f you were to walk into the break room of the typical business and ask the employees sitting there to describe the ideal life, how might they react? You'd hear varied descriptions of the "Good life" as each person perceives that life to be. Without question, not a person would describe suffering persecution as his idea of the "Good life." The apostles and first generation of the church didn't consider persecution to be the ideal situation at all, but they did face it as the response of an unbelieving world to their message of Jesus and the resurrection, even when they preached to good news of His victorious resurrection and affirmed that truth by healing many people whom all the medicine of the day failed to heal. No, suffering is not the central experience of the good life, but the apostles and early church held their Lord and His truth in such high regard that they were gladly willing to endure persecution rather than abandon their faith.
e often wrongly think that these people, along with the many brave soldiers of Jesus who died a martyr's death, must have been the strongest people of the century. Neither history nor the New Testament affirms that false notion. Like Elijah (James 5:17), they were men and women who shared all the frail luggage of broken humanity. How then were they able to endure such persecution with--of all the unexpected reactions--joy? And the answer of Scripture lays the power by which they endured such suffering with joy to their God. These people were not polite Sunday morning Christians who put their faith comfortably in the back of the cupboard during the remainder of their lives. They were not the casual drifters who are quite happy to interrupt their lives for a Sunday morning pause. For them, believing in God and serving Him was their whole life. Only when we view our God and our faith walk in this exclusive and commanding way can we begin to understand the power by which the godly endure persecution with rejoicing.
ow might we react to persecution? The question may not be as academic and theoretical as you think. It could happen. A popular reaction of our culture would likely be a loud complaint that it isn't fair. True enough, but Jesus' sufferings for our sins wasn't "Fair" in the light of the human grounds for judging fairness. The sufferings of the apostles and early Christians wasn't fair, but it happened nonetheless. And not a one of them ever raised the fairness complaint against their persecutors. Another common response to the trials of life in our day is to claim that it is all the mysterious workings of some deep, dark group of conspirators whose sole objective is to dominate the world. Psalm 2 records that the rulers in Jesus' day did in fact conspire against Him. However, the whole message of Psalm 2 refutes the typical conspiracy attitudes of our day. While they conspired, God laughed at them! And God went right on with His work, despite them. Belief in conspiracy as we see it typically appear in our day grows out of a bold disbelief in human depravity, Biblical truth regarding man's depravity. If such a conspiracy existed, quite soon one of the conspirators would become so bold in his pride that he'd boast about his success and reveal the conspiracy, or, when the conspiracy faced threats, a weaker advocate would reveal all with the hope of avoiding the judgment of society and of law. You can only believe in one conspiracy after another if you wholly reject the Bible doctrine of human depravity. Sadly, those who have been infected with this sinful disbelief will attempt to break the mold, to escape the endless conspiracy idea. However, they often simply replace one conspirator with another, thus not at all escaping the sinful mold.
ore important to our study of Peter's inspired writings is how Peter taught his readers to deal with life in the trenches, sometimes the trenches of fierce persecution. When Peter himself was beaten and threatened for preaching Jesus just a few short weeks after he had fearfully denied even knowing Jesus, he and the godly people with whom he stood rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer such persecution for Jesus. How did the cowardly fisherman become the transformed bold defender of the faith? How did he escape the steel vice of fear that gripped him on the dark night that Jesus was arrested? He overcame his weakness in the same way that you and I may escape our own weaknesses. Peter didn't discover some secret philosophy that gave him such power. No, the explanation is surprisingly simple. He came to fully believe in Jesus and the resurrection. That belief transformed his life, as it transforms the life of anyone who fully comes to believe this truth. Lip-service to the idea is not sufficient. Imagine attending the funeral of a close friend who--say--died in a horrible accident. You leave the memorial with good thoughts of your friend, but with gloomy thoughts of the futility of life and suffering. Now move ahead three or four days. You are working to regain some normalcy in your life, so you go to the grocery store and shop to refill your shelves and start to get on with life. As you wheel your shopping cart out to your car in the parking lot, you see a man standing a few feet from your car. The profile is compelling. For a brief moment, you think of your dead friend. The similarity between your friend and the profile of this person whom you see is startling, but you think, "No, it can't be." Now ponder this question. How would you react if you walked up to this person and discovered that it was in fact your friend whom you had personally witnessed as dead just a few days ago. But he isn't dead now. He is alive and appears to be quite well. Your friend greets you. He talks to you about things that only you and he knew. You question him about his death. You can't resist the urge to reach out and touch him, just to be sure you haven't been caught in an imaginary dream world. He is real. His voice is your friend's voice. Your friend has arisen from death! Would this experience change your outlook? You can't imagine the impact, can you? Well, the New Testament contains just such a story, but the friend who arose from the dead is not just another friend. He is the only person you've ever known who actually claimed to be God living in human flesh. If you had experienced this kind of first-hand experience of both Jesus' death and resurrection, you can't imagine the ways that it would change your life.
