Perspective from Persecution|
Worthy to Suffer
"Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name"
The idea of being considered "worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus Christ" is almost unheard of in America.
For example, once in awhile we watch Joyce Meyers' program "Enjoying Everyday Life." For those of you who don't know her, Joyce Meyer is a gifted, attractive, and popular Christian speaker who overcame years of child abuse.
For the record, we consider her tape ministry to be God's alternative to psychotherapy for thousands who suffer from emotional and relationship problems. In our 5-part series "Therapy Alternatives - Part 3," we recommend many of Joyce Meyer's tapes for emotional healing. (joycemeyer.org)
Dress like the King's Kids?
However, we also strongly suggest that Christians use common sense and discernment before accepting everything that Joyce Meyer, or Beth Moore, or Joel Osteen, or Robert Schuller, or John Maxwell or anyone else says. Some of what they say is good. Some isn't. We need to learn to use careful discernment when we listen to popular speakers. (Refer to our article "A Plea for Discernment").
In one particular episode of "Enjoying Everyday Life," Joyce Meyer conveys the idea that Christian men and women are "children of the King" who should act and dress like royalty. We should "take pride in ourselves" and take care of our bodies because we are "God's holy temple." Here are two verses often used to support such views:
Temple of God
1. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16-17, NKJV).
Temple of the Holy Spirit
2. "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19, NKJV).
A careful reading of these two passages in context reveals that the believer should shun "every act of fornication, adultery, or any other sin committed by the believer in the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God dwells" (MacArthur Study Bible).
These two passages have to do with sexual immorality and idolatry. It is a warning to a Christian to remain separate from the world. But, it is a far cry from encouraging Christians to greedily grab for fancy clothing, health spas, plastic surgery, expensive health supplements, and for all the riches the world has to offer. Puh…leeze…Please… Let's use our God-given discernment.
While we should be good stewards of all that God gives us, Scripture does not command Christians to become obsessed with the preservation and ornamentation of our physical bodies.
A False Gospel
Beware, because this idea of our bodies as a "temple" worthy of fancy clothes and fancy diets and high self-esteem, is a popular teaching pushed by many false or erring teachers today. And in the manner that some bible teachers present it, it is also a false gospel.
Two Relevant Verses:
Bodily Exercise Worth a Little
But, if you insist, 1 Timothy 4:8 tells us that "bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."
MacArthur comments that "bodily exercise is limited both in extent and duration. It affects only the physical body during this earthly life" (MacArthur Study Bible).
Secondly, 1 Corinthians 9:27 tells us that Paul disciplines "his body" and brings it into "subjection," lest, "when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."
MacArthur states that "Paul knocked out bodily impulses to keep them from preventing him from his mission of winning souls to Christ" (pg. 1743).
Let's put aside our misunderstandings and misinterpretations once and for all. Disciplining the body is fine. However, let's read the following passage carefully:
We are the Filth of the World?
In contrast, Paul says, "we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we endure, being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the off scouring of all things until now…Therefore I urge you, imitate me…" (1 Corinthians 4:11-17, NKJV).
Self Worth? Self Esteem? Self Image?
Is this a passage which promotes self? What about self-image? Do you think this is a passage that encourages Christians to wallow in idolatrous self-esteem? Does this passage sound like we should "dress" and "act" like children of the King?
We trust you will see that Paul is not telling Christians to dress and act like a rich King's Kids! He is not telling Christians to spend hundreds of dollars monthly on health supplements. He is not telling us to join health spas and gyms.
No….in this passage Paul admits that:
He is living in hunger.
He doesn't have nice clothes.
He has been beaten.
He is "homeless" (Heaven forbid).
He works at hard jobs.
He is insulted and persecuted.
His image is tarnished and bad things are said about him.
In today's vernacular, he is worse than "trailer trash." He is homeless and does not possess good self-esteem!
Prayer: Oh, dear Lord, forgive us our conceit and arrogance when we misinterpret your holy Word to justify our excesses!
Okay. Let's move on.
Section II - Persecution
Let's look at what Scripture says about persecution. Here are some verses to commit to memory:
Evil Utterances&Name Calling
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11, ESV).
Family Ties Broken
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man's enemies will be the members of his household" (Matthew 10:34-36, NASB).
