Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Christian persecution around the globe. It’s hard to ignore while Isis and other Islamic extremists slaughter believers in Iraq and Syria. And, of course, today marks the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. And while 911 was not specifically Christian persecution, the fact that the United States was founded on Christian principles certainly adds fuel to the fire.
Why does God allow His people to be ridiculed, discriminated against, beaten, and even killed because they follow Jesus?
Shouldn’t we pray that all believers have the same freedom to worship Christ that we enjoy here in America? Shouldn’t we beg God to deliver them from their persecutors? Shouldn’t we pray that all persecution come to an end?
A few years ago that’s exactly how I prayed. But God has been shifting my perspective on the persecution of believers, how He uses it, and how it fits into His overall purposes.
Before we go any further, let me clarify something. I don’t mean to say – nor do I believe – that God causes or brings the persecution. But somehow, in His mysterious economy, God has chosen to use the persecution of believers to further His Kingdom.
First, let’s see what Jesus said about this topic:
- The “world” will hate believers because believers belong to Jesus (John 15:18-19; Matthew 10:22) – This isn’t just a feeling or the experience of some. It’s fact. Jesus Himself said this is the way it would be.
- The “world” will persecute believers because we follow Jesus (John 15:20; Matthew 10:17) – Jesus does not call us to persecution. He calls us to “go into the world and make disciples.” He simply made it clear that if we obey Him, we will be persecuted.
- The “world” will persecute believers because our righteousness in Christ reveals their sin (John 7:7 and John 15:22-24) – Holy lives reveal the righteousness of Christ and thereby expose the sin of the world. When Christians take a stand for Christ and firmly follow biblical principles, the world will respond with persecution.
- God uses persecution for His purposes – God never wastes the suffering of one of His children. It is an opportunity to testify to Jesus, to bring glory to God, to advance the Kingdom (Matthew 10:18-20).
- Persecution for the name of Christ is a reason to rejoice – Sounds completely illogical doesn’t it? Yet Jesus said we should rejoice when we are persecuted. That a reward waits for the persecuted in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).
- We should not intentionally seek persecution – This last point is important. We should not allow the possibility of persecution to keep us from witnessing or fully obeying Jesus. However, we also should not purposefully or foolishly encourage it. Jesus told His disciples to “flee to another” place when they are persecuted in one (Matthew 10:21-23).
- The only way to stop persecution is to stop sharing the news about Jesus.
Last spring a friend recommended I read The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin. Ripkin interviewed hundreds of persecuted believers in dozens of countries around the world. He shares many of their stories, including God’s faithfulness and miraculous activity in the midst of their terrible persecution. He relates how God used their suffering to bring glory to Himself and expand the Gospel of Jesus. And how suffering believers prayed for their persecutors to come to know Jesus (see Matthew 5:44).
God had already begun to shift my perspective on Christian persecution, but reading The Insanity of Godcompletely busted the old paradigm. I dare to say you cannot read this book and remain the same.
In Ripkin’s second book, The Insanity of Obedience he takes the stories and outcomes he shared in the first book and boils it down to some practical principles on Christian persecution and suffering we can get our faith around. Using Joseph’s imprisonment in Genesis as an example, he asks this shattering question: “Is it possible that God has purposes that are tied to the suffering of His people?”
Considering what Jesus said about persecution we laid out above, I think I would be forced to answer “yes.” Even though it’s shocking. Even though I’d rather it not be true.
Here are a couple more quotes from the Insanity of Obedience that hit me between the eyes:
“Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His ultimate strategy, even today” (page 5).
“Through our pilgrimage, we have been challenged biblically to believe that God can use even unspeakable pain for His purposes. And we are able now to say with confidence that God uses persecution and suffering for His purposes. Exactly why God uses persecution and suffering is a holy mystery, but the fact that He does use persecution and suffering is a certainty!” (page 12)
I could share many more passages and examples from Scripture to support these statements. But I don’t think it would make the truth any less shocking to our systems.
God has chosen to use the suffering of His people to further His purposes.
What does that mean for us here in America? Does it change the way we behave? The way we pray for ourselves and for those who are persecuted around the world? I’m still trying to answer those questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.