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For a Christian, persecution is inevitable. Paul writes to young Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We as Christians must expect persecution and should be prepared to face it boldly. But, we will be able to face persecution in the way that God is pleased and glorified only when we understand the biblical perspective of persecution. If we try to overcome this battle with our strength and tactics, we not only fail but also bring dishonour to the Triune God. I would like to present three steps on how we could prepare for the coming persecution.
Understand the Purpose of Persecution Biblically
As followers of Christ, although we do not comprehend the purpose of God in its entirety, we can understand the things that are revealed in His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us. In order to face persecution, we need to understand why God ordains and allows the persecution of his children.1 It is an affirming truth that the sovereign God is in control of what is happening in our lives. God not only knows but is actively working through the opposition that we are facing in sharing the gospel, the loneliness and desertion for following Christ, malaria or dengue for being in a remote place to serve Him. It is even more assuring that persecution is God’s route to His glory. Jesus Christ, who is the author of our faith, obeyed God by taking this path (Heb. 12:1-2). He endured the suffering and shame on the cross for our sins. If we understand persecution through the lens of the gospel, it is wonderful. It is a comforting truth that God the Holy Spirit is with us in the midst of persecution. Don’t we often neglect the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us? Look at these words, “But he (Stephen), full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
Exegete the Culture Deeply
We exegete the Word of God arduously. Sometimes, we need to exegete the culture around us as well! Persecution may not always take the same form. Therefore, it is crucial to examine what form persecution takes in your culture. It could be martyrdom and prison in one culture and discrimination and humiliation in the other. The right interpretation of the context of your suffering helps you respond in a God-honouring manner. I am not intending here to belittle or disdain your pain in suffering. Instead, I am encouraging you to face it wisely by dealing with it deeply.
As Pastors, we need to know the laws of the land that we are ministering to and educate our churches. It has been observed that the problem is that two-thirds of Indian Christians live in rural areas and have no idea why they are being persecuted.2 In addition to the laws and reports on religious freedom and persecution, the church must try and avoid issues that could irrationally stir a conflict with unbelievers and prayerfully avoid any intervention.
Encounter the Persecution Wisely
Sometimes we might be tempted to seek persecution for our personal glory.3 Peter reminds, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16). I don’t think we need to violate Biblical principles in order to preach the gospel although sometimes God uses our foolishness miraculously for His glory. However, if the officials prohibit us to obey the Great Commission, we obey God and not men (Acts 4:19). Pastors need to research and know the laws of the land and educate the members so that they could wisely run away from the traps that Satan entangles (Matt. 10:16-18). Charles Spurgeon commenting on how a Christian needs to be prudent as a serpent writes, “The Christian missionary will need to be wary, to avoid receiving harm; but he must be of a guileless mind, that he does no harm.”4 Our wisdom in such situations comes not just from a set of principles or methods but from a person who is the source of wisdom, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He did obey the Law perfectly. He submitted to the government perfectly, yet He suffered persecution unjustly. Yes, Jesus Christ is our strength, example and hope in times of persecution. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Cling to Him and continue to serve Him faithfully even in the midst of suffering as we groan with the entire creation, “Maranatha! Come Lord Come!”
1 Brother Anand Samuel portrays excellently on how God uses suffering sovereignly for His glory. See: https://equipindianchurches.com/blog/aipc-2021-session3-3/
2 Please read: https://www.scholarleaders.org/redeem-india-a-new-response-to-persecution/
3 Tim Keesee explains how some commando-style missionaries do harm to the local believers and ultimately to the work of the Kingdom. See: https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-persecution/