Saturday, April 29, 2017

7 Ways God Responds to the Persecution of His People

I came across this moving video about Christian persecution around the world:

The organization which produced this video, Under Caesar’s Sword, was researching how Christians around the world respond to persecution.  That’s a worthy subject of study.  You can read the results of their valuable research here.

In this post I share my thoughts about another important type of response to persecution.  How does God respond to persecution?  This topic is closely related to the topic of how Christians respond to persecution.  I view my thoughts here as complementing those in the Under Caeser’s Sword report.

In considering this topic my primary resource is God’s Word, where God Himself reveals His response to persecution.  My thoughts are also shaped by the incredible privilege the Lord gave me and my family to live in Indonesia for fourteen years, from 1996 to 2010.  Many Christians were killed for their faith on the island we lived on.  We personally knew Christians who were beaten for their faith by their own families.  Nearly every Indonesian Christian we knew had a family member or close friend who had witnessed violent persecution against Christians.  We listened to many stories and spent many hours in prayer with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As a result, I was constantly thinking and praying about issues related to persecution. I also was frequently discussing these issues with others, both locally, and through a worldwide network of Christians serving in similar circumstances.  And, perhaps most relevant to this blog post, I was constantly alert to the vast amount of material in God’s Word which addresses persecution.

Based on all this, I have summarized below 7 of God’s responses to the persecution of Christians.

1.  Protection from evil

And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:2 NIV)

In answer to our cries for protection and because of His great love, God protects His people from evil. He does this at two levels.

In many ways and places, God works to allow His people to escape harm.  Many times there were plots to kill the Apostle Paul, and through various providences God allowed him to escape.  Sometimes working through governments, sometimes through other Christians, sometimes through other sympathetic neighbors, and occasionally through angels, God protects His people.  And yet, we know that on many other occasions He allows His people to experience persecution, sometimes even unto death.

At a deeper level, God allows nothing to harm His children (Luke 10:19).  The promise “nothing will harm you” refers to God’s guarantee that in the end persecution will do no eternal harm to any of His children. Even if we are killed we are totally safe in His loving arms.

2.  Provision of strength and courage to persevere

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 NIV)

God gives us the strength and courage we need to face whatever persecution we experience.  Sometimes, this comes in the form of a miraculous feeling of peace and security in the midst of dangerous situations.  At other times, we feel fear and trembling, yet underneath the fear we are anchored by a deeper and stronger hope.

3.  Use of persecution to increase gospel witness

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
 (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)

One of the beautiful and surprising ways that God uses the persecution of Christians is to spread the gospel of Christ.  Hearing about the courage of persecuted believers gives all of us greater courage and motivation to share God’s love and truth.  And those directly involved in carrying out the persecution have many times been moved to accept the Lord.

4.  Providing guidance to His people

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16 ESV)

Christians serving God in a hostile and dangerous world must constantly make difficult decisions.  Do I flee or stay put?  Is this an occasion to wait quietly and patiently or to speak up boldly? Who do I trust with what information?  God provides guidance.  He gives us principles in His Word.  He speaks to us through other believers.  His Holy Spirit guides our thoughts.  His holy providence directs our paths.

5.  Dreams and other supernatural help

One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" (Acts 10:3 NIV)

I was blessed with the opportunity to hear the stories of quite a few Muslims who had become followers of Jesus.  Many of these courageous believers shared that at some point they had a dream which helped them to accept Christ.  I believe that God gives extra help to people who are facing the greatest dangers and opposition.  Some of this help comes in the form of supernatural dreams and other miracles.

6.  Future vengeance which promotes current perseverance

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (2 Thess. 1:6 NIV)

We are called to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  We forgive.  We seek their salvation.  Knowing that God will eventually settle all scores, paying back those who never repent and never find forgiveness in Christ, frees us from worrying about revenge ourselves.

7.  Focusing His people on His promises for future glory

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.
 (Matt. 5:11-12 NIV)

A close friend of mine who also was blessed to serve among persecuted Christians shared with me a dream he once had.  I may not get the details perfectly right, but I remember the gist of his dream.  He was in a crowded room full of people in Heaven.  All of a sudden they all shouted, “It sure was worth it -- following Jesus!”

The suffering we experience is being used to prepare us for glory.  Sometimes in our weak moments we may wonder if it is worth it.  But ten thousand years from now no Christian who has suffered for Christ and the gospel will doubt for a single second that it was worth it.  We will be rewarded and God will be glorified.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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