This verse is not family-friendly advice, is it? Rather, it is a Jewish Hebraism, or an extreme example to make a point. However, it often becomes the persecuted Christian's literal reality as well.
Dumped by Family
To illustrate, we recently learned that villagers in Jharkland humiliated and drove out a group of resident Christians. Forty-two year old Santosh Karmali was forced to sign an agreement forfeiting his family's land and inheritance. Villagers chased his wife and sons out of the village for good. Among those driving him and his family away from their beloved home was his own father and mother.
This kind of family-persecution is more common to Christians worldwide than we know. It is a heartbreaking scenario for people who desire love and acceptance within their families to be rejected like this. Christians everywhere want their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and their cousins to love them as much as we desire family-acceptance in America. They are no different than you or I.
But, family rejection and persecution is what most Christians in most places of the world for most of the past two-thousand years have faced daily. They are the norm. Our freedoms and acceptance in America, such that it is, are not the norm.
Promise of Joy&Blessings
"If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:14).
This motivates and encourages Christians worldwide. "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NASB).
This passage encourages and strengthens millions of Christians who cannot escape their persecutions.
Section III - Why are Christians Persecuted?
"Christians throughout history have learned that as the kingdom of God invades the kingdom of this world, there would inevitably be conflicts on a number of levels." Here are five:
1. Religious (John 5:18, 16:2, Acts 8). Christians are perceived as a threat to the predominant religious system, or there is something about Christian belief that the persecutors simply cannot tolerate.
2. Political (Matthew 10:17, 18, Mark 13:9, Acts 12:1,2, 17:5-7, 18:12ff, Revelation). Christians are perceived as a threat to civil order in their insistence that, ultimately, they serve only one king and cannot offer unconditional patriotism or loyalty to any earthly government or nation. Thus they are viewed as disloyal citizens.
3. Social (Matthew 10:36, Mark 13:12, 13, John 1:11, 15:18-20, Hebrews, 1 Peter 2:5-8). The acceptance of Christ is seen as a rejection of societal and familial norms.
4. Economic (Acts 16:16-24, 19:23-41, James 2:6). The spread of the gospel is perceived as a threat to the success or even continuation of particular businesses.
5. Emotional (Acts 5:16-18, 17:5-7). Jealousy on the part of religious leaders, especially, over the growing influence and popularity of Christianity causes acts of violence to be perpetrated against Christians in order to stem the growth or influence of the gospel.
Bromiley, "Persecute, Persecution" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, from "In the Shadow of the Cross," Glenn Penner, 2004, p. 162).
Section IV - God's Plan
Persecution appears to be a part of God's plan. The persecutions of the disciples were predicted by Jesus. For example, Stephen was killed by those who thought they were doing God's work (Luke 21:16). Paul states, "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me" (Acts 20:22, 23).
Continuity with the Prophets
Furthermore, Jesus said that his followers should rejoice when they were persecuted, "for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:12).
A Consequence of Following Jesus
Jesus warned his followers, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18, NKJV). He went on to say that "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:20).
In Acts 28:22 the hearers of Paul complained that "It is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere." Christianity was not a popular sect, and Christians were maligned. Yet, church growth was explosive:
"The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
"The word of God kept on spreading, and the number of the disciples continued to increase" (Acts 6:7).
"The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:21).
"The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing" (Acts 19:20).
This was divine triumph over forces of evil against the church. Even today, the persecuted church is a growing church.
(Penner 2004, 164-165)
Section V - Why the Disciples were Ready to Suffer&Die
1. The disciples had a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God (Acts 4). The disciples clearly understood that it was not up to them what would happen or when it would happen. Suffering is in God's purview. They simply witnessed with boldness wherever the Spirit led them.
Suffering an Honor
2. "They viewed suffering for Christ a privilege and an honor. In Acts 5:41 we read, 'Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.' In Acts 16:22-25, the disciples praised God while in prison and shackled, feeling the burn of the whipping given to them. When released, they did not go back to the church to be pitied, but to 'encourage them' (16:40).
In 14:22, after being stoned almost to death, Paul returns to the city to encourage the believers, 'strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'
The disciples accepted that suffering is to be the lot of the righteous (2 Timothy 3:12, Proverbs 29:10), as they fixed their eyes on the final glory of their journey - entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is this glory that makes it easier to travel toward it on the road of 'many tribulations.'
Would You Risk Extinction?
