Persecution & Suffering: 10

Matthew 10:34-39

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

The things we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ reveal where He ranks in our priorities. It demonstrates our level of commitment. Is He truly the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46) in our estimation? Do we value Him more than any relationship and more than our own lives?

If we do, then the loss of anything for His sake will be met with pure joy because we have all we desire in Him. In Philippians 3:7-8 Paul says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

This means we can constantly rejoice because Christ is in us and we are in Christ. No external circumstance can change this all-important reality. As Paul says elsewhere, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

In fact, it is us actually suffering loss of lesser things that proves we are His. It is in dying to ourselves that we are able to live in Him. It is in seeking Him that we lose everything else, including our own lives. The result is life – eternal, abundant, and true life.

Persecution & Suffering: 9

Matthew 5:38-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

This is probably one of the least popular passages in the Bible. It is clear but it is not what we want to hear. In fact, in our own strength it is nearly impossible. Obedience to these commands, at least with joy, is only possible through the Holy Spirit within us.

Jesus modeled this for us, even to the point of death. In fact, even down to the details, this could be a commentary on His crucifixion. He did not resist. He turned the other cheek during His trial and its aftermath. He gave up all His clothing. He carried the cross to the point of collapse. He loved His enemies and prayed for them even while on the cross.

Jesus tells us in doing these things we will be like our Father in heaven. He demonstrated these characteristics as well, showing love to the evil and the good, regardless of their hearts or their behavior. We are to respond with this sort of equanimity and blessing as well. Our universal response to others is to be pure love regardless of how they treat us. This is how we demonstrate we are God’s children.

Persecution & Suffering: 8

In Matthew 5:11-12 Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Therefore, our suffering for the sake of Christ results in our great reward in heaven.

Of course, this does not apply to suffering because of our own foolishness or wrongdoing. There are many cases, however, when the Lord asks us to do something that will result in our being maligned or mistreated or slandered or opposed. The question in those situations is whether we will obey and face the consequences or shrink back for the sake of our own reputation and well-being.

This is much the same situation as Jesus speaks about in relation to doing our righteous acts in order to be seen by men in Matthew 6:1-8: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

You cannot have your cake and eat it to. Either you live for reward in this world or in the coming world. You cannot have it both ways. Living for the coming Kingdom means you will not be welcome in this one. Seeking the coming Kingdom means actively opposing and seeking to change the present world. That will result in opposition if we are pursuing it as we should. The wonderful news is that we will be abundantly rewarded. This is why we are told to rejoice greatly when we suffer in this way.

Persecution & Suffering: 7

Matthew 5:10 tells us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In some way, then, the persecution of God’s people is connected with their inheritance in the Kingdom. This should not be a surprise since we are promised in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Persecution is a sign that accompanies godly living and is an evidence of our priorities and purpose in living for the King and His Kingdom rather than for ease and comfort and peace and prosperity in this world. Paul speaks of this in Galatians 1:10 when he says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” He speaks the hard and necessary truth to the Galatians and to everyone else even though he knows it will result in hardship and opposition.

The point is not that we should seek out persecution, but that we should fully do and say everything the Lord asks us to, in the way He asks us to, no matter how unpleasant the result may be for us.

Persecution & Suffering: 6

Matthew 5:4 tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This is related to the old saying, “God afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.” If we want to be on the right side of this equation for all eternity then I would far rather face affliction now and comfort for eternity. You remember in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 6:19-31, in verse 25 it says “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”

In the seemingly upside-down Kingdom of God, delayed gratification is extreme. The discipline and training and testing provided by various afflictions help to prepare us for an eternity of reaping the benefits of character and strength and soundness. This is especially true in the Kingdom of God, but we recognize similar principles even in earthly endeavors. General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” The idea is that thorough and intense training prepares soldiers for greater effectiveness.

One of the personal frustrations in my life is when people misunderstand the place of “good works” in Kingdom living for the Lord. It is a plain and obvious fact that we can do nothing to earn our salvation. It is entirely free and sets us free from sin and shame and death. We can and should rejoice and relax in this wonderful blessing. Some people, however, then have a distorted view of labor for the Kingdom. They misunderstand completely its valuable and prominent role and place in a life lived for the Lord. They immediately object when anyone begins to speak of discipline and sacrifice, claiming that Jesus wants us to dance rather than march.

I propose that Jesus wants us to march with joy and love and gratitude and freedom. Here I am speaking of marching in terms of disciplined obedience to the Lord. The fact that we are free and still choose to submit to whatever He asks, whenever He asks, however He asks, is a demonstration of our great love for Him. Anyone who understands salvation knows that it has nothing to do with seeking to earn salvation. It still has a vital role, however, in living for the Kingdom. It is a demonstration of our love and obedience. It demonstrates our allegiance and devotion. It prepares us for an eternity of serving the Lord and one another.

