Matthew 5: 10-12
Do you feel that we live in a society where Christians are persecuted for their faith?
Before I directly address that question, I want to share what Christian author Philip Yancey said recently in an interview with CNN.
I remember being in China one time... with the underground church there. People had to sneak in, and they could have been arrested just for attending. And we were talking about praying for the government, which was persecuting them.
I asked them, "How do you pray for the government?"
They said, "We pray that we can bear the persecution."
I asked them, "You don't pray that they would stop, that you'd get a change in government?"
They said, "No, that's up to God. We're here, and our job is to demonstrate our faith in the midst of persecution."
Wow. Now that is steadfast faith in the face of severe persecution.
Christians in many countries face this sort of persecution: threats of violence, imprisonment, economic loss. Those threats might come from other individuals or from their governments. Either way, I figure any persecution I suffer is small by comparison.
That gives me a new perspective on persecution. Not to say that we American Christians don't suffer at all. I think we can fit into part of what Jesus talked about in his Beatitude on persecution in Matthew 5: 10-12, when he talked about verbal abuse:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let me refocus us away from the type of persecution to our response to persecution. That's the part of Yancey's story that truly struck me. The Chinese Christians he met did not take the stance of being victims. They did not assert their rights and push back. They did not even pray for the persecution to subside.
Instead, these Chinese Christians followed Jesus' instruction to "rejoice and be glad." They focused on their faith and on demonstrating it in whatever way they could. Perhaps they could not demonstrate it as publicly as they would have preferred. But they could keep risking to secretly attend church. They could demonstrate the qualities of faith, the Fruits of the Spirit, in all their interactions with others. They could have chosen to run away from God in order to save themselves; instead, they're focusing on running to the God who saves them!
So when we feel put upon when others persecute our Christianity, let us not pronounce ourselves as victims. Instead, let's "up our game," as they say in sports. Instead of being sullen or angry, let's rejoice and be glad. Let's grow deeper in faith. Let's follow Christ's command to love even our enemies and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let's demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - the Fruits of the Spirit. Let's do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
That's how we truly "win," if you want to call it that. We win because God has already won by doing all the hard work of salvation. We win because we're doing what Jesus commands us to do, not what we individually think is best. We win because our loving kindness and steadfast display of faith just might make someone say, "I want some of that," and we save another soul in the process.
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