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Prepare for Persecution


“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)


At the outset, I do not speak or write about persecution because I have considerable experience in the area, to generate more attention, or that I consider myself an authority on the matter. I speak and write about it because: 1) Peaceful Christian Life in the West has largely been an anomaly in Church history, therefore believers here are mostly unprepared for it; 2) Persecution is on the rise around the world, and from the recent flow of events, I believe it will impact us soon; and 3) Scripturally speaking, it is the pastor/elder’s role to prepare his congregation for it, and as we go out and proclaim the gospel, we also prepare new believers for it.


Our Lord Jesus had already faced the persecution from the Jewish leaders (John 5:16), but at He was soon to face the ultimate test of His obedience to the Father, also took that opportunity to prepare His disciples with these words, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)


Even with the bad news that was coming, there was also tremendous promise in it that pointed to their God-given identity. Jesus goes on to specifics within the Jewish context, but he also points out the reasoning behind this whole discussion: "All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 16:1-3) You would be hard-pressed to find any justification from scripture for living out a life centered on “health, wealth, & prosperity”. On the contrary, from the Sermon on the Mount, to Paul’s epistles, we see a “Great Reversal” taught, that we should be willing to sacrifice ALL for the sake of the eternal Kingdom beyond this life! Perhaps the culmination of this message can be found in Jesus’ words in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."


According to Open Doors International’s latest World Watch List, 312 million Christians face “extreme” or “very high” levels of persecution—1 in 5 in Africa; 2 in 5 in Asia. Last year was the worst year on record for persecution, with 5,500 Christians killed for reasons related to their faith, more than 2,000 churches attacked, and over 4,500 Christians detained or imprisoned. For the most part, each year of the past decade has been worse than the previous year. With the loss of “protections” from the US, as well as a loss of promoting religious liberty around the world, other nations have taken advantage of this. The most obvious example would be Afghanistan, where the Taliban have taken over following the exit of US military, seeking to wipe out all influences that benefitted the freedom to worship. Christians were among the first to be targeted and killed, and the Church there has been driven underground.


Writing of the persecutions that plagued God’s people in the early days of Christianity, Tertullian claimed that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Though particularly intense persecution has, at times, led to a decrease in overall Church numbers, it is amazing to see that the Church has actually grown far beyond the wildest imagination of Jesus’ first followers. Stories of the faithful who endured persecution and faced martyrdom have been a catalyst for that growth.


In 1563, historian John Foxe told many of the earliest stories in a book that would become one of the most widely read works in the English language. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs chronicles hundreds of Christians who gave their lives or were persecuted for their faith from the New Testament all the way to his day. It was written from a Protestant perspective and, almost 50 years older than the King James Bible, is a challenging read, but has gone through a number of revisions/additions, along with this new update: https://www.amazon.com/New-Book-Christian-Martyrs-Century/dp/1496429486 .


God has a mysterious way of using the bold testimony of others through persecution to grow His Family. Back in 2015, He used an ISIS propaganda video where millions viewed the beheading of 21 young Coptic (Egyptian) Christian men, where they sang “Ya Rabbi Yassu,”—“my Lord Jesus”, to grow the Egyptian Church and galvanize the world against ISIS.


This is a time of preparation for the Church in the US, and may we be found faithful. We do not know what the near future holds, other than it appears that contemporary society seems to be turning against us. This is a time to increasingly know His Word, preach it to ourselves & others, prioritize our faith & fellowship, and encourage one another in Christ. Lord willing, He may even see fit to turn the tide against our persecutors and grow His Church through our witness. May we rise to the occasion!

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