hen Peter narrates his belief in Jesus and the resurrection, along with his experience with two of his fellow-believers with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he reveals a startling conclusion to us. We have a testimony of Jesus and the resurrection that is even more sure than a first-hand experience! Read 2 Peter 1:14-21. We only understand the power that enables believers, possibly you and me at some future time, to rejoice at their suffering for Jesus' sake when we come to grips with the reality of Jesus and the resurrection. It was no myth. It was a fact! When we believe this central fact of the gospel, we will begin to grasp the power that enables frail, weak, humans who believe in Jesus to face torture and persecution for their Lord with joy. Do you struggle with the idea? Do you wonder if you believe that strongly? No surprise. So did Paul and others, but they also show us the way to overcome those doubts. Read Paul's struggle in Philippians 3:8-14. It was not Paul's failures that he needed to forget to gain this life-changing knowledge. It was his successes! Read the list of the things that he shed from his treasure-trove to arrive at this faith. (Philippians 3:3-7) It was the things that he formerly counted as gain that he now realized that he must count as loss. Friends, as long as we live in love for such successes in our lives, the reality of joyful suffering for Jesus will escape us. But when we can--from the heart--count all those successes as loss in comparison to our knowledge of Jesus and the resurrection--His resurrection--we shall realize that, should such a day come, His power will enable us to honor Him in whatever we face.
Suffering is Certain: The Reasons Vary
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:14–16, KJV 1900)
ver time, I have slowly come to realize that various books of the Bible emphasize certain truths. We often read these books without realizing the major emphasis the inspired writer places on his dominant theme. First Peter serves as a good example of this point, for it develops and emphasizes throughout the various factors that relate to our suffering. If you have faced a greater than average number of trials recently, spend lots of time with First Peter. If you are feeling conviction for your sinful rebellion to the Lord and sense that His judgments shall soon appear in your life, read First Peter. In either case, as in many others, you will realize that you are not alone. Others have walked the same path that you now walk. The Lord made a point of not calling “Trail-blazers” who would create a path where none have ever walked and, in a pretense of honorarium to Him, name their new trail with His name. He rather calls followers. He walked the path that we should walk, and He carefully and clearly marked it so that we may frequently check the waymarks and verify that we are on the path that He made for us—and commanded us to walk in it.
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.
Few of us have faced significant reproach for our devotion to the Name of Jesus, so the experience of which Peter writes seems strange to us. You might get just a bare taste of it if you notify your supervisor that you will not report for work next Sunday because you are going to church. You might taste a hint of it if your supervisor directs you to do something that is not altogether upright, and you refuse based on your Christian convictions of right and wrong. Most of us who have worked long in this world have lived through such moments, brief and slight as they are, compared to the intense sufferings that many Christians in the past faced.
e may face reproach for any number of reasons, but our typical response is not happiness, is it? We probably feel highly offended, mistreated, and perhaps under-appreciated at the least. To endure reproach for one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does not automatically produce the happy reaction that Peter here describes. This happy state of mind and heart only comes when our whole being has been so focused on Him that we are full of love and worship to Him for His mercies in our lives. If our heart and faith’s eye are tightly focused on Him, we hardly notice the afflictions of the moment in this brief world. We are set on Him on our pilgrimage through this wild region, to Him and to His—and our—homeland.
ne of the first miracles after Jesus ascended (The first being the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, ten days after His ascension) occurred when Peter commanded a lame man to stand up and walk—and he did. Because of the public display of God’s power in this man’s healing, the leaders of Judah summoned Peter and John to a hearing. The same Peter who was so fearful just a couple months ago now seems fearless as he speaks with boldness and power to the very men who had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. After the rulers threatened them if they refused to stop preaching Jesus and the resurrection, they were released. In our day, sadly often someone who goes through a bitter trial will avoid church. Not these men! The first thing they wanted to do was to find their brothers and sisters and tell them what had happened. And just as quickly, the assembled church began praising God for faithful grace. Notice their words, the closing segment quoted below.
