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.

Quick Review of “Obedience Verses” Spoken by Jesus

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always,  the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”  John 14:15-17

Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him.  Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words; yet the word you hear is not Mine but that of the Father Who sent me.”  John 14:23-24

“If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.”  John 15:10

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Matthew 5:19

“Everyone who listens to these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.  And everyone who listens to these words of Mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  Matthew 7:24-27

“To the victor, who keeps to My ways until the end, I will give authority over the nations.”  Revelation 2:26

“Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.”  Revelation 3:3

“Because you have kept my message of endurance, I will keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” Revelation 3:10

Commands of Christ: 94

Hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 

“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God.”  Revelation 2:7

“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor shall not be harmed by the second death.”  Revelation 2:11

“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it.”  Revelation 2:17

“To the victor, who keeps to my ways until the end, I will give authority over the nations.  He will rule them with an iron rod. Like clay vessels will they be smashed,  just as I received authority from my Father. And to him I will give the morning star. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Revelation 2:26-29

“The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Revelation 3:5-6

“The victor I will make into a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never leave it again. On him I will inscribe the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, as well as my new name. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Revelation 3:12-13

“I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Revelation 3:21-22

These of course are the commands of Jesus in His letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation.  Each of these commands gives a promise to those who are victorious in following Him.  To those who persevere.  To those who listen to the Spirit.  These are for our encouragement and motivation.  There will be tests.  There will be difficult days.  It will all be worth it in the end.  The rewards are worth the sacrifice.  Hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Commands of Christ: 93

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all My commands.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.   And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus tells us when and where to make disciples, as we are going.  He tells us how to make disciples, baptizing and teaching to obey all His commands.  He tells us who is to do it, the same people to whom His promise of His presence is to…all His followers.  He tells us by what authority to make disciples, His (complete) authority.  In one sense, this is the primary command of Christ, because in it, all His other commands are included.  In making disciples, we are ourselves obeying all His commands and teaching others to do the same.  If you have to prioritize one command above all others, make it this one.  Make disciples.