Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World’s Hate

Last year, the persecution of Christians during the past quarter century hit a record high for the third year in a row. The World Watch List, released by Open Doors every year for the past 25 years, examines the pressures Christians face and levels of religiously motivated violence to rank the top 50 countries where “Christians face the most persecution.”click to read article, "Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World's Hate" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Here in the United States, I’ve heard the Christians around me talk about being persecuted. “It’s getting bad,” they say. You might lose your business for not baking a cake or go to jail for not issuing a gay “marriage” license. You might be scared to say “I’m a Christian” because people will laugh at or ridicule you. Your kid might be told they can’t bring a Bible to school.

While that does qualify as persecution, the U.S. isn’t anywhere on this list, nor on the expanded list of countries to watch. India, on the other hand, comes in at #15. There are 64 million Christians in India and “approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.” That means about “40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed.” A little closer to home, last year “23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith.”

In 35 out of the 50 countries, including most of the top-ranked countries, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists. In a rising number of Asian countries, the driving force is religious and ethnic nationalism. In summary, “Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.”

Why The World Hates Us

Many U.S. Christians don’t even know about the level of persecution our brethren face overseas. And if we do, I think all too often our response is an American knee-jerk reaction that the solution is to export more of our ideas like religious freedom, tolerance, and equal justice. Those same ideals drive the indignation we feel seeing any sort of persecutions happen here in the United States.

As Americans, we think we deserve religious freedom. Under U.S. law, we’re right and I do believe we should continue to fight for that on a political level. But we should also realize the level of freedom we’ve enjoyed to practice our faith in the U.S. is an anomaly in world history. And while U.S. citizens should be able to count on freedom from persecution because of the Constitution, as Christians we’re never promised exemption from persecution. In fact, we’re told the opposite. Continue reading

Necessary Fire

I started this study intending to focus on the idea of Jesus Christ in us, but got distracted by the Greek word translated “reprobate” in 2 Corinthians 13:5. Digging into the root words, I found that it is a negative form of a word that refers to the process of refining metals with fire. Therefore, “reprobate” in this verse could be understood to mean someone who has not been refined by fire. Intriguing …

Untried Metals

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Cor. 13:5)

"Necessary Fire" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comThe word “reprobate” is from the Greek adokimos (G96). It means “Unapproved, unworthy, spurious, worthless.” It is the negative form of dokimos (G1384), which means “Proved, receivable, tried as metals by fire and thus be purified. … Hence, to be approved as acceptable men in the furnace of adversity” (Zodhiates). Here are a few places it is used:

For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. (2 Cor. 10:18)

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

So, we can say that to be “reprobate” means to be the opposite of approved and refined. It is someone who has not be proved by God and tried “as silver is tried” (Ps. 66:10). In several scriptures, our refinement is likened to the purification of metals, which must be heated in a furnace to remove impurities (Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3). Being tested and proved is a necessary step in becoming acceptable.

Burning Buildings

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes about building our lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). He is the only foundation upon which we can build a proper Christian life. However, we each build with different materials, and with differing degrees of success.

"Necessary Fire" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.comNow if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

Note that the people whose work endures and those who get burned down to the foundation both have to go through the trying fire. No one is excepted from being tried in the furnace of adversity. Some come through stronger. Some “suffer loss,” but are saved to begin building again with better materials. It is part of God’s plan for making us part of His family.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Heb. 12:7-8)

Without refinement and trials, we would be among those described as “reprobates” and bastards.” We need to be purified to be part of God’s family and to become a fit place for Jesus Christ to dwell.

A Habitation of God

In the verse following 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, we are told what type of building we are becoming. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). This is why we need to be refined. As we are now, we are not fit vessels to house God’s spirit and the presence of Jesus Christ. If we keep Their commandments and submit to Their work in our lives, though, we can be.

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (Jn. 14:23)

God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ are not in the habit of holding people at arm’s length. They desire a close, personal relationship with us. They want to dwell in us now, and they want us to literally be part of Their family in the future. The writer of Hebrews describes us as a house which is built by and belongs to Christ, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6).

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

One of our purposes on this earth is to be the place where God dwells. There was a time when He put His presence in a physical temple here on earth, and now He puts His presence inside the people He has chosen — a people refined in the furnace of adversity and approved by Him.

Spiritual Persecution

In the sermon I referenced in last week’s post, the speaker briefly touched on a point that I wanted to make the subject of further study. Since I also needed a topic for today’s post, I decided to “kill two birds with one stone,” as the saying goes. This first section is going to summarize relevant parts of that sermon, then I’ll move on to my own thoughts on the subject.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” There are no exceptions. However, as this speaker pointed out, we can all name Christians we know of who went through life without having to face the kind of persecutions mention at the end of Hebrews 11. His conclusion, from bringing in Ephesians 6:12, is that this verse includes persecutions from a spiritual source.

