We have been told since day 1 of Jesus’ ministry that following Him would not be easy. Jesus was very frank about that. In John, He says that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, that we would be persecuted just as he was first persecuted. We see this very present in the early church: Paul was jailed and put under house arrest. Of the 12 disciples, only John died a natural death – in exile on the island of Patmos. The church as a whole endured persecution from the Roman government up through Constantine. From that day onwards, Christians have been persecuted at almost every time in every corner of the world, whether it be Christian missionaries to the Norse, Japanese, Soviets, or, currently, Muslims.
We will be persecuted. It’s not a matter of whether we will be, but when. even today, in the USA, ideological persecution is well under way. But we must remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of courage and a sound mind. In sending out the disciples, Jesus told them to stand firm and be courageous:
What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but not the soul.
Peter encouraged the early church with similar words, encouraging them to rejoice in their sufferings:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed … [If] you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
1 Peter 4:12-16
Finally, James, the brother of Christ, encourages us to take joy in our persecution:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
He also reminds us that we who persevere are blessed:
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.
So then, let us be encouraged. Let us not be fainthearted. We serve a God who brings salvation into the world. He is the light in the darkness that shall not be hidden. He is the truth, the life, and also the way. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel, but be encouraged by the life it brings, boldly going to the front lines, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Let us remember and commend those who have gone before us, laying their lives down for the sake of the Gospel, who fixed their eyes on Jesus, casting aside sin and entanglements to boldly run the race marked out for them.
Let us remember our brothers and sisters still living who, even today, are the targets of persecutions. Let us praise God for their boldness and obedience and pray earnestly for their freedom.
Let us also be willing to say, “Wherever you lead, I’ll go,” to be obedient to the Lord’s command regardless the risk, for we know that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor. Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.