Persecution & Suffering: 39

James 1:2-5 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces [endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We see here that the many kinds of difficulties we face have some common results. First, we need to recognize them as tests of our faith. These tests produce a variety of wonderful results. We gain endurance, which perfects us in many other ways, completing our character development. These difficulties then, are what the Lord uses to conform us to the image of Christ.

It is for this reason that James exhorts us to consider it all joy when we face these difficulties. God is developing His character in us, preparing us in every way to be with Him forever in glory. The trials are God’s gift to us.

Persecution & Suffering: 38

In Hebrews 12:4-11, the author says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!   They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.   No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Do you want God’s holiness and righteousness? Do you want His peace? Do you want to be strengthened and trained? If so, then you want God’s discipline. These are all benefits of God’s discipline. When He gives painful discipline, it is evident that we are His children.

Our response is to be that we submit to the discipline, that we respect our Father in heaven for providing it, and that we learn and grow from it. We are to endure it and be grateful for it. God is giving it to us for our own good. He is a good Father and is doing it for our blessing. In this case, the saying is true: “No pain, no gain.”

Persecution & Suffering: 37

Hebrews 11:32-38 says, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

Hebrews 11 is called the “hall of faith.” It is interesting that in this list of heroes of the faith, the common factor is not whether their story had a happy ending on earth or not. The common factor is that they all experienced severe trials. In some cases, as in the verses up to women receiving back their dead by resurrection, God miraculously delivered them for His glory. In the verses after that, for some reason, He chose not to deliver them, also for His glory.

You see, God’s great power is demonstrated in the cases where He provided miraculous relief. His worthiness, however, is demonstrated in the cases where people were ready and willing to pay any price for His sake, and they do so. His true greatness is what explains their willing sacrifice.

One of the best ways, then, to show forth God’s glory is for us to face extreme trials. He is glorified through that either way, as long as we remain faithful in the suffering. The other wonderful news is that we then receive eternal reward and joy in His presence. It is truly a “can’t lose” scenario.

Persecution & Suffering: 36

Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

The entire chapter is full of examples like this. Of course, we know that at the last moment, God stopped Abraham, and provided a substitute sacrifice. Abraham didn’t know that, however. He trusted that God was good, even though God’s command seemed cruel and heartless and senseless. He was obeying God despite the fact that God’s guidance seemed ridiculous. He assumed it was a test of His love for God, and he was correct.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) He also said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Thus, our love is demonstrated by our obedience. If we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we will obey Him no matter what the cost. It is no test for the Lord to ask things of us that cost us nothing. The test is in His instructions when obedience will result in pain and loss. He often tests us in these ways. Will we obey?

Persecution & Suffering: 35

Hebrews 10:32-39 says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.   You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.   So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’  And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

This is a beautiful picture. These people chose to suffer public humiliation, confiscation of their property, imprisonment, and all sorts of persecution gladly, knowing that their reward was greater and eternal. Their confidence will prove well-founded. The promise to them is that if they persevere and do God’s will, they will receive what God has promised. Those who shrink back, prove their commitment was empty, and are punished. Those who are faithful are saved with a great and eternal salvation.

We see the same portrait in Moses, described in Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

In China, one of the major house church networks has people who are being baptized take a pledge:

“I am ready at any time and any place to suffer for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to be imprisoned for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to escape for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to die for the Lord.”

They are then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This makes it quite clear from the moment they identify with Him that they understand what it will cost to follow Him and they recognize He is worth it.

If new believers realize that suffering for Christ is normal and expected, then they are far less likely to be confused, or discouraged, or hopeless, or bitter, or angry, when they face that suffering. Suffering for Christ is the normal life of a believer. One measure of God’s greatness is that He can strengthen us to endure it, and He can use it for our good and His glory.