Not Against Flesh and Blood

The Armor of God passage in Ephesians talks about arming ourselves for our struggle against sin as if for war. It also gives us important information about who our enemies are and what must be done to overcome them.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)

In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry describes the kind of assault we can expect from this type of enemy, who he describes as “subtle,”an enemy who uses wiles and stratagems.”

They are spiritual enemies: Spiritual wickedness in high places, or wicked spirits, as some translate it. The devil is a spirit, a wicked spirit; and our danger is the greater from our enemies because they are unseen, and assault us ere we are aware of them. The devils are wicked spirits, and they chiefly annoy the saints with, and provoke them to, spiritual wickednesses, pride, envy, malice, etc. … They assault us in the things that belong to our souls, and labour to deface the heavenly image in our hearts; and therefore we have need to be upon our guard against them. We have need of faith in our Christian warfare, because we have spiritual enemies to grapple with, as well as of faith in our Christian work, because we have spiritual strength to fetch in. Thus you see your danger.  (Eph. 6:10-18, 1. [3])

Overcoming Through Christ

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Seeing our danger is one step toward overcoming the adversary. We can’t fight something if we don’t recognize that is is putting us in peril. As in other areas of our lives, our focus should be on spiritual, not physical things. It is hard to be on guard spiritually if we are too focused on physical safety. Are we more worried about keeping our hearts, minds, and spirits safe than we are about protecting our lives? Perhaps this is one reason we are told, “do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25). To much focus on the physical distracts us from the importance of our spiritual future, the condition of our spiritual lives, and the danger from our spiritual enemy.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Pet. 5:8-9)

We must be on constant guard, steadfast in faith, and strong in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The line right before this warning about our adversary reminds us where our true strength come from: “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). To win a fight against a spiritual enemy and endure spiritual persecutions, we need the aid of our Spiritual Savior. When we fully submit to God, we can say along with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Reasons for Suffering

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One of the best sermons we heard during the Feast of Tabernacles was titled “Why Will God Release Satan to Deceive the World Again?” (Sept. 24 sermon, link in Pacific COG archives). I could probably write half a dozen blog posts on different points he brought up, but for now I want to focus on just one. In the context of trying to see things from God’s point of view (such as understanding His decision to release Satan after the Millennium [Rev. 20:1-10]), the speaker brought up the subject of suffering. When we’re suffering, our automatic response is to want the suffering to end because we view it in a negative light, but God’s perspective can be very different.

Blessed Persecution

If we start reading the beatitudes, those who Christ calls blessed are not always in a condition we would consider a blessing. They are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), they mourn and weep (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:21), they are hungry (Luke 6:21), they are hated (Luke 6: 22), and they are persecuted.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

I don’t know about you, but my first reaction when I’m feeling persecuted is not to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” or to “leap for joy” (Luke 6:23). Yet we should be more like the apostles who, after they were beaten and commanded not to preach Jesus any more, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” and made themselves the target of more persecution by continuing to preach (Acts 5:40-42).

If we suffer with Him

The question, “Why would God allow suffering?” is frequently asked by those in the church and by those who have rejected belief in God. If He’s all powerful, we wonder, why would He allow such terrible things to happen? One answer, as pointed out in the sermon I’ve been referring to, is that God sees suffering in a different light than we do. Often, what we see as negative in this moment will ultimately be for our good. For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes that we will be glorified with Christ on the condition that we suffer as He suffered.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:16-18, KJV)

This is certainly not the only scripture that talks of our glorious future as being conditional on present suffering. Here are a few more:

our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17)

if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed (1 Pet. 3:14)

But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:20-21)

Why is suffering so important?

Finding these scriptures and understanding that suffering is part of being a Christian is not hard. Accepting that there is a good reason for suffering in your life or in the lives of those you love is the hard part. And this is why I really appreciated this sermon message, because the speaker didn’t just tell people “suffering is good for you, be happy.” He pulled together an easy-to-understand analysis that moved logically from the proper reaction to suffering, to the reward for suffering, to the reason for suffering.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

The reason for trials and testings and suffering is that it helps us learn to be like God. If we were dancing through life without a care in the world, we would forget how much we depend on God. If we never suffered for following Christ, we would have no sense of how much we owe Him for dying in our place. If we did not suffer the consequences of sin, we would never learn to hate sin as much as God does.