and2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Paul wrote of God's comfort in their affliction and prayed for God who gives eternal comfort to comfort and strengthen the persecuted believers at Thessalonica. We can also therefore pray to the God of all comfort to comfort our persecuted brothers and sisters who are suffering for the sake of Christ. God will not only be attentive to this prayer He will also act on it to bless persecuted believers with His comforting presence thus equipping them to be comforters.
• Instructing the twelve disciples before sending them out to share in the ministry of the gospel, the Lord Jesus prepared them for the persecution they would face (see Matthew 10:16-23). He also instructed them not to fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. They were to revere Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (see Matthew 10:28). With this as a backdrop, our Lord spoke of fearless confession of Him before men and its heavenly reward. "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33; cf. Luke 12:8-9). Fearless confession, heartfelt acknowledgment of Jesus Christ despite the shame and reproach one might bear will be abundantly rewarded in heaven when the Lord Jesus Himself confesses His true followers before the Father. Confession of Christ here involves personal commitment to Him as Lord and Savior and the resulting acknowledgment of Him by life and by lips even in the face of danger. This is what Christ was teaching then and is now calling His disciples to. In the case of most of the twelve, this led to the ultimate confession of the Lord Jesus Christ in martyrdom.
• Denial of Christ on earth will be repaid with denial before God in heaven. Christ does not want His persecuted believers to refuse to recognize His claims over their lives. He wants them to stay true to Him, not fearing those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. So we are to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters to fearlessly acknowledge Christ by life and by lips. This honors Christ.
23. Pray that they will be certain of God's choice and call upon their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-4).
• When we are certain that we are chosen and called of God in our time of suffering, it makes a lot of difference. Not knowing that one really belongs to God while undergoing persecution can be hell. Our arch enemy makes full use of this lack of assurance of belonging to God to create despair, discouragement and hopelessness in our time of suffering for the cause of the gospel. Being all knowing, God, directed Apostle Paul to write to the suffering believers at Thessalonica to assure them that they had been chosen by Him. They needed to know this truth because God wanted them to be certain of where they stood in relation to Him in their suffering. This message was so important to God that it was stated at the beginning of the letter to the Thessalonians.
• Paul wrote, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God; His choice of you" (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4). Paul reminded these suffering believers that they had been chosen by God. God chose them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4). Exercising their human responsibility or man's free choice, these believers responded to the gospel, receiving it even in much affliction (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6).
• The affliction they endured was the persecution which followed their conversion. In the midst of this persecution, God wanted to remind them that they belonged to Him. They stood in Him. They were planted in Him. They were chosen by Him. They were to be certain of His choice of them so as to overcome the fiery darts of the deceiver and destroyer, the devil. God has the same desire for His people who are suffering for His name's sake. He wants them to be certain that no matter what they suffer for His name, they are firmly planted in Him, chosen by Him and do belong to Him. He will therefore be greatly delighted to answer our petitions for this cause.
25. Pray that they will hold on to the truth that God is in control of their circumstances (Acts 27:22-32).
• When our Lord was going through His suffering, one thing was foremost in His mind- God is in control. The Lord Jesus never doubted that God was in charge of all His circumstances. He knew that and lived it. Believing that His Heavenly Father was in total control of every situation in His life freed Christ to walk calmly through His storms.
• Paul followed in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. In all his struggles and sufferings he held tenaciously to the truth that the God to whom he belonged and served was absolutely in charge of his circumstances. While being violently stormed tossed, Paul declared his confidence that God was in control of their circumstances.
"Now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island" (Acts 27:22-26).
• Paul held to truth that God was in control of their stormy circumstance to the point that when the sailors on board the ship were trying to escape from the ship, Paul said with authority to the centurion and to the soldiers on board, "unless these men remain on the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved" (Acts 27:31). Paul could only do this because he knew God was in control and that things would turn out exactly as he had been told.
• Believers who are persecuted must also believe wholeheartedly that their living and loving God is in complete control of the all the circumstances in their lives. God will respond to our prayers on their behalf to hold firmly to the truth that God is in full control of their circumstances.
26. Pray that they will remain calm in their crisis (see references below).
• Our Lord Jesus (see Matthew 26:12-27:46), Stephen (see Acts 6:12-7:60), Paul (see Acts 24-26), Daniel (see Daniel 6), Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (see Daniel 3) among many, faced great fiery trials for their trust in God. Yet each one of them remained calm and collected in their trials. They kept their cool. They kept their composure. They did not collapse emotionally or mentally while in the fiery furnace of persecution.
• Believers today who are suffering for the sake of the gospel must therefore be prayed for to remain calm in their crisis. They need not be like the people of the world who are fretful, fearful, frustrated and filled with stress when they face crisis.
• One of the evil schemes of Satan is to create confusion in our minds. He knows very well that when we are confused then he will win the day. It is therefore important to be clear in our thinking and show that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). The need for clear thinking is even more important when we are going through hard times. The pressure, the pain and the perplexing times that arise inevitably during affliction and persecution can leave us confuse as to what God is all about in our lives. It is very sad that even some who are Christians could not bear with the pain and perplexing situations in their lives, and in their confusion ended up taking their own lives. This very tragic.
