Requirements for Surviving Persecution10 min read
The quality of a person’s Christianity has always determined the extent of his endurance. When persecution hits and we are called to endure it, we will not have time for flippant or weak Christianity. We will need backbone. We will need conviction. We will need maturity. We will need people who know what they believe and why they believe it, and why it is worth yielding their lives for. There is no time for a low view of God. There is no time for an inaccurate view of ourselves. There is no time for a compromise of truth. We must understand deep-rooted faith grounded in the changeless Word of God, focused on the Lord alone, and willing to take up His cross to follow Him. What does this look like in a believer? And how can we develop this kind of faith even in light of possible or even present persecution? What will be required of us to survive, and perhaps even thrive, when affliction for the faith strikes?
The Necessity of Conviction
Men and women of God who have been used as stalwarts of the faith were people who determined early on in their Christian journey that the truth of God was not for sale. “Buy the truth and sell it not” was their motto. They also understood that the standards of God were not for debate or question. These were believers who trembled at the Word, because they understood that the favour of God rests upon those who do so. Was this not the conviction of those in Hebrews 11? The spiritual giants of that chapter had one central thing in common: they believed God’s Word and acted upon it. From within to without, these were believers who had reality. They were mature in their faith. They were deliberate in their obedience. They understood something of the God they served.
Perhaps this would be the most useful change in evangelical Christianity today: attaining to reality in spiritual things – no more superficial commitment to truth, no more mediocrity, no more capitulation to cultural norms and pressures, but rather full and intelligent consecration to the Lord in every aspect of life. God is not looking for people with the title “Christian”; He is looking for people who bear the image of His Son. The Lord understood the priority of the will of God. The Lord was never enticed by the offers and pressures of the world. He stands as the Perfect Man, an example of strength and consistency in an ever-changing religio-political world. There was no question in His mind of the clarity and authority of Scripture. There was no question in His mind of the value of full obedience, even in light of Calvary. What kind of standards have we been using? Surely we must admit they are not the consistent standards that Christ lived by. Nevertheless, let us strive for real Christianity – Christianity that stands for truth, Christianity that obeys. God will never suffer the righteous to be moved. If we can stand for something of that righteousness, perhaps we will not only survive persecution but grow through it.
The Necessity of Confidence
One of our greatest assets in facing persecution is knowledge: knowledge of Who God is, knowledge of what He says, and knowledge of what He is doing in the big picture. We need confidence in the All-Sufficient God. This was Jeremiah’s hope when he said “But the LORD is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail…” (Jer. 20:11). He was burdened by the persecution, yes, but his knowledge of what God was doing served as a pillar of stability to him. The same was true for Paul: “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Did persecution hurt him? Absolutely! Was it his defeat and source of discouragement? No, but rather he saw a day of reward ahead – a day of reward from the hand of a God Who will regard every effort to glorify His name, especially in light of opposition. We must be big-picture Christians if we are to survive persecution.
But we also must be accurate in our understanding if we are to survive persecution. If we don’t know the truth about the God we serve, if we do not have a high view of Him, we will never see affliction as being worth our time. And if we do not unconditionally bow at His Word, we will not find it worth defending when the persecutor threatens our faith in it. The Psalmist could say “Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.” The principle we need to grasp is this: the very thing we are persecuted for as believers is what we must be drawn to all the more. If a lofty view of God is being attacked, let us strive for new heights in our understanding of Him. If the veracity of His Word is being attacked, let us establish ourselves all the more in His truth. If His promises are being mocked, let us rest on them with even greater dependence. The world knows nothing of true value. Thus as a general principle, what it regards is not worth our time, and what it despises concerning God is probably worth our embrace. All this depends on our confidence in God. Do we really believe He is worth serving? Do we really believe His Word is changeless truth? Would we still believe these things at gun-point? We had better decide now what is worth our utmost confidence; the day will come when this confidence will be tested. God forbid we fail that test!
