“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation -- but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory,” [Romans 8:12-17]
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you,” [Romans 8:9-11]
“Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults,” [Isaiah 51:7]
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil,” [1 Peter 3:13-17]
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good,” [1 Peter 4:16-19]
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name,” [Acts 5:41]
Peter tells us not to fear as the world fears, “Do not be frightened.” Peter was often the spokesman for the apostles. When the Jewish religious leaders warned the apostles to quit speaking in the Name of Jesus, Peter’s reply was, “We must obey God rather than men.” For this, the apostles were tortured, but as they left the scene of this injustice, they rejoiced because they considered themselves blessed to have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (of Christ),” [Acts 5]. How can Christians consider suffering for Jesus’ Name a special privilege?
At one time, our culture considered suffering good for the soul. We embraced an “other-worldly” view of life. We understood that this world is under a curse but there is a real hope in the life to come. However, over the past 150 years, our view of the world has gradually changed from other-worldly to worldly. We once believed (for the most part) in God’s assessment of this world –that it is severely sick and needs the transforming touch of the Great Physician. We understood that mankind is essentially evil in nature unless it embraces the rebirth that comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believed that suffering is a natural part of life –and that suffering actually builds character and draws us nearer to God. Suffering reminds us of our great dependency on God to inherit eternal life. But in recent times, we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Rather than suffering for the Name, we have actually believed that the Gospel provides a life without suffering –and then act confused when tragedy seems to come. An accurate assessment of Christians in the West by Christians who live in areas of the world that are “flash points” for persecution is the question they often pose, “Why do American Christians think they are exempt from suffering?” Why would our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world make such a statement? Because it is often true. We tend to think that our American “brand” of Christianity somehow isolates and protects us from suffering –when in all actuality, whenever the Church (wherever it is) stands for the Name, Satan attacks. And Christians find themselves asking the question, “Am I doing something wrong? Is God displeased with me? Surely He doesn’t want me to suffer. I’m so confused.”
You can see the transformation of our culture in the hymn writing. In hymns that are older than 100 years old, people like Horatio Spafford wrote hymns like “It is Well with My Soul,” when confronted with horrible tragedy. But much of the hymn writing in the 20th century shifted from the truth of suffering and the need to overcome this world in Christ to an “isn’t life grand” philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, life really is wonderful because Jesus if our Savior. However, Jesus did not promise peace for His people in this life, He promised a sword. He told us that in this life we would have trouble, but He also left us with the hope that we could trust in God and also trust in Him in the midst of suffering.
The enemy knows that he can intimidate us into extreme inactivity. He knows that if he intimidates us in just the right way, he can isolate and eliminate us, one church at a time. If he can scare us enough that we lose our desire to testify to the Name, then he believes he can defeat us and overcome the Church of God. However, the apostles, the early Christians, and our brothers and sisters throughout the world who long for a better hope in the next life rather than the bitter disappointments of this life all rejoice when suffering comes.
Jesus tells the church in Smyrna:
“I know your afflictions and your poverty -- yet you are rich!… Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
I think we should not fear persecution, but rather fear what happens to us when we think we are exempt from persecution. To love this world means to reject the truth of Christ. Affluence is a deadly enemy for many Christians. We have become too confident in what we have. The church in Ephesus was told that they had lost their first love, apparently because they had fallen in love with the world [Revelation 2:1-7]. By the world’s standards, many in Ephesus were rich. But Christ saw them as poor. However, the Christians in Smyrna were enduring horrible persecution, many of whom lost all that they had –family, possessions, status and honor, yet Jesus had absolutely no words of rebuke or condemnation for the Christians at Smyrna. Rather, He said, “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!” Christians, it is good to suffer for the Name. Love for this life means death. Love for our Savior may mean suffering in this life, but it certainly results in REAL LIFE WORTH LIVING!
Now imagine the power of a church that truly does not fear death but rather takes the realization of the hope we have to overcome death and puts it into action! Imagine a church that feels so confident in Jesus and the need to suffer for His Name that it’s willing to take risks to testify to the greatness of our God and Savior. We fear failure. We fear trying something and then suffering the backlash of what people might say if we stand for Jesus and then seemingly fail. But I’ve been around long enough to know this: When Christians are faithful and put all of their hearts into serving the Lord, even when things seem to fail, “WE KNOW THAT IN ALL THINGS GOD WORKS FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM, WHO HAVE BEEN CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE,” [Romans 8:28]. This means that God uses absolutely EVERYTHING that we do for His Name and uses it for the Kingdom –whether we see the results of this right away or not. Our confidence does not flow from immediate results; our confidence flows from the One who’s making the promises to us! And a church that is full of confidence, and, yes, is willing to suffer for His Name, is UNSTOPPABLE.
To overcome this world, we need an honest assessment of what we truly love. If we love our Savior enough to testify about Him, even if that might result in suffering, then we become truly invincible. But if we fear what we might lose in this life if we take Jesus too seriously, we won’t really experience abundant life. But if we lose our love for this world and trust fully in our True Friend, the First and the Last who was dead but is now alive forever more, we overcome this world by the power of the Spirit of God, who also brought Jesus back from the dead. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death…”
Love in Jesus,