• In all His trials for the sake of the gospel, our Lord Himself thought clearly and spoke clearly. There was never a moment of confusion in His mind. He knew the importance of being clear thinking in times of persecution. So He made a promise to His disciples about giving them the ability to reason clearly such that their opponents would not confute them. "I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute" (Luke 22:15). This promise was fulfilled in the lives of the Jerusalem apostles. It was fulfilled in Stephen, the first martyr of the church. The Bible tells us that Stephen's opponent "were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking" (Acts 6:10). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and wisdom. He is an intelligent Being. He helps us think clearly not only in times of peace but also in times of persecution. If He operates in us, Satan cannot succeed in confusing us. He will lead us to clarity in our reasoning even in those painful and perplexing times when nothing seems to make sense.
• Apostle Paul also followed in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior and others like Stephen. He thought clearly. He spoke clearly and acted consistently in manner worthy of the gospel. While in prison in Caesarea, Paul was very clear in his defense before King Agrippa and Governor Festus. He was very clear in the presentation of his testimony. Even when the governor shouted at him and conclusively said, he was out of his mind and mad, Paul could still proceed to make his defense with all clarity of mind (see Acts 26:1-29).
• Believers who are going through persecution today must be prayed for to be clear in their thinking no matter how painful and perplexing their circumstances are. When the Holy Spirit helps them in this way, the devil will have no opportunity to create confusion in their hearts and minds.
• The Lord Jesus Himself is a great example of One who committed Himself to declaring the truth in all His trials for our sins. He spoke nothing, but the truth when the high priest charged Him under oath at His trial to declare His true identity.
"The high priest said to Him, 'I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.' Jesus said to him, 'You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven'" (Matthew 26:63-64).
• In Mark's account of this event, our Lord's response to the high priest began with "I am..." (see Mark 14:61-62). The Lord Jesus knew that the truth is what sets people free. He Himself declared, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). This is one of the the primary reasons why He committed Himself to telling the truth.
• All throughout his trials and persecutions, Apostle Paul committed himself to telling the truth not only before angry crowds who sought to kill him (see Acts 21:27-22:21) but also before the ruling authorities of Israel (see Acts 23:1-10), governors and kings. Before governor Felix, Paul kept declaring the truth. Governor Felix kept hoping that Paul would give him money and sent for him quite often to converse with him. But the governor's hope never materialized. Paul knew he needed the truth more than money. As such, for two years Paul told him the truth he desperately needed to hear. Similarly, before governor Festus and King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, the son of Herod Agrippa I of Acts 12), Paul declared nothing but the truth. His resolve to tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth is captured in these words at his defense before Governor Festus and King Agrippa II. "Having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer..." (Acts 26:22-23).
• Since the truth sets people free we must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters to be committed to declaring it in their trials.
• Hard times are not easy to endure. Many, sadly, choose the easy way out by compromising their convictions. Abraham and his son Isaac compromised when faced with hard decisions. They both lied about their wives (see Genesis 12:9-20; 20:1-16; 26:6-11). Even when God's people are not facing hardships they compromise their convictions in the choices they make. This does not please God. He wants full commitment from us because He is fully committed to us.
• In persecution the temptation to compromise is even much stronger. We want relief as soon as possible. We want out as early as we can find an exit - a way out of the situation. So it is very important we pray for God to help suffering believers not to compromise. Thank God for providing us with examples of believers who did not compromise their convictions in their trials. Daniel and his three friends, as well as the apostles come to mind.
• Filled with pride, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made an image of gold, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. He set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. A herald went out and loudly proclaimed throughout the land that peoples, nations, men of every language were to fall down to worship the golden image at the moment of hearing the sound of the horn, flute and all kinds of music. He added that a furnace of blazing fire was reserved for those who disobeyed the direct command of the king. Many worshiped the golden image.
• However, certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar was readily informed that three Jews whom he had appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon flatly disregarded his direct command to worship the golden image he had set up. The three Jewish men stood their ground. They refused to compromise. They were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. But God delivered them. Later, King Nebuchadnezzar even praised the three friends of Daniel for their uncompromising stand.
• We read of this in Daniel 3:28:
"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their God.'"(NIV)
• As a teenager exiled from Judah to Babylon, Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself with the king's rich, but non-kosher food (see Daniel 1:8ff.). Daniel chose to stand alone as young man. Now, as a senior citizen, Daniel chose again to stand alone when a decree was issued that no one should pray to any god or man besides King Darius of Medo-Persian kingdom for thirty days. The decree was signed by the king and was irrevocable (see Daniel 6:8-9). When Daniel heard of this decree, he did not back down. He did act in a cowardly manner. He did not compromise. Daniel did what was his daily practice before the edict of the king was signed and sealed. The Bible says, "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously" (Daniel 6:10). Daniel's uncompromising stance led to a night with the lions in the lions' den. But the Lord delivered Daniel from the mouth of the lions (see Daniel 6:16-23).
• Standing before the very Council that condemned the Lord Jesus Christ to death, the apostles were empowered to stand their grounds before the religious rulers of Israel. Although they were imprisoned, threatened, warned and flogged, the apostles did not compromise their convictions. They declared to their persecutors, "we must obey God rather than men"(Acts 5:29). Earlier Peter and John spoke of their uncompromising stance before the Sanhedrin. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).
• These examples are given not only to encourage us but also to spur us to prayer for those who are being persecuted for the sake of Christ that they will not compromise their convictions in their trials.
30. Pray that they will commit the outcome of their obedience to God (Daniel 3:17-18).
• It is one thing to choose not to compromise one's convictions when one is in the fiery furnace of persecution. While this is highly commendable it is not all there is. One must also choose to commit the result of his obedience to God.