The Necessity of Consistent Churches
When God’s people suffer, they suffer as a unit. Acts 12 records that when Peter was imprisoned, “many were gathered together praying.” No political protest. No indifference, either. God’s people cared and knew exactly where to go for help: to the throne of grace. If God’s people are ever going to endure the many afflictions that life throws them, they must face them together.
This will demand a burden on our part. This will demand that genuine love of the brethren which John speaks of. Was this not what motivated Paul to endure? He could say to Corinth, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted… being persecuted we suffer it…” He certainly was not saying this to make Corinth feel bad; rather he wanted to convey the thought that he was not merely a teacher to them, but a father whose life was focused toward their edification. In other words, Paul was not the motivation of Paul: Corinth was. Paul saw something higher than himself, that is, the truth of God and the people of God. We as assemblies will not endure persecution faithfully until we are convicted to the core of our souls that God’s people are priority.
But flippant “love” will not be enough to preserve us. We need love based on truth. For an assembly to endure persecution, it needs to be a Biblical assembly. God designed His people to be separate from the world, and that means we will be hated. God also designed the pattern of a local assembly to give functionality to just this kind of people throughout all centuries and all conditions. If we want to survive persecution, we must adhere to this pattern, adding nothing nor taking anything away. The “Church-ianity” that we see today will greatly disillusion us when we find that it cannot hold up in opposition. The entertainment mentality of churches, the music-centeredness of churches, the surface-level teaching of most churches, and so many other Western add-ons will cripple our ability to be faithful. How could a mega-church go into hiding? How could we have bands if we are meeting in a house or obscure building? The point is, these things are not feasible, and we will have to decide if God’s simple but authoritative pattern is good enough for us. If it will be good enough then, it must be good enough now. Persecution can only be endured when His pattern is our pattern, because He designed it for our benefit and functionality.
The Necessity of Communion
Another central factor that secured Paul even in his trials was his nearness to the heart of God. In Romans 8 he says “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… I am persuaded that [NOTHING] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” All of the things that Paul mentioned were sufficient to discourage him, yes, because he was frail; but he had something greater to rely on than his emotions – a changeless God whose love for His own knows no measure. This is the God Who will carry us through persecution. We have no other hope than this. Our frame is utter weakness; but our strength comes from the Lord. It was this understanding that allowed Paul to say “[We are] persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” He could say further in that same book, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” To Paul, suffering was an opportunity to glorify God for His sustaining power; thus he could take pleasure in it. If we are not close to God and His strength, we have nothing; and we will come to the battle of persecution naked and vulnerable. We must know communion with our God. We must understand the strength of time in His sanctuary. Only He can carry us through. Our necessary direction in considering persecution is to draw near unto the holy God of Heaven, our Father. “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” Who else can we go to? What we need in persecution is not a strategic mind, though wisdom is invaluable. We don’t need a politician. We don’t need an entertainer. We need men and women who know their God. This takes more than superficial Bible reading and five minute prayers. We must be people of the sanctuary.
The Necessity of Compassion
In all of this, we cannot ignore the words of the Scripture “Bless those who persecute you.” He could say in Matthew 5, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” While endurance in persecution is a dignified thing, we must remember that this dignity comes from the Lord and not from ourselves. We would be in the place of the persecutor were it not for His grace. Thus, an indiscriminate kindness must mark us, even to our opposition. After all, God Himself still sends rain and provision for those who rebel. And maybe, if God should so bless, by our kindness we could see an enemy converted. Paul was the chief of sinners and the chief of persecutors, yet God saved Him. Why can He not today? But even if He allows us to continue in affliction, our good works cannot be in vain. “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” In all of these things, we must deal tenderly and patiently, and perhaps even looking for ways to show benevolence to those who despise us. Either the kindness will be accepted, or it will cause us to be hated more. Whichever happens, God is glorified; is that not our main motive in being faithful anyway?