What is the biblical response to religious persecution?
Throughout history, people have been persecuted for what they believe. In the constant struggle for power, it has been common practice for those in power to use force and cruelty to subdue those who oppose them.
Of all religious faiths, none has been persecuted more than the Christian faith. As the handbook of Christianity, what does the Bible say about persecution? If you are a Christian suffering for your faith anywhere in the world today, how can you 1) believe God has allowed this persecution for your ultimate good and 2) respond to those who persecute you in a way that both pleases and honors God?
Could it be that God allows persecution for our ultimate good? That sounds like a radical concept, doesn't it? How could suffering be good?
When we suffer today for our faith in Christ, we are sharing in His suffering. Through it, we often become stronger and wiser. Additionally, those who do not yet believe will look at us and see the firmness of our faith. Our patient suffering may even draw them to believe. Know this: When God permits suffering of any kind, including persecution for our faith, it is always for our greater good.
One thing we discover about God right away is that His expressed will is sometimes the exact opposite of what we want to do. Jesus is known for His counter-cultural teaching. In Matthew chapter 5, He said this about how His disciples are to respond to persecution:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44).
Imagine that! Just when you and I want revenge, God, in the person of Christ, tells us to love that enemy. How can we do it?
Doing the opposite of what comes naturally takes supernatural power. Where can we find that? The psalmist King David offers us a pattern in Psalm 143. When he knew the enemy sought him to kill him, David cried out to God. He wanted revenge!
"O LORD , hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.
Rather than reacting in anger, David took time out to spend with God and reflect on His Word:
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah."
David was honest with God, acknowledging his own weakness. Finally, once God's Spirit had overwhelmed him, David put his trust in God's perfect plan.
Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD , for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
For your name's sake, O LORD , preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant. (Excerpts from Psalm 143.)
As David trusted God for the outcome, that is how you and I are called to respond to biblical persecution. Pray for our enemies, for they know not what they are doing. Then trust God for the results.
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