The highs and lows
I do not feel qualified to write on persecution. Reading the news and seeing the beheadings and crucifixions of Christians in far off lands far overshadows any kind of persecution I have ever experienced. I went to a relatively comfortable school and a nice sixth form college, where open discussion is promoted and intolerance frowned upon. Telling people that there is a holy God and that human goodness is not enough has never seen me beheaded, it's only seen me offend people.But in that offence, we can still see persecution on a different level.
I am pretty confident in saying that any persecution I have ever experienced is minimal. Quite simply because I believe that if we as Christians give our all for our faith, the natural response from those opposed to it is to persecute. However, albeit minimal in comparison, what we sometimes come across in the UK in 2015 can still be genuine persecution.
“Persecution is one of the surest signs of the genuineness of our Christianity”.
Benjamin E. Fernando.
The message that is entrusted to believers is an offensive one, it tells people that they are not their own Gods, that there are consequences to their actions and that there is such a thing as an absolute right path. The message of the cross and resurrection is life changing and all consuming. We screw up, all the time! So He sent His son to die the worst death known to man, the death on the cross (Phillipians 2). And if we believe in Him we have eternal life and salvation (John 3:16), this renewal of our mind brings forth a transformation in us (Romans 12:2) and we strive to live a life of Holiness.
In an age of relativity and apathy, these truths are offensive and people don’t like them. But in western society, and especially schools, it is rare for someone to be driven to violence over something that offends them; the more likely outcome is a rant on social media, a sarcastic comment and a joke. This doesn’t feel like ‘real’ persecution, there are some times when it is easier to shrug this off than respond.
John Calvin the famous reformist says, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw Gods truth attacked and remained silent”.
An attack on the truth of God warrants a response from us as disciples. That sounds pretty radical, right? Like something that a fanatic would say? Yes. Followers of Christ are radical, fanatical and completely serious about the weight of the gospel message. If someone is claiming the name of Christ and isn’t drastically changed by the truth that they profess, something isn’t adding up. Another way of looking at it is this; when in a conversation with a group of complete football fans, it is obvious that they know their passion. They can recite each individual score, player and stat. When someone who has no idea about football joins the conversation under false pretence of being a fan, it is evident to everyone that they don’t know what they are talking about.
If the gospel hasn’t affected you, then you can be sure you haven't understood it. Let it seep into all you say and do, and soon enough you will see where persecution is and begin to find it unnatural to let it go unchallenged. Paul instructs Timothy to guard the message that is entrusted to him, and we should too. Let this be the first lesson that we consider when thinking about persecution, Christ said “as the father has sent me so He shall send you”, and the father sent Christ to be persecuted and to suffer in our place, if we are not responding to the persecution that we face in our everyday environment, then let us question our faith.
The second lesson to be considered is Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you”. When we see persecution and come to the defence of the faith, we do it from a place of love, and with the sincere intention seeing those who wish harm on Christianity to be saved. The quote from John Calvin I used earlier can be easily misinterpreted to mean that we meet attack with attack, but this is not the case. Meet it with the genuine love of Christ. Look at the example of David Wilkerson, an American preacher who was met at knife point on multiple occasions while working with gangs in New York, and yet each time told the young men standing before him that were worth so much more, that they could cut him into a thousand pieces and every single piece would scream that Jesus loves them. So let us learn from him, when we find ourselves getting uncomfortable living a life for Christ, let us overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
My prayer and encouragement for you as I write this is, firstly, if like me you find yourself too comfortable too often, may you constantly reassess your faith, watch yourself and to stand against persecution. And if your situation is different, if you are experiencing a real daily persecution, in your school, from your family, please strive to overcome it with good, remembering that as Christians we are to be hated because they hated Christ first (John 15).