• The three friends of Daniel illustrated this so well for us. They were not "fair-weather believers." Humbly, yet confidently, they made it clear to the king that they had committed the outcome of their choice to obey God to Him and Him alone. Their future was in His hands. He would do what is right in His eyes. They were perfectly fine with what He chose for them in this trial. It was solely His decision. And so they said to the king, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). These three men submitted to God's will and embraced what God in His wisdom would allow to happen to them. This attitude definitely pleases God. It also honors Him. It shows trust in His wisdom.
• Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, persecuted believers must learn to commit the outcome of their obedience to God. Certainly, God will be delighted to hear such a petition, since the attitude of committing the result of one's obedience to Him in trial honors His holy name.
31. Pray that they will conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel in their trials (Phil. 1:27-28).
• How believer's conduct themselves when under persecution is of great interest to God. Unbelievers, closely watch how believers behave in their trials. God knows this. His name is at stake in our lives. Through Apostle Paul, God instructed persecuted Philippian believers to conduct themselves worthy of the gospel. "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose"(Philippians 1:27-29 - NIV). The believers in Philippi were being opposed. Whether Paul was there or not, they were to be Christ-like in their living. As citizens of heaven they should behave accordingly. They should be in practice what they were in position. This was God's message to the opposed church at Philippi.
• The Greek word for conduct (politeuomai) also means live, lead one's life. It is also a present imperative, which could therefore be rendered "keep on conducting yourselves."
• Throughout all his imprisonment for the sake of the gospel, Paul himself repeatedly conducted himself worthy of the gospel. Before he was led to write his letter to the Philippians, Paul demonstrated what it meant to conduct oneself worthy of the gospel. While standing trial before governor Felix, Paul lived in a manner worthy of the gospel by refusing to give in to the governor's wish of receiving money from him (see Acts 24:25). Later, testifying before governor Festus and King Agrippa, Paul again conducted himself in a Christ-like manner. While Paul was giving his testimony, the Governor shouted in a loud voice and said, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad" (Acts 26:24). Paul was not only calm, but he was also courteous in his response to the governor. "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth" (Acts 26:25). He spoke to the governor with Christian courtesy, calling him not a jerk or a fool, but by the most noblest title, "most excellent Festus." If this is not conducting oneself in a manner worthy of the gospel, I don't know what it is.
• There is no doubt that Paul practiced what he preached. He continually conducted himself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is God's desire that others who are being persecuted for the sake of the gospel lead their lives in a manner that promote the cause of Christ rather than harm it. Prayer for this purpose will be answered by God.
32. Pray that they will cast all their anxiety on God believing that He cares for them. (1 Peter 5:7).
• God knows His children are not made anxiety-free. We have worries, anxieties, burdens, cares and concerns. But He didn't design us to carry them. He wants all our anxieties to be cast upon Him. He alone is able to deal with them without bending out of shape.
• Writing to believers who were suffering and scattered, Apostle Peter, by the Spirit, urged them to cast all their anxieties on God. "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
• Our persecuted brothers and sisters are just like us. They have anxieties and cares. God wants them to cast all their anxieties upon Him while suffering for His name's sake. He does not want them to carry them at all. So we can confidently pray for them that through the help of the Holy Spirit, they will cast whatever anxiety they have in their hearts unto the God loves and cares for them.
33. Pray that those who are chosen to suffer unto death may prove themselves faithful unto death (Acts 7:59; 12:1-2; Rev. 2:13; 3:10).
• Not all who are suffering persecution will be delivered from death. Here, we have to bow to the sovereign wisdom of God. He delivers some from death by persecution, while He permits for others to enter His glory through death at the hands of their persecutors. In each case God is glorified. His purpose is accomplished. His power is seen in deliverance as well as in death. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33)
• Down through the ages, many of God's persecuted children had been faithful unto death. Stephen was faithful unto death. Just before he died for the sake of the gospel, he committed himself into the hand of his Lord. Those who were persecuting him for the sake of the gospel were ruthless and mercilessly. They kept stoning him until Stephen "called on the Lord, and said, Lord Jesus receive my spirit!" (Acts 7:59). James, the brother of John the apostle, was faithful unto death (see Acts 12:1-2). Antipas of the first century church of Pergamum, whom the Lord Jesus referred to as "My witness, My faithful one" was faithful unto death (Revelation 2:13). Polycarp of the first century church of Smyrna was faithful unto death. John Huss and many other persecuted believers after him were faithful unto death. If in His sovereign wisdom, God does not choose to deliver from death, those suffering for the sake of the gospel today, we must pray diligently for them also to be faithful unto death.
34. Pray that they will be confident in God's ability to defend and deliver them in their persecution if that is His will for them (Daniel 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 1:9-11).
• While it is true that God sometimes chooses in His sovereign wisdom to allow some of His suffering children to suffer unto death, He also chooses to defend and deliver some from death at the hand of their persecutors. When God determines to defend and deliver His persecuted children, no one, no power or nothing can stop Him from doing so. He is a God of power and might. His ability to rescue and save those He sovereignly chooses to set free from their persecutors cannot be thwarted or hindered.
• When the three friends of Daniel faced the threat of being thrown into the blazing furnace for refusing to worship a created thing, the golden image, they expressed their unshakable trust and confidence in God's ability to defend and deliver them. This is their confident testimony about God's ability to rescue them. "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; then He will deliver us out of your hand, O king'" (Daniel 3:16-17). There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit generated this confidence in the hearts of these men while facing an unprecedented threat upon their lives for choosing to stand true to the One and Only true God. They were convinced in their hearts that God was able, more than able, to deliver them from the blazing furnace of fire should He choose to do so.
