SYNOPSIS – The disciple is granted the great privilege and honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even violence on behalf of Jesus.
Citizens of western-style democracies often enjoy religious freedom; conversion to Christianity rarely results in substantial personal costs. The “right” to practice religion without interference from the State or society is considered sacrosanct – Something to be defended at all costs. But is this the outlook taught in the New Testament?
In contrast to many contemporary societies, the Apostle Peter warned Christians not to be surprised “by a fiery trial as though a surprising thing were happening.” Trials serve to test our faith:
(1 Peter 1:7-12) – “Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perishes though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen you love; on whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Concerning which salvation, the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them did point, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them.”
When we suffer for Jesus, we “fellowship in his sufferings,” therefore, we ought to rejoice. At the “revelation of Jesus from heaven,” the faithful will stand and “rejoice with exceeding joy!” If now we are “reproached for the name of Christ,” we are “blessed because the Spirit of the glory of God is resting upon us.” To suffer “as a Christian” is a great honor in the Kingdom of God – THE greatest honor – And it brings glory to our Father – (1 Peter 3:10-16, 4:12-16).
Moreover, to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel is “thankworthy with God.” Indeed–:
“We have been called to this very thing, because Christ also suffered in our behalf, leaving behind a pattern that you should follow in his steps” – (1 Peter 2:20-21).
Similarly, the Apostle Paul forewarned the saints residing in the city of Thessalonica that they would suffer tribulation, something to which they were “appointed.” By enduring persecution, they “became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea” that suffered previously at the hands of non-believing Jews – (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
Indeed, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution and trials are the expected “norms” for the life of a disciple. If genuine persecution is rare or nonexistent, perhaps Christians ought to ask – “Why?” – Perhaps something very basic is missing from their lives and witness – (2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus instructed us to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Disciples reviled and persecuted for his sake should “rejoice and exult,” for their reward in Heaven is great – (Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22-23).
Rather than complain or respond in kind to persecutors, disciples are admonished to rejoice and count their blessings when they are put upon for his sake. To be selected by God to suffer for His kingdom is among the greatest privileges a Christian can hope to obtain in this life.
The disciples of Jesus took this teaching to heart. When they were hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to cease and desist, rather than respond in anger or fear, they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” – (Acts 5:41).
When Paul and Silas were beaten and shackled for preaching the gospel, they did not despair or vent rage at their illegal punishment. Instead, they spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God.” They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the kingdom. Later, Paul exhorted the churches at Rome to “exult in your tribulations” – (Acts 16:23-25, Romans 5:3).
To the Philippians, Paul wrote not to be frightened by opponents of the gospel. Their opposition was “a token of their destruction but also of your salvation from God.” Indeed, faithful disciples have been “granted” a great privilege:
“Because to you it has been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” – (Philippians 1:29).
Paul considered suffering for the gospel a gracious gift from God and equated it with the grace that God grants to repentant individuals. Attitudes like this can only come from a heart enlightened by Jesus and the Spirit – They are contrary to the ways and the wisdom of the present age:
(1 Corinthians 1:17-18) – “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void. For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”
The understanding of suffering taught by Peter and Paul was derived from the teachings of Jesus, who was and is the ultimate example of enduring unjust suffering in obedience to God, THE pattern for how his disciples are to respond to persecutors:
(Philippians 2:5-10) – “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him and gave unto him the name which is above every name.”
Isaiah prophesied that the Suffering Servant of Yahweh would be “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” He would not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor would anyone hear his voice in the streets; he would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.” His conduct stands in sharp contrast to the loud protests raised by too many professed Christians at the slightest provocation or perceived threat to their “rights” – Real or imagined – (Isaiah 53:7, Matthew 26:63, 27:12-14).
Jesus exhorted us to “love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us,” and to extend mercy to our “enemies.” Mercy given to opponents is precisely how a disciple emulates the Father and becomes “perfect” just as He is:
(Matthew 5:43-48) – “You have heard that it was said, You shall you’re your neighbor and hate your enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the same? You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved respect for his “civil rights,” he did. But he came not to be honored or defended, but “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Rather than assert his “rights,” in obedience to God, he died a horrific death for us even when we were still “enemies” of God. This is the ultimate example of what it means to be HIS disciple – (Matthew 20:20-28, Romans 5:10).
When an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” But he did the unexpected. Rather than join Peter in an act of self-defense or defiance, he rebuked the hot-tempered disciple and commanded him to sheathe his sword. Instead of violence or anger, he healed the man’s severed ear, one of the very men who came to arrest the righteous servant of God and the Messiah of Israel – (John 18:10-12).
Interrogated, beaten, and reviled by the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. When suffering on the cross, he prayed to his Father – “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Though he suffered horrifically at the hands of evil men, Christ “did not sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth, when reviled he did not revile in return, though suffering he did not threaten, but instead surrendered to Him that judges righteously” – (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:321, Luke 23:34, 1 Peter 2:22-23).
When evil is perpetrated against believers, they must not respond in kind. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained–:
(1 Corinthians 4:11-13) – “Until this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and are wanderers and toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we hold on, being defamed, we beseech.”
New Testament teachings on suffering are contrary to modern beliefs about inviolable individual “rights.” The man who wishes to follow Jesus must daily, “Deny himself, take up his cross and follow after him.” Self-denial is the voluntary surrender of the very things to which is entitled by “right,” including the loss of liberty, and life.
Although contrary to the wisdom of this age, the disciple of Jesus is graciously granted the great privilege of enduring insults, hatred, and even violence on his behalf.