Persecution & Suffering: 34

The other passage in Hebrews that always surprises me is Hebrews 5:7-8 “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Did I hear that right? Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered? Again, it was not that Jesus was ever disobedient, but in some way, His obedience could not be complete apart from enduring suffering. If that was true for Him, how much more necessary will suffering be for us, who have been disobedient. Surely suffering is also necessary for us to learn obedience. This is yet another valuable gift we derive from suffering.

The Lord has us all in training and preparation for reigning with Him for eternity. This requires us learning obedience. I learned long ago as a parent that you never know the level of obedience a child has until you ask them to do things they do not want to do. If a child is only asked to do things they want to do then their motive is in question. If they obey in something that goes against their desires then their obedience and submission is known. Thus, we can rejoice in the opportunity to demonstrate our love and submission to the Lord through suffering obediently.

Persecution & Suffering: 33

There are a couple of passages in Hebrews that always astound me. One of them is in Hebrews 2:9-10: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”

The part that surprises me is that it says Jesus was made perfect by what He suffered. Not that He was ever imperfect in any way, yet in some sense He could not be complete or all that He was intended to be apart from suffering. If that was true for Jesus, how much more so will it be true for us, who are imperfect in many respects. Not only that, but as we see in verse 9, His being crowned with glory and honor was directly tied to the fact that He suffered death. Our death is integrally tied with His, just as our glory is integrally tied with His. We must die to self to live to Christ. Suffering in the flesh is tied to victory in the spirit.

This is something I find difficult. My flesh enjoys being coddled and spoiled. Just as the body is trained by putting it through the difficulties of intense exercise, so I need to embrace spiritual training which comes by denying the desires of my flesh for comfort and ease in order that I might pursue the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Persecution & Suffering: 32

In 2 Timothy 2:11-13 Paul says, “This saying is trustworthy: ‘If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.’”

It is evident from this passage that our response to tribulations is critical. We are to persevere. As in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, “Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13). Trials are a test to see whether or not our roots are in Christ.

If our roots are in Christ we will persevere. If He is our foundation, we will stand in the storms. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

If we do not persevere, but rather deny Him by word or deed, by action or inaction, He will deny us. In Luke 9:26, He says, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

We are to be bold emissaries of the Kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

The enemy has a purpose for persecution. His purpose is to silence us. If we allow persecution or the fear of persecution to silence our testimony, we are collaborating with the enemy. Let us rather, boldly and openly stand for our King and His Kingdom in the midst of persecutions and threats.

Persecution & Suffering: 31

In 2 Timothy 2:3-4, Paul tells Timothy, “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.”

We expect soldiers to be ready to make all sorts of sacrifices in order to carry out their duties. They may have to sleep out in the open, forsake all the comforts of home, leave their friends and families, and live in constant danger, taking great risks in order that they might serve their nation. They focus not on their own comfort or convenience or pleasure, but rather the instructions of their commanding officer.

We are to serve in that same way as soldiers of the King, serving His will and seeking to advance His Kingdom. This means we are to be willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake. This is not a cause for special praise. This is the natural by-product of our position, which we have willingly taken on.

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?   So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

In the same way, suffering is part of the job description for citizen-soldiers of the Kingdom. Our appropriate response is to expect suffering willingly, and not to complain or whine about it. The difference between us and the soldier or the slave, is that we will be honored and rewarded and glorified for all eternity as God’s children. The pay is a lot better for soldiers of the King!

Persecution & Suffering: 30

Philippians 3:7-11 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in   Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul sets an example for us here. He considers the loss of his reputation, his accomplishments, his learning, his possessions and his life to be a small price to pay for the opportunity to know Christ and to be “in Him,” having His righteousness and His life.

Paul realizes that the path to intimacy with God and eternal life with God lies through suffering and even death. It is through suffering with and for the Lord that we come to know Him. It is through suffering with and for the Lord that we are made like Him, and we are conformed to His likeness, His image. If we are to share His glory, it is only through sharing in His suffering and death.

When we come to this realization, we understand that sacrifices for the sake of the Lord and His Kingdom are not only natural and necessary, but welcome. Nothing will matter to us except loving and pleasing and serving the Lord.