When I was younger and heard the word “persecution”, I used to think of places like China, or of people like the apostles being stoned or hung upside down on a cross. Now, in the face of changes even here in America, it is becoming more of a reality just in a different way for now. While in America we as Christians are starting to really face social and political persecution, I believe it is only a matter of time before it gets worse, and no one will be able to ride the fence or be lukewarm. All will have to choose to either follow and obey man or follow and obey God and face intense persecution and possibly death.
Does that sound scary to you? In one sense, yes, God made us with a desire to survive, but in the other sense, our spirit should yearn for God so much that we forsake our flesh, and all the fear that comes with it, and purpose in our hearts to follow and obey God at all costs, knowing that we will face persecution just as Jesus warned us in Matthew 10. I encourage you to spend some time in Matthew 10:16-33 and let the Lord minister to you through it.
In America, we have been spoiled to be able to worship God freely in buildings, homes, parks, anywhere we want, and to have that right protected under the constitution of our land. But have we actually taken advantage of this freedom fully or have we as a whole grown content with doing church once a week or less? If we are truly being the church, the body and bride of Christ, we must be abiding in Him every single day and walking as a body the way Christ designed, not as America has designed. How can we know what God’s will and design for His church is and how can we pursue it even as persecution is ushered in?
In Acts 2, we see after Peter preached the sermon at Pentecost just how the early church was operating and thriving. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
When you read this, don’t you get a longing desire to be part of it? Jesus designed us to be in community as His church, to be doing life together, not just meeting for an hour a week to scarf the meat of the Word like a snack and then scatter. It is important to abide in Jesus on our own, in an individual relationship with Him, but He also highlights the importance of being among fellow believers, not just in the studying His word, but also in praying together, communion and sharing meals together, and in fellowship together.
COVID has changed a lot, but it shouldn’t change how we live as the body of Christ. And as persecution comes and worsens, it won’t be a decision on whether or not to go to church in person, or whether or not to post a bible verse on social media, or whether or not we should voice support for marriage the way God designed it or for protection of children inside and outside the womb, or share the truth of the gospel in love with those we meet. I believe it will become a matter of there is no church building to meet at and you’ll need to meet in homes, you won’t have the ability to post bible verses or biblical perspectives on social media, the law will have changed to become the complete antithesis of a biblical worldview so much that voicing your biblical views or sharing the gospel may land you in jail or at minimum with a lawsuit that you can’t afford the judgement of. But that shouldn’t cause us fear or worse, to give up and fall away.
A little further in Acts, we see the disciples coming before the rulers and were threatened and told not to preach in the name of Jesus, and Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right to in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) and they were arrested again and warned over and over not to preach Christ. Yet again and again, they continued in their mission and responded that they “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When Stephen was brought before the counsel with false allegations, he too spoke the truth in love boldly, even though it ended up costing him his life. (Acts 6-7) And when Paul was sought to be killed in Damascus, he wisely fled through a window in the wall, but only for him to continue in the mission Jesus called him to. He was later arrested, beaten, plotted against, and brought before high ranking officials, yet he didn’t deter from that upward call of God in Christ Jesus, he was faithful to follow and obey Jesus no matter what circumstance came his way, even his eventual death.
How did these people, those in the bible and those we have read about throughout history such as Corrie Ten Boom and her family, Gladys Alyward, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, and so many others; how did they all manage to stay so strong and on course in their race throughout such intense persecution? This quote by Spurgeon sums it up well, “He who comes forth fresh from beholding the face of God will never fear the face of man.” (C.H. Spurgeon)
If we do what Jesus told us, to take up our cross daily, follow and abide in Him, and pray without ceasing, we will truly understand and live as though our days are numbered and as bondservants to the Lord God Almighty who is coming any day for His bride, the church. We will be able to do as James says and count it all joy when we face these various trials (James 1:2-4) and rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus, just as those in the early church did, not ceasing to meet with one another and teach and preach Jesus (Acts 5:41-42).
Just as Studd put it and Pastor Chuck Smith used to say, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” (C.T. Studd) May you live in the abundant life of abiding in Jesus and upon your passing from this side of eternity to the next hear Him say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant”.