Especially in America—a land settled centuries ago by pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, where freedom of religion and speech are held dear—we tend to think of religious persecution as something occurring far away or long ago. If you are among my readers who lives abroad, or if you are familiar with Voice of the Martyrs, you are likely aware that suffering for faith is still prevalent.
The devil has neither disappeared nor slowed with age, and he is personified contempt for God and truth. God's Word warns of our enemy's increasing activity in these last days, and of the many ways we can expect religious persecution to appear near at hand—nearer than we ever thought possible.
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.… and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.' "
~ Matthew 10:34,36 (NKJV)
I've been asked what words I might have for a local woman being abused by her husband for her newfound Christian faith. Another woman with growing faith attempted suicide after her well-educated father made a case against the Bible, persuading her that faith in Jesus for help with her problems was foolishly misplaced. From my own family members, I've repeatedly received ridicule, profanity and contempt because I cling to Christ.
…'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'
Shamefully, the household of Christ is not immune to the devil's lies, and too often allows itself to be his agent of religious persecution. Denominational differences in particular are fertile ground for abuse.
I know of a family that began attending church. The wife and children didn't read the Bible much, because they had difficulty understanding the King James translation. When a friend gave them Bibles written in their native English tongue, they began reading with enthusiasm. But the husband and father threw the new Bibles away, telling his family they would read King James or nothing at all, threatening punishment if they defied him behind his back.
I know a man raised in a denominational church, who found faith as an young adult in an non-denominational church. On Sundays he comes home from church and is asked by his father and family what he learned from the sermon he heard, and is then ridiculed on every point made from the Bible that doesn't line up with their denominational bias.
I know of a group on Facebook called "You know you're a [denomination name] when …" Though I don't identify myself as anything but "Christian," I didn't give much thought to their adding me to the group since its denomination's traditions are grounded in the Bible. I began receiving notifications of their frequent postings, some of them intended to be amusing. When a quite serious and particularly divisive post came to my attention, I added a comment exhorting biblical unity and love in Christ. Other members of the group zeroed in for attack, giving me the most sound verbal thrashing I can ever recall receiving. When another member supported me, they also attacked her. (Since I'm not on Facebook much, I couldn't figure out fast enough how to exit the conversation and the group.)
"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me."
~ John 15:20-21 (NKJV)
Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.
If you are a Christian, this affects you. No Christian stands alone or suffers alone. Every Christian's strengths and gifts benefit the entire body of Christian believers. And when any individual member is weakened by suffering or attack, the entire body is weakened.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it …
~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 25-26 (NKJV)
Remember that first example, of a woman abused by her husband for her newfound faith? When I was asked what words of encouragement might be passed to her, I regret that I found myself unequal to a response, being overwhelmed by my own suffering at the time. The question has haunted me ever since.
How God's Word has encouraged me and what I would share with those undergoing any form of persecution for faith in Jesus Christ will be the subject of the next post.
Lord Jesus, make us worthy of whatever persecution we may face. Enable us to rejoice that You make us worthy. Strengthen us to stand for Your name and Your Father's name, whatever the cost.
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Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.
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