The grand design of Christian Persecution

(Article written by Mike Burnard from dia-LOGOS. Used with permission.)

Today, in an age of unprecedented freedom and a global pursuit for democracy, more than 3 out of 4 people in the world still live in countries where there are restrictions on sharing the Gospel of Christ.

The central theme for Christians living in the first century after Christ was based on the words of Christ Himself: Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

The early Church knew no other faith. They lived it, they believed it and they proclaimed it.

The central theme for the global Church in the 21st century is, believe it or not, exactly the same: Blessed are the Persecuted.


Persecution  today

According to the Washington Times, Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today with more than 100 million martyrs who paid the ultimate price for what they believed during the so-called modern 20th Century. More people have died in circumstances related to their faith in that century than in all the 20th Century wars combined.

Today over 360 million Christians (that is 1 out of 7 Christians globally) endure the reality of being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. If all the Christians who are persecuted are put in one country it will be the third largest country in the world – after India and China, and bigger than the USA.

North Korea has been the greatest persecutor of Christians for the past 11 years with Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan completing the list of the top ten nations most closed to the Gospel of Christ in 2023 (Open Doors).


The need to recalibrate

But instead of feeling a sense of sadness or sympathy for those that share the cross of Jesus, the Church in “freedom” should recalibrate our theologies with Matthew 5 and understand the blessings of persecution and the Biblical role of suffering within a mission context. There is no doubt that the Church in the west need the persecuted Church to a far greater extent than they need us.

Paul understood this Biblical principle and declares boldly that, because salvation came through the cross, it therefore has to be displayed through the cross.  In Colossians 1:24  Paul writes a life changing truth: And now I am happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I am helping to complete what is still lacking of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the church.

John Piper says the following of this Scripture:
‘Paul’s self-understanding of his mission is this: That he is called by his suffering to complete the afflictions of Christ on the cross. That’s a design. This does not mean he atones for anybody’s sin or that Christ’s atoning death was in any way deficient. It means this: That the afflictions of Christ, acted out by Him in fully atoning worth are meant to be displayed and portrayed by His suffering Church for the ingathering of the nations. The one thing lacking in the sufferings of Christ Jesus is that His fully atoning love offering needs to be presented in person through missionaries to the peoples for whom He died. And Paul says, “I do this in my sufferings. In my sufferings I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”‘

This means that Christ intends for the Great Commission to be a presentation to the nations of the sufferings of His cross, through the sufferings of His people. That’s the way it will be finished. If you sign up for the Great Commission, that’s what you sign up for.

John Piper concludes as follows:
‘More and more I am persuaded from Scripture and from the history of missions that God’s design for the evangelization of the world and the consummation of His purposes includes the suffering of his ministers and missionaries. To put it more plainly and specifically, God designs that the suffering of his ministers and missionaries is one essential means in the joyful triumphant spread of the gospel among all the peoples of the world.’

The persecution of saints across the globe fulfils a grand design. The freedom of others completes the picture. Our freedom must restore the equality and our abundance will have to be for their benefit.


Standing in the gap

The Church in freedom has no option but to stand in the gap for that “part of the body” that is experiencing pain (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is not a command, neither is it an option or a request – it should be natural.

Make the suffering Church a vital part of your spiritual life.  Expose yourself to the modern-day heroes of faith. If at all possible, visit a closed country sooner than later and introduce your family to those who have been through the University of Life. You will not regret this.

Praying for the Persecuted Church should be a daily habit. Here are some guidelines as we intervene on behalf of that part of the body that is in pain (1 Corinthians 12:26):

  1. Hebrews 13:5 – Pray that persecuted believers will sense God’s presence.
  2. 1 Corinthians 12:20, 26 – Pray that they will feel and know their connection with the Greater Body of Christ.
  3. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 – Pray that they will experience God’s comfort when their family members are killed, injured, or imprisoned for their witness.
  4. Colossians 4:3 – Pray that they will have more opportunities to share the gospel.
  5. Philippians 1:14 – Ask the Holy Spirit to give them boldness to make Christ known.
  6. Matthew 5:44 – Pray that they will forgive and love their persecutors.
  7. Acts 9:25 – Pray that their ministry activities will remain undetected by authorities or others who wish to silence them.
  8. Acts 5:41 – Pray that they will be able to rejoice in their suffering.
  9. Ephesians 6:17 – Ask the Lord to refresh them through God’s Word and help them grow in their faith.
  10. Jude 20-25 – Pray that they will be strengthened through fellow believers.


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