As Christians, we know that we will be subject to persecution during our lives as Jesus himself spoke of it. Some will experience it to a much greater degree than others, but it’s important that we are prepared and able to respond appropriately.
What is persecution?
Persecution can take a variety of forms, but usually involves hostility and ill-treatment due either to our race or to our religious or political beliefs. It could be a sly comment from a work colleague, ongoing oppression, imprisonment or a genuine threat to life in a society in which the victim is considered to be an outsider or an infidel.
Persecution against Christians
According to a recent report commissioned by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world today is tantamount to genocide, with a third of Christians worldwide believed to be suffering from religious persecution. According to the research, Christians are the most persecuted religious group today.
What does the Bible say about persecution?
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10)
- “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
- “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22)
- “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)
- “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17)
Responding in a godly way
According to the verses above, we should expect persecution to come, though we don’t always know what form it’ll take. If you have never experienced any negative feedback in relation to your faith, the chances are you are not living it out in a very open way! If we live the same way as everyone else we probably won’t experience persecution, but we may not be living out our true purpose either.
If you are being persecuted, Jesus says that this is a blessing. It may not be easy to see it that way – especially if we are threatened with physical violence, as many around the world are – but we should consider ourselves blessed because we are persecuted on account of the Son of Man: Jesus himself. We must share in his sufferings if we want to share in his glory, but we can take great comfort from the fact that we are God’s heirs and co-heirs with Christ. Isn’t that amazing?
Perhaps the hardest part is loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. The last thing we want to do when we are hurt – whether physically or emotionally – is to love the person who is attacking us or to pray for God’s mercy on them.
Yet that is exactly what Jesus did on the cross as he lay down his life for each one of us. It’s what the apostle Stephen did as he was stoned to death. It’s what Corrie ten Boom did as she suffered unimaginable horrors in a Nazi concentration camp. It would have been easier for them to hate, but they each chose love. And the prayers they said for their persecutors offer a huge challenge and inspiration for us as followers of Christ.
Praying for the persecuted
As Christians around the world continue to be persecuted and killed for their faith, let’s commit to praying for them as well as those who seek to attack and oppress us personally. Organisations such as Open Doors provide excellent information about those who are suffering in the most extreme circumstances and offers practical ways for us to help our brothers and sisters in other countries as well as in our local communities.