Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is suffering persecution normal for a Christian?

The question of Christian persecution as normative is not something modern Americans generally consider. With health and wealth preaching as well as Scripture verses being taken out of context (such as John 10:10, etc.), it is hard to understand that there is no promise in the Christian life that we shall go without persecution. Quite the opposite is true, because we should in fact expect it (John 15:8,20; etc.). Drummond agrees by stating that, “Every man who lives like Christ produces the same reaction upon the world…He [Christ] prepared His Church beforehand for the reception it would get in the world. He gave no hope that it would be an agreeable one (emphasis in original).”
While Drummond addresses what we should expect in the Christian life, Bock encourages the believer by looking at the example of the Apostles: “They [the Apostles] show that suffering is not to be feared, nor is it necessarily an indication of failure. In fact, it may well come with the territory of sharing the need for Jesus in a world that seeks self-sufficiency…If Jesus, the servant and example, experienced sacrifice and rejection by many, should those who follow him expect anything different?” So, while it is true that any believer who is following the example of Christ should expect persecution and suffering, it is also true that we should glory in such suffering as it brings us closer to Christ and is used by God to further His kingdom. As Paul has indicated in his letter to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Is God involved in the suffering of a Christian, both regular suffering and persecution?
Too often, God’s love is flaunted by a wicked world (outside and inside the visible Church) unwilling to come to terms with its sinfulness. The truth of the matter is that God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. Additionally, God is absolutely sovereign. This does not mean that we are some mindless robots that have no will in the actions we carry out or receive against ourselves; however, it does mean that God is in control and works in all things. Considering these points, we can look to Scripture for verification. First, Paul demonstrates God’s goodness in Romans 8:28 by acknowledging that God, controlling all things, works them together for the good of the believer. This means that while we may not understand our circumstances (which may include both suffering and persecution), we are able to trust that God is working it out for our good. Second, Luke indicates in Acts 3:18 that the suffering of Christ, God’s own Son, was according to the plan of the Father. This is accomplished in grace, as without it we would still be dead in our sins. Finally, Paul communicates to the Philippian believers that, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear {to be} in me.” So it is quite apparent that God works things which we do not understand together for our good, He planned the suffering of His own precious Son, and we are blessed should we share in this suffering as it progresses the kingdom of God. In light of these three points, we are able to glory in suffering and accept that God remains in control in spite of this suffering. MacArthur puts it well by stating, “The Gr. verb translated ‘granted’ is from the noun for grace. Believers’ suffering is a gift of grace which brings power (2Co 7:9,10; 1Pe 5:10) and eternal reward (1Pe 4:13).”4

Drummond, Henry. The Ideal Life and other Unpublished Addresses. 1897. Christian
Classics Ethereal Library, 2009. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/drummond/ideal.ix.html
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.

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