Tuesday night our Life Group met for our continuing study of The Story – The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. The night’s session was devoted to a study and discussion of Paul’s missionary journeys and some of the letters written to the early church during his travels. It was a fascinating study and was really good at helping us grasp the scope of Paul’s ministry and what all he encountered and accomplished as he was guided by the Holy Spirit. With the one exception of Jesus Christ there is no one I admire more in all the pages of Scripture than Paul. He was an outstanding evangelist, a brilliant theologian, a faithful friend and mentor, and had a pastor’s heart. Chuck Swindall described him has a man of grit and grace – and so he was.
The aspect of Paul’s life and ministry that stands out most to me is the role of persecution – initially the persecution he inflicted on the earliest Believers of the Way – then later the way Paul and other Christians became the objects of persecution for their newfound Christian faith. Paul’s courage – courage in the face of personal danger and the terrible persecution he endured was remarkable. Paul’s life forces me to consider my own level of commitment to Jesus and the Gospel message. It mades me question how I would respond to the type of physical persecution and abuse that Paul endured during years of perilous ministry.
Well, as I was studying Paul in preparation for the lesson on his life I received the following blog post from Pastor Bob Russell. It seemed to me like more than a coincidence. (Incidentally, my friend Gordon Dalbey tells me that there is no such word as “coincidence” in either Greek or Hebrew.) The post appeared first at: www.bobrussell.org as: Is Your Faith Strong Enough to Survive Persecution? I hope you will give Pastor Russell’s article your careful consideration. RMF
Is Your Faith Strong Enough to Survive Persecution?
by Bob Russell
Two weeks ago 29 Egyptian Christians courageously chose martyrdom for their faith in Christ. According to the Christian Post, Islamic terrorists massacred a busload of Coptic Christians who were taking a pilgrimage to a monastery to pray.
Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian community, repeatedly have pleaded with their government for protection from discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at the hands of the country’s majority Muslim population. Coptic Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 93 million people.
“According to a chaplain, Friday’s massacre in Egypt occurred after Islamic radicals marched them off the bus one by one and asked them to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. A priest identified as Father Rashed, a chaplain for one of the groups comforting the survivors of the attack…said that ten masked Islamic State militants did not simply open fire on the bus.
Instead, the IS radicals apparently stopped the bus, made the victims walk out, and asked each of them, including the children, whether they were Christians. Rashed explained that the victims ‘were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them — even the children — refused. Each was killed in cold blood with a gunshot to the head or the throat.’
Friday’s attack, at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, was another devastating blow to Egypt’s minority Copts, who in the past year have suffered many massacres at the hands of radicals, including Palm Sunday church bombings that killed 46 believers.”
That gut-wrenching account of the persecution of fellow believers should challenge us to do several things:
(1) Pray daily for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under threat of persecution. The Bible instructs us to, “Remember those in prison as if you yourselves were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
(2) Anticipate increased opposition in our culture. In the late 1970’s a Gallup poll revealed that 40% of Americans believed the Bible to be the literal Word of God. A recent Gallup poll revealed that percentage had dropped to 28%. The most disturbing statistic is this: the same poll revealed that today only 12% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God.
From all indications, opposition to those of us who hold to a Biblical world-view is going to intensify in the future. Revelation 3:10 warns of an “…hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
In the past, the United States prided itself in religious freedom but today hostility toward Bible-believing Christians is escalating. CEO’s have been forced to resign, restaurant chains boycotted, bakers fined, teachers fired and clerks imprisoned because they dared take a Biblical stand for marriage, creation, the sanctity of life or religious freedom. I think that’s just the beginning of more hostile opposition yet to come.
(3) Don’t be surprised by spiritual defections. Not everyone is going to withstand the intensifying antagonism. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus related that some seed fell on shallow soil and sprang up quickly. But it soon withered under the heat of the sun because it didn’t have deep enough roots to survive. Jesus explained that the shallow soil represents the superficial Christian who receives the gospel with joy. “But when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Matthew 13:21).
A few years ago when the Commonwealth of Kentucky was about to vote on a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage, our church took a strong stand for the Biblical definition of the home. We purchased radio ads and billboards with the theme, “One man, One woman – God’s plan for marriage.” The local newspaper carried a story about our stance and then reprinted several mean-spirited letters from local residents who accused us of being bigoted and intolerant.
The following week I received a letter from a church member requesting his membership be withdrawn because he didn’t want to be associated with such “haters.” Just a little persecution, just a little criticism and some who claim to follow Christ quickly wilt under pressure. That’s disappointing, but that’s to be expected.
Jesus warned that in the last days, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Evangelical churches can anticipate an increased number of defections and betrayals because many who claim to follow Christ love the praise of men more than the praise of God.
(4) Be intentional about deepening the faith of your family. Don’t assume your children understand the issues and have assimilated your beliefs. Every day they are bombarded with subtle messages against the truth of Scriptures. Make an effort to teach them what the Bible says and help them to be able to give a reason for their hope in Christ. Then whatever persecution comes, be it verbal abuse or physical attacks, the circle of your family will remain unbroken. Stand with Joshua of old who courageously announced, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12).