Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 25, 1960
NUMBER 16, PAGE 10-11a

The Christian And Persecution

Louis J. Sharp, Little Rock, Arkansas

The apostle Paul warned young Timothy: "Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12) He did not say that the godly may suffer persecution. He stated that the godly shall suffer persecution. Our ego causes most of us to be too concerned about the things that others have to say about us I We allow our personal feelings to get the best of us, and forget that Jesus said: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26) When we preach those things that are contrary to the wishes of some, we can expect criticism. Only the false prophet who speaks in a way to be pleasing unto men will avoid criticism Brother Lipscomb commented: "This truth is universal. A man that is faithful to God in all things will be opposed and persecuted. The persecution takes different forms in different ages and countries. Sometimes it is ridicule, oppositions of various kinds. Even the light minded and those in the church who lack devotion and earnestness will ridicule, oppose, and persecute those who seek to live and lead others to pure, holy, godly lives." To persecute is to "Subject one to persistent ill-treatment." Let us study the subject under five different headings.

Christ's Views Of Persecution

Early in his ministry, our Lord set forth for his disciples the proper attitude in the face of persecution. "Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." (Matt. 5:10-12) Jesus knew the faithful would suffer, not only at the hands of those who opposed Christianity, but by false brethren also. It seems to me that he was attempting to "steel" the disciples against such, and pointed them to the difficulties of the prophets of Israel.

Jesus not only foretold the possibility of persecution, but in many instances promised his followers that they would suffer persecution. (Luke 11:49; Jn. 15:20) Our Lord stated further: "Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, and mother or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." (Matt. 10:29-30) Have we not emphasized in our preaching the material things we receive for faithfulness, and left off the fact that persecutions are promised along with the material blessings? Peter refers to the example of the spotless Son of God, and exhorts us to follow in his steps. (1 Pet. 2:20-23).

The Church Persecuted In The First Century

The church, almost from the very beginning, suffered great persecution. It became very pronounced in the city of Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen. (Acts 7:54, 8:4)

This persecution resulted from the very forceful, uncompromising sermon delivered by Stephen. (Acts 11:19) These passages show that the persecution which arose that day against the church scattered it abroad, but it did not stop the preaching of the gospel. In fact, the gospel was spread as a result of the persecution. The church grew and was strengthened. Such was the result of this great persecution that arose against the church. It isn't really necessary to point out that the church also gained uncompromising enemies: those who would stop at nothing to destroy the church and its influence. Such an one was Saul of Tarsus!

Saul, The Persecutor, And Paul, The Persecuted

Saul of Tarsus was one of the greatest individual persecutors of the church that this world has ever seen. He was a man of zeal, a man of convictions, and engaged in the work at hand with all his might. This was a trait of character that made him the great man that he became. The record states: "But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison." (Acts 8:3).

He was on his way to Damascus to press the persecution against the church when the Lord appeared to him. From the time of his conversion onward, he became the persecuted rather than the persecutor. We invite you to turn and read these passages from the pages of your New Testament: (1 Cor. 4:11-13; 2 Cor. 11:16-33). Here are recounted persecutions endured by this devoted man such as the world has not known since. The persecutions he endured came from all sides. He was persecuted by those in the world and by false brethren in the church. He suffered mental anxiety and fleshly punishment. He was imperiled on numerous occasions, both from within and without. The anxiety he had for the church pressed upon him daily. Paul knew what it was to suffer for Christ. What was his attitude toward this persecution?

Paul said in his straight-forward way: "Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor.12:10).

The Christian's Attitude Toward Persecution

It is easy for us to see what our attitude toward persecution ought to be. Our Lord taught us to pray for those who persecute us. (Matt. 5:44) This could well be one of the most difficult things you ever tried to do. Human nature being what it is — it is most trying, when we must pray for those who use every underhanded trick in the devil's repertory to destroy us or our influence. But this is what the Christian will do I Paul echoed the teaching of Christ. He wrote to the Romans: "Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not." (Rom. 12:10).

Peter certainly covered the subject in his first epistle, chapter four, verses 12-16. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you; but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name."

Persecution Can't Separate Us From The Love Of Christ

Paul encourages all Christians to live a consecrated life in Romans 8:35-39. He shows us that it is impossible for those things that happen to us to separate us from the love of Christ. Persecution, of itself, cannot separate us from Christ. "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Jesus exhorted the twelve as he sent them forth: "And he not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28) The faint-hearted tremble at the prospect of persecution, but let us remember that "he that endureth unto the end shall be saved." (Matt. 10:22).