Our 18 year old son, Andrew, just found out that he won the Bible Presbyterian Publications Youth Essay Contest in the 18 - 21 age category...the topic was Persecution of Christians - Yesterday and Today
Partakers of Christ’s Sufferings
Loss of property. Imprisonment. Martyrdom. These are just a few forms of persecution facing people around the world for one simple reason: because they believe on Christ as their savior. From the time of the apostles in the book of Acts, persecution has been an issue faced by Christian believers. Christ said in Matthew 5:10-12,
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (KJV)
Here, we are told not only to expect persecution, but to “[r]ejoice, and be exceeding glad” when it occurs. Looking at examples from around the world, we can see just how believers are standing strong in the face of tribulation.
Before examining persecution on the global scale, we must first define it, and then see what God’s Word has to say about it. Webster’s dictionary defines persecution as: “The infliction of pain, punishment or death unjustly, particularly for adhering to a religious creed or mode of worship.” This very appropriately describes the daily issues facing many Christian brothers and sisters worldwide. God’s Word uses many terms to describe persecution: fiery trial, tribulation, railing, and reviling, just to name a few examples. To summarize, persecution is trial or suffering for faith in Christ.
The Bible also lists many different sources and reasons behind persecution. First of all, we as Christians must understand that we are in a constant spiritual battle. We are told,
[T]hink it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
For those that have accepted Christ as Savior, we are “partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 3:14): Christ is dwelling within us. This, of course, puts the world at odds with those who claim the name of Christ, as it says in James 4:4: “…whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Ephesians 6:12 brings to light even more aspects of this battle:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
To put it in my own words, persecution occurs because a world that is at odds with God will fight against Him and His servants.
The spiritual and physical threats of persecution are very real around the world. Across the Caribbean and South America, many such issues are incredibly active. In communist Cuba, professing Christians face harassment or imprisonment, and are under the constant threat of attacks by mob-violence. This stems from the totalitarian control of the Cuban dictatorship.
Across the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, believers face a different kind of threat: violence from local Catholics. Amidst claims that Christianity threatens the local way of life (which includes numerous feast days blended from Catholic doctrine and pagan tribal beliefs), Christians in this area face many trials. These include death threats, and the potential loss of crops, homes, and land…all for claiming the name of Jesus! Additionally, because the Gospel causes people to turn from their addictions, drug traffickers across Mexico have a great disdain for Christianity. This prompts violence in the form of assassinations, murders, and assaults.
In the South American country of Colombia, a corrupt government offers little protection for believers from several threats. Among these is the terror of militant guerillas, who seek to rid the area of anyone who disagrees with them politically or religiously. In addition, the risk from drug lords is also a concern, again because of the freedom Christianity gives to those entrapped in addictions.
Across Africa and the Middle East, numerous Muslim nations greatly restrict—or outright prohibit—the practice of Christianity. Although too numerous to list specifically, Christians in many of these nations face imprisonment, fines, and even martyrdom, for “offences” a simple as possessing a Bible!
The rise of the “Islamic State” (ISIS/ISIL) in recent years has greatly intensified persecution for Christians in Iraq and the surrounding countries. The goal of this group is to fulfill the most extreme teachings of the Koran, which instructs its followers to annihilate those who follow other beliefs (such as Christianity) and refuse to recant their faith. As such, martyrdoms of faithful Christians are common, as well as numerous horrific brutalities by this militant group.
In the Far East, both religious and political factions present even more threats to Christians in those areas. Anti-conversion laws in Hindu-controlled India are a growing concern, as is the official stance of humanism--“freedom from religion”--in communist China.
In North Korea, the state pseudo-religion of Juche demands obedience to the tyrannical rule of the Kim family. Juche is a severe distortion of the true Gospel, replacing Christ with a new “savior:” the dictator. Those that turn to Christ are often arrested, tortured, and executed as a “threat to the state.”
In light of all this persecution and tribulation, how should Christians respond? In our flesh, such trials naturally cause anger, bitterness, and a desire for retaliation. These are obviously wrong; but what is the right way? How does God desire we respond to attacks because of our belief in Him? It all comes down to perspective. We must realize that persecution is not a personal attack on us, but rather an attack on the One within us: Christ. Seeing persecution this way allows us to look to Him for guidance in what to do next. Additionally, we can see ourselves as “partakers of Christ’s sufferings,” (1 Peter 3:14) and allow His love to flow through us to our persecutors.
The Bible is very clear on what we are to do to our enemies—whether they be personal, or enemies of the Lord. Christ admonishes believers in Matthew 5:44,
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
This passage outlines some very specific steps. First, we are to love them. This takes an active relationship with Christ, to allow His love to flow through us. Secondly, we are called to “…bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you…” Not only should we love our persecutor, but should also seek to be a blessing to him, and not return evil for evil. Lastly (and most importantly) we should pray. Pray for those that persecute us! Pray, not that the situation might go away, but that God might be glorified and His Will might be accomplished through the situation.
We have examined what persecution is, the reasons behind it, how it is occurring around the world, and how we should respond. There is one aspect we haven’t discussed however: the eternal consequences. In Romans 8:31 we read, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” This is where our hope can be found in times of trials for faith: Christ (Who is within us) has the ultimate victory! He has promised,
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
The temporary sufferings and persecutions in this life pale greatly when compared to the eternal glory and reward for a faithful life. This is truly what it means to become “partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 3:14) : to be willing to die for faith in God; trusting that He has the final victory of death, and will glorify Himself in the outcome.