• When Paul was converted and commissioned to be a minister and a witness of Christ and His gospel, he was given a promise of deliverance from the Jewish people and the Gentiles ( see Acts 26:16-17). God delivered Paul on several occasions. He reflected on God's work of deliverance in his life in his letter to the church at Corinth. "God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Paul also expressed his confidence in God's ability to deliver him. He knew that the same God who delivered him in the past is able to deliver him day by day (in the present), and will continue in the future to deliver him until that final, grand moment when he would be completely released from the tribulations and persecutions of this world. Notice that Paul appealed to the Corinthians believers to help he and his fellow-workers through their prayers. Paul was convinced that deliverance in their persecution would be obtained through the prayers of many. In other words, he saw their rescue as a direct result of the intercession of the believers.
• Prayer plays an important role in the deliverance of those who are persecuted for Christ's sake. Therefore, we can also help our persecuted brothers through our prayers on their behalf for them to have confidence in God's ability to deliver in persecution.
35. Pray that they will celebrate the fact that they have been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name that is above all names (Acts 5:41; James 1:2).
• The apostles had been imprisoned, warned, threatened, flogged and released. Instead of complaining they celebrated the fact that they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Christ's name. Luke wrote, "So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). The apostles rejoiced instead of recoiled and recanted. They celebrated being counted worthy for suffering shame for Christ's name instead of complaining. And what a testimony this was not only to their persecutors but also to the church and the people of Jerusalem.
• Since persecution is bound to happen in the life of the church, God will want those whom He allows to face persecution to celebrate the fact that they have been counted worthy of suffering shame for His name. Therefore, prayers should be lifted up on behalf of those suffering persecution to rejoice that they too, like the apostles of old, have been considered or reckoned worthy to suffer shame for the Name that is above all names.
• James exhorted suffering believers to count it all joy when they enter various trials (James 1:2). The apostles demonstrated that for us.
36. Pray that they will cling to God Himself in their trials (2 Timothy 1:12b; Acts 27:22-25).
• In all his trials for the sake of the gospel, Paul clung to the Lord. He held on to Him. His grip on God was so tight. Even when he was facing death he could write with confidence, "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:12b). Such a statement reveals the heart of one who knows what it means to cling to God in his trials. By committing his life to God to guard, Paul clung to God who held his future securely in His hands.
• Earlier, when Paul was in a life-threatening storm at sea, he clung to God and His word. After all hope of their being saved was gradually abandoned, Paul stood up among the discouraged voyagers, prisoners, sailors and soldiers on board to express his confidence in God and His word to him.
"Now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts 27:22-25).
• Paul could encourage these men who had lost all hope because he was clinging to God and His word of promise. Persecuted believers also need this gracious work in their lives. They need to cling to God in their trials and even be used as a beacon of hope to others as they point them to the God of hope. God will certainly honor such a prayer on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters.
37. Pray that they will have a convincing understanding that standing for God's truth can cost them their lives (Acts 21:13).
• One of the precious lessons I have learned from Paul's life is his convincing understanding that standing for righteousness could cost him his very life. While on his way to Jerusalem the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that bonds and afflictions awaited him (see Acts 20:22-23). Knowing this, Paul gave a charge to the elders of the church of Ephesus at Miletus (see Acts 20:17-38). On his way to Jerusalem, Paul stopped over at Tyre where the disciples kept telling him through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem (see Acts 21:4). Later in Caesarea in the house of Philip the evangelist, the prophet Agabus brought a direct prophetic message to Paul. Agabus bound his own feet and hands with Paul's belt and declared authoritatively, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles'" (Acts 21:11). Upon hearing this, those traveling with Paul and the local residents began begging Paul not to go up to Jerusalem (see Acts 21:12). Paul's response shows that he had a convincing understanding that walking in the way and will of God could cost him his life and that he was ready for that. "Then Paul answered, 'What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13).
• Please understand that Paul was not on a suicide mission. Paul was not deliberately putting himself into danger for a wrong cause as we see many radical and fanatic Muslims do today. He was simply expressing his deep conviction that obedience to God's leading and direction in one's life can be costly. I believe one of the lessons that God teaches the persecuted is that obedience to Him not brings countless blessings but it can also be costly. So we should pray that our persecuted brothers and sisters gain a convincing understanding that standing for the sake of the gospel can cost them their lives.
38. Pray that the Holy Spirit will assist persecuted believers who are brought before rulers and governing authorities for the defense of their faith in Christ (Matt. 10:19-20; Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:11-12 ; 21:12-13).
• In His prediction about persecution in the lives of His followers, the Lord Jesus also spoke of the provision of the Holy Spirit. He will help His followers in many ways. One specific way in which the Holy Spirit helps persecuted believers is speaking through them at the defense of the faith before governing authorities.
"But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (Matthew 10:19-20).
"When the arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit" (Mark 11:13).
"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say" (Luke 12:11-12)
"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute" (Luke 21:12-13).
• The message is clear from these Scripture. When persecuted believers are brought before those who are persecuting them, the Lord Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and wisdom will assist them. So when we pray for the Holy Spirit to assist them in their defense, we are praying what is God's will. He will answer fto the praise of His glorious name.
