Trying to make sense of a world where multitudes of people whoa re serving God suffer persecution as a result can be pretty tough. We can wonder where God is and what he is doing when hearing of followers of Jesus who are jailed, have their children taken away, or are killed for their faith. When we realize that, as some estimate, somewhere between 150-200,000 people are killed annually for their faith in Christs, personally, I wonder why God does not step in and stop this. Why does God allow these things? Is there a reason for hope? This past Sunday as we talked about Jesus words, “Blessed are the persecuted,” I intended to discuss these this issue, but ran out of time. So I thought I would post a quick blog. When followers of Jesus suffer for their faith, both the Bible and history demonstrate that God will use the persecution of his people in at least three ways.
First, persecution will drive the faith of His followers deeper. Nothing will challenge lackadaisical faith and lukewarm commitment to Christ quicker than suffering and persecution. History is full of stories of individuals, families, and entire churches who endured persecution and even death in the name of Christ, and it is amazing how many of these stories tell how God used the situation to make his people stronger, and give them a greater heart of worship. Persecution will cause God’s people to evaluate what is important, and fall toward Christ with a deeper faith, a deeper dependence on Him, and a deeper love for the things of heaven as opposed to the things of this world.
Second, persecution will expose the guilt of a culture. Most persecution flows from cultural idolatry. Governments long for power over people, but followers of Jesus do not bow their knees to the government, so they turn up the heat, because Christians who live for Jesus threaten the idol. Religious groups, even some religious Christians through the years have persecuted followers of Jesus because true, Gospel centered Christianity will expose the pride and self-justification in religion. Remember, it was the religious crowd that primarily persecuted Jesus leading to his crucifixion. People who live for earthly pleasures and sinful lifestyles will persecute followers of Jesus because holiness exposes their darkness. There is something about the life of a transformed follower of Jesus that will expose the inner sin issues and idolatry of people in a culture. The result is that they will attack Christians who are living righteous lives. But often, God uses this to reveal the guilt and depravity in those who are doing the persecution, and create sympathy in the culture for those who are following Jesus. The best example of this in the last fifty years is in the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King’s Christian convictions led him to respond with attitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount toward those who persecuted he and his kinsmen. It was the horrible things done to these people that was one of the key factors in turning the opinion of the nation against segregationists in the South.
Third, throughout history and in all places, the growth of Christianity has sprung from the seed of the blood of martyrs. This was true in the first century. In Acts 8, the first Christian martyr named Stephen is killed and a persecution breaks out. Christians scatter, but the outcome is that Christianity begins to spread like wildfire in the middle east. The amazing fact is that Christianity has spread the fastest in places with the harshest persecution of those who follow Jesus. God uses the godly suffering of his saints as the vehicle to draw people to the Gospel and salvation in mass numbers.
I don’t want to be trite with this blog. Suffering and persecution are incredibly hard, but it is also glorious to know that the promises of God are true. God does us all things for His good, and He will never leave or forsake his children.