Thursday, July 9, 2015

Persecution: What to expect and how to respond

An ISIS soldier "had begun having dreams of this man in white who came to him and said, 'You are killing my people.' And he started to feel really sick and uneasy about what he was doing," Fadely continued. "The fighter said just before he killed one Christian, the man said, 'I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible.' The Christian was killed and this ISIS fighter actually took the Bible and began to read it. In another dream, Jesus asked him to follow Him and he was now asking to become a follower of Christ and to be discipled" (Menzie, Christian Post).

I released “Everything We Need: God’s Path to Know Him Better” a little over a year ago. In it, we consider twelve areas where God calls us to know one of His truths. One of those truths – persecution – is growing like a wildfire. For us in America, I think the time has come for us to stop believing our first amendment rights are more iron-clad than God’s Word; persecution will come. For those in America and all nations, we need to know what God wrote about persecution so we can cope.

That’s why I’m sharing excerpts from the chapter in “Everything We Need” that focuses on persecution. This is only about a fourth of what’s in the book. Click here if you want to learn more.

Who is the world?

The gap between believers and the world is growing every day.

We are followers of Christ living in the world; those who persecute believers are part of the world. So, who and what is the world?

In his commentary, Matthew Henry described “the world.” The world is led by Satan although he will be driven out and condemned (1 John 5:19, John 12:31, and John 16:11). The world hates believers because we don’t belong in it. God has chosen us out of it (John 15:18-19). The world has many followers but the number of believers in Christ are few (Matthew 7:13-14).

I also have made two observations regarding the relationship between the world, the believer, and God.

First, a believer’s relationship with the world can’t be one of friendship. The world is comprised of hollow, fleeting obstacles to a relationship with Christ. We can’t desire or seek after those things and love God at the same time as they are diametrically opposed to each other (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15).

Second, the world’s treatment of believers is opposite of how believers are to treat one another. The world hates believers but believers should be known for their love (1 John 3:13-15). Our love is evidence of the transformation Christ makes in our life as we grow in Him. Think about it—we were once part of the world until He chose us out of it and we followed in obedience. Therefore, by our very sin nature, we also once hated believers. For love to now define us requires a radical transformation.

Despite the hatred the world feels toward God and His people, God feels only one way about the world. He loves it and His strongest desire is to save it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

Should we expect persecution?

A chasm exists between the world and the children of God. In John 15:18-21, Jesus warned His disciples of this split during the Last Supper. His warning compared two aspects of life for the world and the believer—their relationship with each other and their treatment of each other.

The relationship between the world and the believer is not a pretty one. Believers were once part of the world. If they still were, the world would love them. So what happened to change their status from part of the world to that of a believer? Jesus chose them out of the world. And the world hates Him. The world is those who are “alienated from God” and “hostile to the cause of Christ”. The only possible outcome is for the world to also hate believers (John 15:18-19).

This relationship impacts the second aspect of life between the world and the believer—their treatment of each other. During the Last Supper, Jesus twice told His disciples, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16 and 15:20).

John 15:20 is the second time Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master.” He said it within the context of persecution. If the world persecuted Christ, which they did to the point of death, the world is going to persecute the believer as well. Notice that Jesus didn’t say they will probably persecute you or they might persecute you. He added no conditional aspect to this part of the sentence. Friend, if you are following Christ, the world will persecute you.

Despite the guaranteed persecution, Jesus set an example for believers in how they should feel about the world. The first time He said “No servant is greater than his master” was in John 13:16. The context was Jesus’ act of humility while washing the disciples’ feet. This act not only portrayed Him as a servant; it was also an acted parable. This dramatized parable showed His humility in coming to earth, giving His life to redeem mankind, and return to the glories of heaven. “The love that is evident in the laying down of life at the crucifixion is also demonstrated in the laying down of life in humble service in the footwashing” (Osborne). Jesus’ life was one of humility and believers should not aspire to anything different.

How should I respond?

All of these factors combine to reveal another aspect of how believers should treat the world. Yes, the world persecutes believers. Jesus says in John 15:21, “They will treat you this way because of my name…” This next part is very important, “…for they do not know the One who sent me.” Friend, the world does all of this because they do not know! How did you come to know the One who sent Jesus? I’m fairly certain it was because someone told you about Him, whether it was in a sermon, over lunch, in a book, or through any other media. Someone told you about Jesus. For those who don’t know, maybe they just need to be told. Who better than you and I to tell them?

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