39. Pray that God will honor the message proclaimed by persecuted believers to bear fruit (Acts 3:11-4:4).
• Through faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from his mother's womb. Since this apostolic healing occurred at the evening sacrifice, a crowd quickly gathered at temple grounds. Instead of pointing to themselves, the apostles pointed to Jesus Christ, preaching Him as the Glorified Servant of God (3:13), the Holy and Righteous One (3:14), the Prince of life (3:15), the Resurrected One (3:15), as the One in whom alone faith is to be placed (3:16) and as God's Christ (3:18). As is the case of all apostolic preaching, Peter and John called their listeners to repent and turn to God (3:20). They were rudely interrupted by the religious leaders who were greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (4:1-2). Peter and John were arrested and shut up in prison (4:3). If anyone thought that their labor was in vain, they had better read Acts 4:4. There we read, "But many of those who had heard the message believed, and the number of men came to be about five thousand." God honored the going out of His word. His word does not fall to the ground. His word does not fail in the thing for which He sent it (see Isaiah 55:8-11). Many people believed and were gloriously saved.
• Through the Spirit, Paul wrote, "I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned" (2 Timothy 2:9). In other words, the messenger can be chained, but the word God gives him to speak cannot be chained. Paul was put under house arrest in Rome, but the word of God went forth from there (Acts 28:30-31), reaching the whole praetorian guard (Philippians 1:13) and even Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22). It even reached Onesimus, a runaway slave from Colossae (Philemon vv. 10-16). These examples are written in Scripture to encourage us to pray to God to honor the messages declared by persecuted believers before or during their imprisonment to bear fruit for His glory. He will answer such a specific prayer.
40. Pray that when appropriate and not dishonoring to God persecuted believers should claim their civil rights (Acts 16:35-39; 22:23-29).
• Paul trusted in God's ability to defend and deliver him out of his trials. He committed the outcome of his commitment to preach the good news to God. However, when appropriate and not dishonoring to God, Paul challenged the civil authorities through the law to ensure his civil liberty. Paul stood for his right as a citizen of Rome on several occasions.
• After Paul and Silas' humiliating experience that resulted in a happy ending for the jailer at Philippi, the chief magistrates sent their policemen to release Paul and Silas. The jailer reported these words to Paul. Instead of rejoicing at the news of their release and leaving town quietly, Paul claimed his civil right as a Roman citizen.
"But Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.' The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city"(Acts 16:37-39).
• The chief magistrates who were supposed to administer the law failed to do so. Paul would not leave town without standing up for his right as a Roman citizen.
• While visiting Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, Paul was seized and beaten by the Jewish mob. Through God's providence, he was rescued by the Roman soldiers under the command of Commander Claudius Lysias. Lysias gave permission to Paul to speak to the crowd. The crowd listened to Paul until he mentioned the G-word (Gentiles). The crowd went crazy, chanting, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for her should not be allowed to live" (Acts 22:22). Lysias quickly ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way. Just before the dreaded flagellum came down on Paul's stretched out back, Paul claimed his civil right. Speaking to the centurion, Paul asked, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?" The question shocked the centurion. He went to the commander immediately, saying to him, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman." Alarmed, the commander came out to find out the truth for himself. While he obtained Roman citizenship by bribery, Paul obtained it by birth. The discovery that Paul was a Roman citizen brought an immediate halt to the proceedings (see Acts 22:22-29). Paul was willing to suffer, but he knew there was no virtue in suffering merely for suffering sake. So he challenged the authorities and claimed his civil rights.
• From these Scriptural examples, we learn that there are times for a believer to claim his civil rights. A believer should be willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, but there is no virtue in suffering merely for suffering sake. Where protection of law exists and can be invoked without compromise, it can be invoked. It is not wrong to seek protection of the law. We can therefore pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters to challenge civil authorities and claim their civil rights when doing so will not lead to compromise or bring dishonor to God's name.
41. Pray for God to reveal His purpose for allowing persecution in the lives of the persecuted (1 Pet. 1-6-7).
• God has a purpose for allowing persecution in the lives of His children. He has revealed His purpose in His word for us. His purpose, as discussed earlier, could be proving the genuineness of one's faith, purifying one's faith, providing an opportunity to bear witness for His name, praise at Christ's revelation, potential for spiritual growth, personal reliance on God, preparation to comfort others, developing perseverance and proven Christ-like character, and partaking in the glory of Christ at the end of the age. Some of these are stated in 1 Peter 1:6-7, "If necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
• God alone knows what His purpose for each persecuted believer is. And God alone can reveal it to each one personally. I believe He wants to do that. We can therefore pray to Him to reveal what His purpose is in allowing persecution in the lives of our suffering brothers and sisters.
42. Pray that they will resist the devil firm in their faith (1 Peter 5:8-9).
• The devil doesn't let up on his attacks and accusations of believers, even when they are being persecuted. He is the accuser of the brethren, and accuses them before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). Indeed, the devil is the principal force behind the persecution of believers. He is always against them. He opposes them. He does not seek the welfare of believers. He only seeks their downfall and demise. He is indeed their enemy and adversary. He must therefore be resisted in the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Writing to the believers who were suffering and scattered throughout what is now modern Turkey, Peter, by the Holy Spirit, instructed them to resist the devil. He writes, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9).
• The Holy Spirit didn't want the believers of Peter's days to fall into the temptation of thinking that they were the only one suffering for the cause of the gospel. Satan would like them to think so. Doing so would lead them to complain, murmur and even doubt God's goodness in their lives. Satan is out to undermine God's goodness. In the Garden of Eden, he craftily and cunningly created doubt about God's truthfulness in the hearts of Eve that led to the fall (see Genesis 3:1-7). He is still practicing this dirty trick on believers today. But we are called to resist him in the strength of the Spirit, who is greater and more powerful than Satan. Our persecuted brothers and sisters must therefore be diligently prayed for to resist the devil, standing firm in the faith.