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:29-33 KJVP)
hese first generation believers exemplify the truth that Peter teaches. They discounted the persecution, rejoiced, and prayed for grace to preach with greater boldness.
on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
When the wicked rulers of Jerusalem and Judah saw how steadfastly the disciples preached Jesus and the resurrection, they tried all the harder to speak evil of Him—and of them. And the more they spoke out against Jesus the more those disciples rejoiced and became still bolder in praising and preaching Him all the more.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.
Peter understood a truth that today's superficial Christian doesn't at all grasp. The choice as we deal with our faith in our lives, in our workplace, our families, or our neighborhoods, is not between suffering as a Christian or hiding our Christianity and enjoying the good life. For Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write God's truth, suffering in this life is inevitable. No matter what we do, we cannot escape it. In one form or another, suffering shall invade every life. We can do nothing to permanently and surely avoid suffering. However, we can take bold steps to control why we shall suffer. If we follow the siren song of today's culture, we shall suffer as a murderer (Think of murder in terms of how Jesus defined murder in Matthew 5:21-22, speaking to or about your brother or sister in anger), a thief an evildoer, or a busybody. I've given you a Biblical definition of a murderer from Matthew 5:21-22. Take the time to examine each of the other behaviors in this list and study the Scriptures to find a Biblical definition or description of these traits. You'll find this study quite surprising and rewarding. However, be prepared for a major assault against your pride.
e can avoid suffering for these sinful actions only by not committing those sins. And if you choose to commit the sin, do not complain when you suffer for it. The sinful shifting sand of our present culture manifests itself clearly in the popular attitude that something is wrong only if your action is discovered. Based on this relativistic, sinful idea, you can do just about anything you wish, and the culture will smile politely and approve so long as your wrongs are not discovered and publicized. But if your wrong actions become known, the culture will cluck at you for the wrong.
he Bible affirms a fixed moral code that God gave to humanity, and He has never revised that code. When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, He wrote them in stone, not silly putty. God’s moral governance of humanity is fixed on that moral code. In its broader context in the Law that God gave to Moses, it has been fulfilled and replaced. However, God’s moral code in the New Testament affirms the same moral laws that appear in these Ten “Words.” You may break one of these laws and take the fact secretly to your grave. That secrecy doesn’t in any way lessen the character or the degree of the sin. While humans may never know, God knows, and His Law is the final criteria.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. To suffer is not a disgrace unless the suffering was caused by a disgraceful action. Based on Scripture, being a Christian is the right and honorable thing for a believer in Jesus to be.
he fifth chapter of Acts records an instructive episode in the life of the early church. After the Ananias and Sapphira event, the chapter goes into significant details about the boldness and power with which the apostles preached and healed many who were sick. This was not a charade like some folks in our day that claim to heal the sick, but do not at all do so. They really did heal these people by the kind grace and power of God. Their gracious conduct was quickly noticed by the rulers. Acts 5:17 says that they were filled with indignation, and the marginal reading suggests the word “Envy.” They threw the apostles in prison in an effort to stop their preaching and healing. The Lord delivered the apostles from the prison, and they immediately returned to their good works of preaching and healing. Soon these godly men found themselves back before the rulers. The discussion among the rulers is enlightening. Eventually, the rulers decided that their only action was to beat the apostles, threaten them if they again preached Jesus and helped the hurting, and let them go. How did the apostles react to the beating and threats? Acts 5:41 tells us that they left the gathering of the rulers “…rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41 KJVP)They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name! Think about your present situation in today’s culture. If the local police invaded our church service on a Sunday morning, arrested the preachers, and threatened all, what would you think? And if those preachers eventually showed up and reported that they had been tortured and threatened if they preached Jesus again, what would you think? Would you go to church next Sunday, or would you find a convenient excuse to avoid the gathering? What would the preachers do? These men rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame before wicked men for Jesus’ name. Their reaction exemplifies Peter’s admonition to his readers. He had lived through this event. His words recall his personal experience, and he admonishes others to follow. They all rejoiced at the situation. Not a one of they complained at being mistreated. We read not one word that someone suggested a dark, sinister conspiracy against Christians. They rejoiced! For these men, honoring and obeying God settled the question. They loved Him that much. We should pray daily that such persecution not come, but we should also pray for grace to react as these men did, should the day come? Can we do so? His grace enables those who see Him with the same devotion that these men manifested.
Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church
Worship service each Sunday 10:30 A. M.
Joseph R. Holder Pastor
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