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Through the Fire: 10 Truths to Help in the Face of Persecution

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  While I appreciate his wit and agree that those two things are an unfortunate mainstay, there are, of course, many more certainties we can expect in this age.  For the Christian, one certainty, I’m sad to say, is persecution.  Suffering of this type is particularly commonplace for Christians in this fallen world.  The Bible declares that we’ll face it, and experience has shown the Bible to be true.

Fortunately, Scripture has provided for us in 1 Peter 4 a wonderful primer aimed at helping us when the inevitable persecution comes.  Peter lays out for us 10 truths to help us endure.

#1 – You should expect to suffer because Jesus did.
Peter tells us, Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose (1 Pet 4:1).  Undoubtedly, Jesus suffered greatly, and if they treated Him in that way, you can surely expect the same.  That’s why Peter tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose.”  That doesn’t mean that we go looking for ways to be persecuted and martyred like some did in the early church.  Caught up in the zeal of watching faithful brothers like Polycarp and Ignatius refuse to deny Christ even in the face of torturous death, some Christians actually turned themselves in to the authorities to be put to death.  These men were looking for trouble, but that’s not the spirit in which Peter is writing.  When he tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose,” he means for us to prepare ourselves to be persecuted.

To be a Christian is to be persecuted.  It’s been that way from the beginning.  Just look at the disciples.  After Jesus was crucified, nearly all of His disciples suffered martyrdom for His sake during the first century.  Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells us that:

  • James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in approximately A.D. 44
  • Philip was crucified in A.D. 54
  • Matthew was killed with a halberd, an ax-like weapon
  • James, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus, was beaten to death in A.D. 60
  • Matthias (who replaced Judas) was beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was torn to pieces
  • Peter was crucified upside down
  • Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred
  • Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded
  • Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and Simon were also killed for the sake of Christ
  • John was the only apostle to escape a violent death, but even he was put in exile on the Isle of Patmos.

Every generation from Christ until now has seen great persecution.  By and large over the centuries, the persecution has come at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, which put to death many Christians.  Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, but in the last century, we’ve seen a rise in Christians being persecuted by Communist and Socialist regimes and by people of other religions such as Islam and Hinduism.

As for the world today, North Korea is the worst perpetrator of persecution against Christians in the world, according to The Voice of the Martyrs website.  There, Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and are in constant danger, but many continue to stand strong under relentless persecution.  Because the government considers Christians to be a stability threat, they are hunted all over the country, and if caught, being a Christian carries a more severe punishment than being a spy.  Sadly, the largest number of Christian worshipers in North Korea exists in concentration camps, and one out of four Christian prisoners are sent to political prison camps where prisoners almost never leave.

While you may never face that sort of persecution in your lifetime, you will nevertheless face persecution.  You see, persecution isn’t just physical.  It can come in the form of insult, false accusation, or slander.  You might be passed over for a promotion or demoted to a lesser position.  You can certainly bet that the world is going to think that you are stupid and idiotic and make fun of you.  So, you should be ready.  But you should also know that suffering does have a silver lining, in that…

#2 – Suffering cleanses us of sin.
God has a purpose for the fiery trial that is coming upon us.  Peter tells us that we should arm ourselves to suffer persecution because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Pet 4:1-2).  You see, suffering is one of the ways that God cleanses us from sin.  When believers are willing to suffer, the nerve center of sin is severed in their lives. Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life, when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ, they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory.

You see, the new, born-again you wants to live for God.  Peter underlines this reality when he says, For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries (1 Pet 4:3). The old, unregenerate you wanted to live for the pleasures of the flesh, but that’s who you used to be.  You used to like to do whatever you flesh wanted to do, but you’re changing, and one of the ways that God changes us is by taking us through persecution.

This change is a good thing, but the world won’t agree.  Instead…

#3 – The world will hate you because you’re being cleansed.
Your buddies won’t really understand what’s happened to you.  In fact, they’ll be amazed that you don’t do the things you used to do.  Peter says it this way, In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation (1 Pet 4:4).  A drunk hates to drink alone, but their surprise soon turns to anger, and they malign you (1 Pet 4:4).  The Bible is clear that darkness hates the light (John 3:20).  Your very life is an attack on sin, and so people have only two options:  convert or persecute.  In their wickedness, they usually persecute.  John Piper puts it this way,

  • “If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people’s love for free sex.
  • If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
  • If you pursue self-control, your life will indict excess eating.
  • If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
  • If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
  • If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
  • If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
  • If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
  • And if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.”

Your increasing righteousness will cause the world around you to increasingly malign you, but take heart because…

#4 – God will deal with persecutors.
Peter is very clear, but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5).  When we are maligned and persecuted, we don’t have to take matters into our own hands.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Revenge is sin, no matter how much they deserve it.  Therefore, we must keep in mind that God has not turned a blind eye to what’s going on.  In fact, God promises that vengeance is His and that He will repay evildoers for their deeds (Heb 10:30).