43. Pray that when they are released from their persecution they will relentlessly pursue God's plan for their lives (Acts 5:42; 14:19-21).
• The apostles in Jerusalem faced fierce persecution from the religious leaders of Israel in the early years of the church. Filled with jealousy about the progress the church was making through the ministry and miracles of the apostles, the religious leaders of Israel laid hands on the apostles and locked them up in public jail (see Acts 5:12-18). After the apostles were released from their imprisonment, they did not go on "retirement" from the ministry of making Jesus known. Rather, they relentlessly pursued God's plan for their lives, that is, making Jesus known, proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
• It would have been easy for the apostles to go on "retirement." After all, they had been imprisoned. They had been threatened. They had been warned. They had been flogged. They could call it quits. But they didn't. The Bible tells us, "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 5:42 - NIV).
• Paul was persecuted several times but he never gave up preaching the good news. At Lystra, on his first missionary journey, Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city by the crowds who were incited by the jealous unbelieving Jews. They thought Paul was dead. But Paul wasn't. He was miraculously preserved. The next day he and Barnabas went to Derbe where they preached the gospel and made many disciples (see Acts 14-19-21). Amazing! Paul relentlessly pursued God's plan for his life after being set free from a near death experience.
• We should therefore pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have once been persecuted but now freed not to stop testifying of Christ after being freed from persecution.
44. Pray that they will make the most out of their circumstances (Acts 17:10-32; 16:16-34; 22:27-22:21; 24:1-27:44)
• In suffering persecution, Paul made the most out of his circumstances. Chased out of town at Thessalonica, Paul came to Berea and preached the gospel (see Acts 17:10-12). For Paul fleeing opposition didn't mean freedom from the call to preach the good news. No sooner had his ministry been established in Berea than he had to be ran out of town again. The unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea upon hearing that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea. They agitated and stirred up the crowds at Berea against Paul. Out of concern for Paul, the believers sent Paul away as far as Athens. Alone and perhaps discouraged, Paul made the most out of that circumstance by reasoning in the synagogue with Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. Paul also ventured into the market place (the agora) every day of his stay in Athens. Out of this came the glorious opportunity of preaching Jesus and the resurrection to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Areopagus (see Acts 17:12-32). Paul could have checked in at a motel in Athens to get much needed rest from constantly being ran out of town. But Paul knew how precious each soul was, so he never let the opportunities God presented to him slip away.
• With their robes tore off them, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods at Philippi for preaching Jesus Christ and casting out a spirit of divination in a slave-girl at Philippi. After they had been struck with many blows, they were thrown into prison, securedly locked and guarded. They were simply obeying the leading of God but they found themselves in prison. Instead of holding a pity-party for themselves, Paul and Silas had a praise and worship time in the prison. God shook the prison with a great earthquake. As a result, all the prison doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke, lo and behold, the prison doors were opened. Thinking that the prisoners had escaped, the jailer reached for his sword to take his own life. He knew the consequences of letting prisoners escape under his guard. It would be far better for him to take his own life than fall into the hands of the governing authorities. Before the jailer took his life, Paul cried out with a loud voice to stop him from harming himself since all the prisoners were still in the prison. The jailer could not believe that he had escaped death. He asked one of the most relevant questions in life: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas responded, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." The jailer and his household believed the word of the Lord spoken to them and were later baptized (see Acts 16:16-34). This result came about because Paul and Silas made the most out of their horrible situation.
• Seized and beaten in Jerusalem, Paul begged to share his testimony to the very people who wanted to kill him. The people did not come to hear him preach. They gathered to kill him. Yet Paul took advantage of the situation to tell of what God had done in his life. One would have thought that having just narrowly escaped death, Paul would simply shut his mouth and be dragged to prison. Paul would not do so. He learned the precious lesson of making the most out of his circumstances no matter how bad they were. The crowds who had gathered to kill him heard about God's life transforming work in his life (see Acts 21:27-22:21). They had the choice then to believe the God who changes the life of sinners or to continue in their life of sin.
• While in prison in Caesarea for over two years, Paul again made the most out of his circumstances. He shared his personal testimony before governors and a king. Paul was always ready to testify of God's gracious work in his life. Governors Felix and Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice all heard of the message of gospel, centered on the Person of Jesus Christ (see Acts 24:1-26:32). Paul could have sat in prison without a desire or concern to speak of Christ. Yet he didn't do that. Paul practically seized the moments presented to him to make Jesus known instead of being consumed with a self-pity mentality which would have robed him of the privileged opportunities given to him to bear witness.
• While traveling to Rome on a ship with over two hundred and seventy people, a violent storm occurred at sea. In the midst of this storm when all their attempts to survive were failing, Paul stood up and declared his faith in the true and living God. All hope of being saved from the violent storm was lost. But Paul had hope in God and His word that all those who were sailing with him would be saved. On the basis of this, Paul encouraged all on board to eat some food. They had been constantly watching and going without food for fourteen days (see Acts 27:1-44).
• Because Paul was a man who made the most out of his circumstances, he could write to the church at Philippi while in prison in Rome these precious words: "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of the Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else"(Philippians 1:12-13).
• These illustrations clearly show how important it is to pray for those who are suffering for the sake of Christ to make the most out of their circumstances.
