Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Tim 4:2-5 (ESV)
I was reading part of Acts today. It tells the glorious story of the beginning of the church: healings, conversions, changed lives. It also tells the story of Saul, the great persecutor of Christians, who became Paul’s through the grace of God. It also chronicles the first church persecutions as well.
The ruling bodies told the apostles to stop preaching about Jesus, but they refused, trusting the Holy Spirit to help them speak, and believing Jesus’ promise that they would be with Him should they die. People were run out of town, beaten, jailed, and stoned to death.
I’m also listening to some of the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act and section 1032. There seems to be much confusion over whether Americans can be detained and held indefinitely if they are determined an “enemy combatant”. One side says there is nothing to worry about because Americans are specifically excluded. The other says that Americans can be taken off the streets and thrown into jail without due process.
In the last year or so, we have also heard that there is a government paper indicating many reasons to “suspect” people of possible “terrorist” leanings. One of the reasons mentioned in the paper was evangelical Christians. Some on the Christian Right are putting these two items together and wondering whether or not a Christian can be detained simply for being a Christian.
Is the sky falling? Or is this just another brouhaha which will mean nothing? Can persecution for religious views really happen in America? And when my friends laugh at me for my relationship with Jesus, isn’t that a form of persecution as well?
I hope that “they” are wrong. But what if they aren’t? Am I ready to defend my faith if I know that doing so might lead to a jail term? Or am I a comfortable Christian, only willing to call Jesus my Savior if I have nothing to worry about? How do I know?
How did the first martyrs know that they would be all right, in spite of their hardships? Because they believed in Jesus. They also knew that the Holy Spirit had been sent to help them.
And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said … 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. Acts 4:7-8, 11-13 (ESV)
And Stephen is described like this:
And Stephen, full of grace and power … And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Acts 6:1, 15 (ESV)
We don’t need a seminary degree to testify. We can be “uneducated, common men” and speak powerfully and convincingly of Jesus. We do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, and by prayer, fasting, reading and memorizing God’s Word.
Whether persecution is coming to you and me personally, or whether we will never have to worry, is a detail known only to God. But Jesus told us this:
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matt. 24:9-14 (ESV)
The time to prepare for persecution is now. Read and memorize the Bible. Use prayer to help you learn what to do and how to do it. If you do not suffer from persecution, then you can count yourself fortunate. However, without proper preparation and guidance from the Holy Spirit, you would not be able to properly answer either a friend who wants to more about Jesus, or for yourself during a time of persecution.
May we be strong enough to endure anything for His sake – laughter and derision from our colleagues and friends, or imprisonment and even death. And may we be as gracious as Stephen.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 (ESV)