As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” Let us then commit ourselves to suffering well for the Lord and His Kingdom. Let us be ready to do His will even when it means sacrifice and suffering. It is precisely our willingness to do so that shows everyone His greatness and goodness and worthiness. He is worth suffering for. We will have an eternity to dance without sacrifice or suffering.

Persecution & Suffering: 5

Lamentations 3:1-57 reminds us that sometimes our suffering is because of our own sin, as God’s way of punishing and correcting us:

1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice— would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us; you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls, ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed.

49 My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief,
50 until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”

Even when the calamities that come upon us are due to our own sinfulness, however, Jeremiah recognizes that God’s goodness and mercy are in view. Even then, the Lord is acting for our own good. This is highlighted in verses 21-25 and 31-36.

Jeremiah gives helpful guidance on how we are to respond in such situations. Note all the instructions he gives in the passage. In summary, we are to repent and believe. We are to submit to God’s ways and trust Him to know what is right and to do it. We are to devote ourselves to His path and trust His timing. We are to call on Him.

Persecution & Suffering: 4

We already looked at the story of Joseph. It is an illustration of Psalm 66:10-12:

“For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

Here the psalmist recognizes God at work in his suffering. He also recognizes God’s purposes. In this case, God’s purposes were to test and refine the psalmist. The means was a variety of difficulties – imprisonment, hard labor, subjugation, and either literally or figuratively, fire and flood.

Again, there is a recognition of God’s complete authority and wisdom and goodness through tremendous pain and suffering. There is a trust in the Lord to bring His people through difficulties in the end and give them reward and comfort. For some that reward and comfort may well be delayed until eternity, but the Lord is trustworthy. We can trust Him to do what is right and what is best.

Persecution & Suffering: 3

Most believers are familiar with the story of Joseph. He was unfairly sold into slavery by his brothers because of their envy. He was then unfairly imprisoned for doing what was right. Then he was forgotten by someone he helped in prison. Then, in the end, the Lord elevated him to a high position in the foreign land where he was living. Later, his brothers came to purchase food from him and they did not recognize him. He made himself known to them and then he said this in Genesis 45:5-8:

“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.“

We read nearly the same statement by Joseph years later in Genesis 50:19-21. Joseph recognized God’s hand at work through all the injustice and defamation and suffering and separation from his family and homeland. He did not harbor anger or bitterness against the people who were God’s instruments in all those difficulties. His focus was on doing God’s work and pursuing God’s purposes whether he was a slave or in prison or in a position of great power and influence. He trusted God and was content to play whatever role God had for him and trust God’s goodness and timing no matter what the personal cost. May we do the same.

Persecution & Suffering: 2

I have been in several settings among believers where everyone was sharing their favorite Bible promises. Never once on those occasions did anyone mention 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Though we may not particularly favor this verse, it actually is a great and even desirable promise because of what its result will be.

Even beyond the positive results, it also can be evidence that we are on the right track in desiring and living a godly life in Christ Jesus. If we are only experiencing a life of ease, we can suspect that we are not posing a threat to the enemy, to the kingdom of darkness. If we are a threat to the enemy, we will face opposition from him. We are targets. The enemy has a purpose for these attacks, and it is to silence us. The Lord also has purposes, holy purposes. This series is about seeking to fulfill those purposes.

I am at the point in my spiritual life where I begin to wonder what I am doing wrong if I am not facing fairly difficult challenges. I find it oddly comforting to know that my temporary difficulties are resulting in eternal gain. In following the Lord whole-heartedly, we “win” no matter what the enemy may do to us.

Persecution & Suffering: 1

I am starting a series of posts on the topic of persecution and suffering.  I believe this is an important topic that the church today (especially in the West) does not pay enough attention to.  I would say that this is important because it is a major topic of Scripture.  I also believe it is a major way the Lord grows us as disciples.  In fact, I propose there is more said about how we can grow through persecution and suffering than about how we can grow through Scripture, prayer, and “body life” combined.

I want to make it clear that I am talking about persecution and suffering for doing what is right, not persecution and suffering for the sake of correction or for stupid things we might do.  It is entirely possible to suffer for doing wrong.  Having said that, many of the benefits that come from our proper response to suffering for doing what is right can also accrue to us even as a result of suffering we bring upon ourselves if we respond appropriately.

The major focus of this series is to help us to recognize those intended or possible benefits and respond well to the suffering we experience.  In that way, the suffering will not be wasted.  If we respond poorly then the enemy and the kingdom of darkness will achieve their purpose through it.  God has good intentions for us in all the suffering He allows.  If we respond appropriately, we will be blessed as we experience the good He intends for us.  Let’s cooperate with His intentions for our own good and for the sake of the Kingdom and the King.