45. Pray that persecuted believers will love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28, 35)
• In Matthew 5:44, our Lord taught His followers something that was totally counter-cultural. They had been taught to love their neighbor and hate their enemy (see Matthew 5:43). But teaching with the authority and wisdom of God, our Lord said, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Our Lord repeated this teaching in Luke 6:27-28: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
• The Lord Jesus Himself practiced what He preached. He loved His enemies. He also prayed for the people who persecuted Him unto death. Crucified between two criminals, our Lord prayed for those who crucified Him, saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
• Stephen followed in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, demonstrating his love for his enemies who were stoning him to death by praying for them. Just before he breathed his last, through the Holy Spirit, Stephen summoned all of God's love within him and "cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'" (Acts 7:60).
• In Romans 12:20, we read of a practical way of demonstrating love to our enemies. "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."
• No one can love his enemies no matter how well-meaning he is! Neither can any one pray for those who persecute him in his own strength. This is special work of grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. The Holy Spirit enables us to pray for our enemies and gives us God's love to love our enemies. Since it is God's will for the persecuted to love and pray for those who persecute them, He will hear us and do a gracious work in the hearts of our persecuted brothers and sisters to enable them to love and pray for their persecutors.
46. Pray that they will bless those who persecute them (Rom. 12:14).
• It is not enough to love and pray for those who persecute us. Persecuted believers are also instructed to bless those who persecute them. Writing to the church at Rome, the Holy Spirit directed Paul to give this specific command: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:14; cf. Luke 6:28a). Please notice the repetition of the command "bless." The repetition is to emphasize the divine directive to bless those who persecute believers. The command "bless" (eulogeite) is a present imperative. The command could therefore be rendered "keep on blessing those who persecute you." In other words, it is not a one time act. It is to be a continual action as long as one is under persecution.
• Eulogeo is the Greek verb for "bless." In this context, it means to call down God's gracious power upon persons. In other contexts, it means to speak well of, praise, extol God. The former meaning is our primary concern. Persecutors are in need of God's gracious power. They do not know they need that, therefore they do not ask for it to make an eternal difference in their lives. That is the very reason why God commanded His persecuted children to bless, that is, call down His gracious power upon their persecutors.
• Of course, this is not the work we can do in our own strength. It takes the supernatural strength of the indwelling Holy Spirit to repeatedly bless those who persecute us. God's Holy Spirit, living in our persecuted brothers and sisters is able to help them bless those who persecute them as we pray for them.
47. Pray that they will not repay anyone evil for evil nor take revenge, but leave room for God's wrath (Rom. 12:17, 19; 1 Peter 3:9).
• The natural tendency in all of us is to get even. There is even a popular billboard saying, "I'm not mad. I'm only getting even." Getting even is the world's way of life. But it is not to be our way of life. Believers, those who are being persecuted and those who are not presently under persecution, are commanded never to pay back evil for evil to anyone. Instead, they should act honorably in the face of abuse and injury, as in all circumstances of life. They are also clearly instructed to never take their own revenge. Rather, they are to leave room for God's wrath. He declared vengeance is His (see Romans 12:17, 19). Vengeance is God's prerogative. We should not interfere with what is His right. He will repay at the proper time.
• This command is repeated in 1 Peter 3:9 with a promise of blessing."Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing"(NIV). There should be no tit for tat attitude in the believer's life in or out of persecution. Delight in vengeance should have no place in the lives of those who have been redeemed. Therefore we must pray for the persecuted church to avoid taking revenge, allowing God to execute His vengeance at His appointed time. The Holy Spirit is available to assist them as we pray for them.
48. Pray that our brothers and sisters who are suffering for the sake of Christ will not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:20-21).
• In Romans 12:20, believers are instructed to demonstrate their love for their enemies by feeding them when they are hungry and satisfying their thirst. This is simply because Christianity does not destroy its enemies by violence but converts them by love.
• In verse 21 of Romans 12, believers are given a prohibition and a positive exhortation. The prohibition is "do not be overcome by evil." In other words, as believers we should not allow evil to conquer us. George Washington Carver, the great black scientist lived by this principle. He once said, "I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him." When we are wronged unjustly, bitterness of heart, unforgiving spirit, anger, resentment and hatred can conquer us. But through the Spirit, we are not to allow these evils to dominate us.
• It is not enough to not be overcome by evil, but we must go a step further. Therefore the positive exhortation: "But overcome evil with good." Simply put, what this means is that, evil can be overpowered with good. This is a weapon we should use frequently.
• We should diligently pray for believers who are suffering unjustly for the cause of Christ not to allow evil to conquer them, but overpower evil with good in the strength of the Spirit.
49. Pray that God will meet the needs of the families of Christians who are suffering for the sake of the gospel.
• The observation of Brother Yun, a Chinese persecuted believer is that many people pray Christians who are suffering in prison. But we need to understand that often their families suffer even greater hardship. Usually the authorities come and confiscate everything of value for the prisoner's home, even pots and pans, clothing and furniture. Sometimes they even take away farm animals and seeds.
• It is therefore very important to lift up the families of our persecuted brothers and sisters that God will provide for them.
50. Pray that persecuted believers will first give themselves to the Lord and then give generously to meet the needs of other suffering believers (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
• Hard times had come upon the church of Judea as a result of a great famine in the reign of Emperor Claudius of Rome (A.D. 41-54) (see Acts 11:28). The church in Antioch decided to send a contribution for the relief of the believers living in Judea by the hand of Barnabas and Saul (see Acts 11:29-30). Later, the churches of Macedonia heard of this great need. Philippi and Thessalonica were two of the cities of Macedonia where churches had been planted through the missionary effort of Paul and his co-workers.