But even more important than vengeance being meted out in their lives, we should be hoping that mercy is poured out.  In the spirit of Christ, we should pray for our persecutors (Luke 23:34) and hope that they repent and trust Christ.  Even in the midst of persecution, we preach the gospel, For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Pet 4:6).  Our hope is that God’s wrath meant for them will have actually been poured out on Jesus instead of being poured out them someday.  We’ll know this to be the case when they repent of their sin and trust Christ.

Nevertheless, we can rest in knowing that either through vengeance or redemption, God will deal with persecutors.  Of course, this news is great comfort, but Peter gives us more by pointing out that…

#5 – The end of the age is near.
Peter is very clear, The end of all things is near (1 Pet 4:7).  Friend, it won’t be long before our Lord and Savior returns to set up His earthly Kingdom, bringing along with Him the end of the age and the New Heaven and New Earth.  This news is especially good to those in the midst of persecution.  And so, Peter gives instructions to us in light of the imminence of Jesus’ return:

  • therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11)

Christian, God has graced you beyond measure in the face of persecution by giving you a church family to lean on.  We’ve got enough problems outside of the church.  Therefore, Peter encourages us to fervently love one another inside the church.  What a blessed refuge indeed!

In light of all of this,…

#6 – You shouldn’t be surprised by persecution.
For those of us in the Bible Belt, we have become accustomed to a majority Christian population, but the demographics and ideologies are changing.  Even so, if serious persecution were to break out today in Alexandria, I have to admit that I’d probably be stupefied.  But according to Peter, I shouldn’t be, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pet 4:12).  Every generation before me has endured such things, and brothers and sisters in Christ are at this very moment enduring such things.  What’s more, Satan would love for me to face serious persecution right now.  I guess what Peter is trying to say is that it’s actually strange or weird to not experience persecution.  So, instead of being surprised, Peter says…

#7 – You should rejoice in the face of persecution.
That seems to be naturally antithetical, but we’re not naturally minded.  We are a people of biblical revelation and not of natural theology.  With that said, God has revealed to us that He allows us to be persecuted for two purposes.  First, persecution tests us (1 Pet 4:12).  He desires to see where we really stand.  Is He really more valuable to us than anything else?  And if He’s not, the test will show our faults and impurities.  This test sounds bad, but God means it for good.  Think of how Peter was galvanized for Christ after he failed Christ and denied Him three times (Matt 26:69-75).  Satan meant that for evil, but God meant it for good, and God is always triumphant.  It’s the same in our testing.  God means it for good, and ultimately it is good.  Therefore, testing is for our good and should cause us to rejoice.

Second, persecution intensifies our rejoicing.  Peter tells us, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (1 Pet 4:13).  In other words, rejoice because persecution will increase your rejoicing.  And that’s true!  When life is easy, we don’t really long for the return of Christ and heaven, but when even slight persecution breaks out, we quickly cry, “Maranatha!” and long for heaven.  Therefore, persecution increases our rejoicing, and when Jesus splits that eastern sky, you won’t just rejoice.  You’ll rejoice with exultation because your Deliverer has come!

In fact, Peter says that those who are persecuted are blessed, If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Pet 4:14).  Jesus said the same thing, Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:10).  To be blessed is to be in God’s favor, and that’s especially shown in the face of persecution.  I’d say that’s plenty reason to rejoice!

However, we should keep in mind that…

#8 – Not all suffering is blessed.
Peter takes a moment to offer some clarity.  Certainly suffering abounds in the world, but not all of it is for the sake of Christ.  Some of it is just punishment for sin.  Therefore, Peter warns us, Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler (1 Pet 4:15).  We should avoid this sort of sin and its consequences at all cost because there is great public shame in it, but…

#9 – There’s no shame in suffering for Christ.
Peter is emphatic, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Pet 4:16).  The world will often punish criminals and the righteous in the same way, but there’s a difference.  If you go to prison for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are insulted and mocked for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are tortured and disfigured for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  Don’t you dare be ashamed because it’s actually the glory of God on you!

Even more, there’s no shame because God means the fiery ordeal for your good.  Peter tells us, For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17).  The judgment of persecution that a Christian faces isn’t condemnation from God but is actually discipline.  The Bible clearly tells us that those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6).  Jesus himself tells us, Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (Rev 3:19).  There’s no shame in discipline because it’s done for your good and out of love.  Yes, it still hurts, but all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11).

But for those who are rebels against God, for those who persecute Christ and His body (Acts 9:4), it’s going to be much more severe.  Peter goes on to tell us:

  • and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? (1 Pet 4:17-18).

Figuratively speaking, we’re just getting a spanking, but they’ll be getting eternal destruction.  Therefore, child of God, hold your head high because your Daddy loves you, and…

#10 – You can trust your most excellent God.
After everything that Peter has said in this chapter, he applies it in this way, Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pet 4:19).  Friend, God is going to take care of you.  He’s your loving Creator who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).  He’ll never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5).  In fact, He’s going to see you through to the end and bring you into perfect conformity to Christ (Phil 1:6).  Therefore, if it is God’s will that you suffer persecution, you can safely put your life in His secure hands.  He always does what is ultimately right, loving, and wise.  Hallelujah!


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