Richard Wurmbrand, referring to his fourteen years of torture and imprisonment in communist Romania, wrote:
'The Communists, relying on the instinct of self-preservation, thought a man would do anything to avoid extinction. They were mistaken. Christians who believed what they said in church knew that to die was not the end of life but its fulfillment, not extinction, but the promise of eternity.'
Glory of Martyrdom
3. The disciples had a clear perception of the glory of martyrdom. The martyrdom of Stephen is portrayed in Luke's account as a model for Christians to emulate and strive toward throughout history.
Like Teacher like Pupil
…As part of their training for suffering and martyrdom, Jesus had taught His disciples that 'a pupil is not above his teacher. But everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher' (Lk. 6:40). Obviously, in relating this account, Luke had the express intention of presenting Stephen as a 'fully trained' pupil.
Throughout his martyrdom, Stephen is not depicted as being a passive recipient of persecution. He takes the initiative to the end. He proclaims courageously, testifies to seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God, forgives his persecutors, and entrusts his spirit to God. He is the aggressor, not the victim. It must have made a lasting impact on the witnesses. It certainly did on the man watching over the coasts, a religious zealot name Saul."
(Penner 2004, pgs. 165-167).
Section VI - Rewards in Heaven
Finally, as we endure suffering, difficult trials and temptations, we show that God can "entrust us with much higher positions and responsibilities in heaven."
No Equal Glory
As Penner says, …"the biblical text is clear that not all believers will possess equal glory in heaven. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles is that one's responsibilities and privileges will be largely determined by the perseverance and faith demonstrated when facing persecution, temptations, and pressures calculated to drive one away from God" (2004, 174).
"Foundational to this assertion is the biblical teaching that believers really will reap the consequences of the deeds they have performed on earth as followers of Christ. Those who have been unfaithful in little will be given little in the future. Those who have proven faithful in little will be given even more." (p. 175).
1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 states that God is just…"since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (1:6-8).
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed" (1:9-10, ESV).
In other words, we may not receive relief right now. But, we are assured relief and rewards for our faithfulness in the future. Our trials and sufferings are not meaningless "nor will the injustice of suffering for doing right be thwarted forever. The scales of justice will be balanced eventually. Life will not make sense this side of eternity, but it will someday. We must live in the light of eternity." (Penner, 174-175).
To be a Martyr for the Lord
Sung by the persecuted, underground churches in China
1. From the time the early church appeared on the day of Pentecost, the followers of the Lord all willingly sacrificed themselves. Tens of thousands have sacrificed their lives that the Gospel might prosper. As such they have obtained the crown of life.
2. Those apostles who loved the Lord to the end, Willingly followed the Lord down the path of suffering. John was exiled to the lonely isle of Patmos. Stephen was crushed to death with stones by the crowd.
3. Matthew was cut to death in Persia by the people. Mark died as his two legs were pulled apart by horses. Doctor Luke was cruelly hanged. Peter, Philip and Simon were crucified on a cross.
4. Bartholomew was skinned alive by the heathen, Thomas died in India as five horses pulled apart his body, The apostle James was beheaded by King Herod, Little James was cut up by a sharp saw.
5. James the brother of the Lord was stoned to death, Judas was bound to a pillar and died by arrows, Matthias had his head cut off in Jerusalem. Paul was a martyr under Emperor Nero.
6. I am willing to take up the cross and go forward, To follow the apostles down the road of sacrifice. That tens of thousands of precious souls can be saved, I am willing to leave all and be a martyr for the Lord.
7. Chorus: To be a martyr for the Lord, to be a martyr for the Lord, I am willing to die gloriously for the Lord.
(From "International Christian Concern: Remember the Persecuted."
Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, www.epm.org).
Verses to Commit to Memory:
"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them…" (Hebrews 11:35-38, NIV).
The world was not worthy of them…(Hebrews 11:38, NIV)
…"rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41, NKJV).
Alcorn, Randy. The world was not worthy of them: Martyrs for Christ. Eternal Perspective Ministries. Available from: www.epm.org.
Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG
Life Application Study Bible, NIV. 1991. Large Print Edition. Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale.
The MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV. 1997. Nashville, TN: Nelson.
Penner, Glenn M. 2004. In the shadow of the cross. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Books.
Voice of the Martyrs. Available from: the firstname.lastname@example.org. or www.persecution.com.