• The Christians in the Macedonian churches had been going through a great trial of affliction. They had very little. They would have sought to save the little they had to provide for their future. Yet they willingly, freely, generously shared the little they had with the famine-stricken saints in Judea. No one pressured, coaxed, or cajoled them to do so. The secret behind their willing, generous giving to meet the needs of the Judean believers is revealed as first giving the greatest gift - themselves. There was first complete commitment of their lives to Christ, their Lord. Then afterwards it was an easy thing for them to give their money. They did this with great joy. They were so desirous of sharing in this gracious work of giving that they literally begged Paul to allow them to share in this privileged work of giving to meet the needs of the suffering believers in Judea. Their giving not only equaled their ability; it went beyond their ability (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). What an example of joyous, willing, sacrificial, and generous giving by the persecuted believers of Macedonia are to all of us!
• Certainly, we can pray for persecuted believers to give themselves wholly to the Lord, so as to be freed to give willingly and generously to meet the needs of other suffering believers. This prayer is greatly needed for the churches in Africa, Asia, and South America where believers are facing not only persecution but also natural disasters such as famine and flooding.
51. Pray that believers who are not being persecuted now will learn from the spirit of generosity of persecuted believers (2 Cor. 8:1-6).
• Apostle Paul was so elated over the example of the Macedonian believers that he now wanted the Corinthians to imitate them. Titus had started the work of collecting gifts from the Corinthians. Paul now urged him to complete the work he had begun (see 2 Corinthians 8:6). The Corinthians were not going through persecution at this time. But they were urged to emulate the example of generous giving of the Macedonian believers.
• Many in the Church in the west are rich, but sadly, they do not give generously. We can therefore pray that God will work in their hearts to first give themselves to the Lord and learn from the persecuted Macedonian believers to also give willingly, joyously and generously.
Persecution is real in the life of the Church. It is suffering for the sake of Christ. God has revealed certain principal truths in His Word about persecution. The Person of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of persecution and suffering. Persecution of believers is predicted in the Scriptures. It is part and parcel of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. It is a privilege Christians have in their walk with God. Persecution of believers is in reality the persecution of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Persecution will not separate us from the love of Christ our Savior. The Bible clearly reveals to us that Satan is the principal force behind the persecution of believers. Persecution is therefore a real spiritual battle. Thankfully, the weapons of are warfare are not carnal, but divinely powerful for the destruction or demolition of strongholds or fortresses. Knowing that Satan is the principal force behind persecution of His disciples, the Lord Jesus Himself assured them of the preserving and protective power of God. The keeping power of God is such that none of them will perish even in the most evil persecution. How precious are these principal truths about persecution! With the help of the Holy Spirit, we must allow them to be impressed deeply on our hearts.
Since persecution is inevitable and a normal Christian experience, we must be prepared for it. Our preparation for it include hiding the principal truths God revealed about it into our hearts and understanding God's purpose for allowing it into our lives.
God has a purpose for everything He does. He has a set of purposes for allowing persecution in our lives. These include the proof of our faith, the purification of our faith, praise at the revelation of Christ, personal reliance on God, potential for spiritual growth, perseverance that leads to proven character in the persecuted believer, privileged opportunity to bear witness for Christ, preparation for comforting others and partaking in the glory of Christ. We must learn from this list what God's purpose for persecution is. It will help us in our prayers as well as in our preparation.
Since our response in times of persecution is important to God, He has prescribed responses for persecuted believers in times of persecution. God wants us our response in persecution to be one of praising Him, praying to Him, persevering in persecution, praying specifically for those who are persecuting us, promptly fleeing to a place of safety so as to continue to bear witness for Christ, and displaying proper conduct worthy of the gospel.
God alone determines the period of living under persecution. Therefore, our focus should not be on "when am I getting out?" but on "what do You want to do in and through me?"
God's power is available for all who suffer for the sake of the gospel. God never intended for us to suffer for Christ's sake in our own puny little strength. He wants every suffering believer who is suffering for the cause of Christ to do so in the power of God and so bring glory to His name.
There is a special provision of the Holy Spirit for persecuted believers. No one who is suffering for the sake of the gospel will lack His ready help.
While persecution is real in the life of the church and have persisted throughout the centuries, it has only turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. It has only served to advance the purpose of God. It has never succeeded in silencing the voice of the church. Thanks be to God!
The main purpose of this article is to help believers pray more effectively for our persecuted brothers and sisters who are suffering for the faith. Therefore petitions were derived from the Scriptures from context of persecution to assist us pray fervently and fruitfully. If one part of the Body of Christ suffers, the rest suffers. One effective way to suffer with the part of the Body of Christ that is suffering is earnestly praying for them. God is willing to hear these petitions that are based on His Word. Certainly, most of us have failed in times past. We have been living comfortably while our brothers and sisters have been suffering for the sake of the gospel. We have not felt any burden to fast and pray for them in their persecution. We read and hear of their sufferings for the sake of Christ but are not moved to seek God on their behalf. At best, we are content with sending them practical help. We substitute this for prayer. We forget that there is absolutely no substitute for prayer. Prayer is the most powerful way we can support, serve and strengthen the persecuted Church. Prayer is not the least we can do - it is the most we can do. And yet, this is so much neglected or at best given a lip service among God's people. We neglect the early church's example of fervently praying for the persecuted and her urgent call for prayer for those suffering for the sake of Christ
Let’s confess our failure to fervently pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ! Let’s thank God for the forgiveness of our sins on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross!
Let’s depend on the Holy Spirit from now on to pray and pray earnestly for the persecuted church all around the globe. As we do so, let's thank God that persecution will not thwart His purpose for the Church. Rather, it will only lead to the greater progress of the gospel
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).