PERSECUTED FOR HIS SAKE
One day, one glorious and monumental day, you believed on Jesus after the Spirit had drawn you to Him and revealed to your heart who He was. And the faith that is also a gift from God was exercised in your heart and you were translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Dear Son. The Spirit, like the wind, is invisible but His power and ministry becomes observable through redeemed lives. And another amazing facet of the Spirit’s ministry is that He is able to take those redeemed lives and use them as light and salt in the hearts of unbelievers.
There are surely different levels of persecution. Most of us would not dare compare ourselves with those former and present martyrs who have given their very lives for Christ. Believers today languish in prison all over the world, and some of them await an horrific fate. Some of their families are suffering greatly and these brethren are being tortured as well. That is a great and serious responsibility to us who are called by His name. Our priority is to live a life that pleases Him, but was are also called to walk worthy of our “vocation”.
Eph.4: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul refers to our walk as a vocation which means it is not just a recreation but it is the calling of our life. And notice some of the aspects which define our walk. Lowliness and meekness and ,longsuffering and forbearing should be observable facets of our lives that emanate from a changed heart. And if we are provoked we are not to return evil for evil nor are we to take an offense. In fact Jesus said we are to rejoice! So when you are attacked or criticized for His sake take no offense neither give any as well. Look to the cross and see what He endured for you and gladly receive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune even if it comes at the hands of your friends and relatives. You may be used by the Spirit to lead them to the Savior, but in any case if you endure persecution with a faithful and humble heart you can one day lay that reward at His feet. He alone will be worthy of your faithfulness!
But deeper still we have lost and sense of the spiritual value, to say nothing of the spiritual honor, of being persecuted for His sake and enduring it with humility, meekness, and without a hint of retaliation. This continues to be to our spiritual detriment. If received correctly persecution cements our convictions as well as provides an opportunity to deepen our love for our enemies. And a residual effect of persecution is the struggle to love those enemies. It drives us back to the cross and to face the colossal grace which was afforded to God’s enemies including us. So often we can be distracted from that cross, but when persecution comes, and when we are reminded that we must love those who despitefully use us, then that requires not only an awareness of what the Scriptures teach, but the maturity and commitment to see them implemented in our lives.
What is exercise but a persecution of the muscles? The athlete picks up a weight and it presents a challenge for him to raise it above his head. It places a strain of his muscles and when he overcomes that challenge what happens? The muscle grows and gets stronger. A Christian without persecution grows weak, and if we are not confronted with some levels of persecution sometimes it could indicate something about our lives. But what if the weight lifter just complained and yelled at the weights and pointed out the flaws in those barbells? Of what good would they be to him? So he continues to endure the pain for the good of his body.
And so it is with spiritual persecution. Don’t get me wrong, we are to endure persecution with gladness and rejoicing if for no other reason than to glorify our heavenly Father, however we can also be mindful of the spiritual benefits it can have on us which also glorifies our Lord. It is a sin to orchestrate persecution or to be persecuted because you are harsh and unloving and a moral bully. But true persecution for Christ’s sake is a great opportunity that should be used for His sake. The persecution if for His sake, and our response should be for His sake as well.
Why is it so difficult to forgive to say nothing of loving your enemies? Well, the flesh is militant against all those sorts of overtures because it fights desperately for itself and its strongholds. It refuses to “give in” since it sees meekness and humility as weaknesses that can be exploited within the culture. And if the battle with the flesh wasn’t already a great challenge, we also live in a culture which is completely dominated by fleshy concerns and in fact all through our lives this culture and the people in it have strengthened and fed our flesh. And now our flesh has great strength.
And the American flesh is not only strong but it is also very clever, which is another one of its strengths. Our flesh has been so well trained it can appear righteous and religious and moral and even caring all while operating in the power of a fallen nature. And within our flesh is a spirit of individuality and competitiveness which does not translate well into forgiveness, meekness, and humility. We have been told to stand up for our rights and not to back down from anyone. In fact we have been taught from a few documents including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence which include things like “inalienable rights” and the “Bill of Rights”. And the overt and subtle implications of demanding and even shedding blood to gain and maintain our so called “rights” have now become tenants of the church.
Watch a political talk show which has a liberal and a conservative as guests. And if the commentator allows a robust discussion you will see two people aggressively presenting their case and attempting to dismantle their enemy’s position while touting their own position as authoritative and right for the entire nation. Both sides usually exude hubris toward themselves and disdain for those who oppose them. And during an election year there is rancor that seems to almost come to blows. But many believers watch these shows and they become emotionally invested because they agree with one side or the other and whatever their guy says makes sense and whatever the other guy says is worthless.
And these believers are ignorant that as they participate vicariously the flesh is enjoying a wonderful workout which will strengthen it and which fills the shelves with the heart and mind with many things that are in direct opposition to Jesus and His teachings. Did you digest what I just said? Millions upon millions of professing believers mentally and emotionally participate in these political events and they align themselves with a certain philosophy and they embrace a certain gladiator and their hearts are drawn away from Christ and toward some fallen construct which consists of certain moral tenants, certain economic positions, and certain principles which are said to guarantee a smoother path to individual success and prosperity.
And this is presented by accentuating and glorifying one perspective and its champions while demonizing the other. And that is why it becomes impossible to forgive people because that spirit of militancy has permeated into every area of our lives. There is no meekness or humility or love inside nationalism or the political process and when you embrace that and participate in that you will become controlled by the fallen spirit within it all.
But we have not learned that from Christ. Our calling is not just higher than the spirit of this world; it is not even of this world. And any persecution which is thrown our way is a spiritual test, not to let God see what we will do because He already knows, but it is a test for us. Will we refuse to respond in like fashion or will we seek to retaliate in a way which not only proves them wrong but also points out things in their lives which are liabilities? We will defend our personal territories by lashing back and presenting well crafted arguments? We will take up an offense and begin a root of bitterness?
Or will we forgive and return blessing”?
If we do, then we have shown an experienced the spirit of the cross.