Sometimes when preachers share the Gospel, they make the mistake to present living for Christ as trouble free and without adversity. However, that is not the reality of life and certainly not what the Bible says. Throughout history, believers were persecuted for their faith. This was true of Old Testament prophets, of the Lord Jesus Himself, His disciples, as well as the first Church. And persecution is still happening in many parts of the world right now. According to Open Doors, Christian persecution is higher today than at any other time in modern history (Open Doors). So, what exactly does the Bible say about facing hardship? How do I discern the difference between suffering for Christ and simply experiencing a season of daily trials and troubles?
Over the next few articles, we will look at the different aspects of facing hardships, suffering and persecution. But first, let us see what the Bible says about the subject, and what the different types of hardships are that believers may be faced with?
1. Persecutions and sufferings go hand in hand with living a godly life
2 Timothy 3:10-12 – But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
When we strive to preach the Word without compromise, instilling into people the purpose of their walk with God and His love, we will certainly encounter to some measure the same afflictions that believers before us endured. ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’. Lystra was Timothy’s home town, so he knew the things Paul suffered there – that he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19–20)! The key to Paul’s endurance was his knowledge that God alone can deliver us from such things. In nations or societies where the laws and cultural values radically differ from that of Christianity, Christians are more likely to face persecution.
2. The world is opposed to all that is godly
John 15:19-20 – If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
Christians should not be surprised that unbelievers in the world hate them. The Lord Jesus Himself warned that this will definitely be our portion if we follow Him. Persecution does not come because we are doing anything wrong, but simply because we carry a different spirit from the world.
3. It is about the Kingdom of heaven
Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
To be persecuted means to be wrongly treated because you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death, His resurrection and His return. Jesus experienced opposition, scorn and persecution. Therefore, we will certainly encounter the same.
4. The contrast of blessing and persecution
Mark 10:29-30 – So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
New believers, especially in closed countries, are instantly rejected by their families and have to flee for their safety. They will either be put out of their homes, or hunted and killed as ‘traitors’. The Bible promises a special reward for these believers in the age to come – ETERNAL LIFE!
5. Suffering unto death may be your portion
Revelation 2:10 – Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
This passage clearly indicates that not all will survive their physical persecution. The encouragement is to endure and remain faithful – whatever the persecution may entail, NEVER DENY CHRIST. Every hardship we can ever endure will pale in comparison to our eternal reward. This life is temporary and every form of persecution as well, even when it leads to physical death.
6. There is sufficient grace to endure any hardship
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This verse does not give any guarantees that we will not endure hardships. Rather, it encourages us that whatever hardship we may face, God’s grace “is sufficient” (in the present tense), underscoring the ever-present availability and sufficiency of God’s grace.
7. Afflictions are appointed
1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 – “that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. 4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.”
Telling believers hardships will certainly come their way is the responsibility of every preacher. Neglecting to do this can cause believers to become disappointed, disillusioned and offended by God and man. No wonder so many are falling away from the faith. This message of the early church needs to also be preached today.
8. Fiery trials cultivate exceeding joy
1 Peter 4:12-14 – Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
Peter warns that suffering is the norm for Christians, not a surprising exception. To suffer as a Christian is a call to rejoice as a disciple of Christ, and to fulfil it in the joy of looking forward to the return of Christ (when His glory is revealed). The early Church had an amazing attitude – they considered being insulted, reviled and persecuted for Christ’s sake a joy and privilege! How far we fall short in this generation.
9. Discern your enemy
1 Peter 5:8-11 – Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
From this Scripture it is clear that Satan is the adversary inflicting hardships upon us. He is constantly on the lookout to ‘devour’ someone. We should be aware of that fact. Peter encourages us to do 2 things – resist the devil and remain steadfast in our faith. These sufferings are normal for every believer. He also says that these sufferings have a wonderful impact on our soul – it perfects us, it establishes us in Christ, it strengthens our faith, and it settles us in His peace. That alone is a glorious privilege.
In the next few articles, we will look at more aspects of persecution: the blessings associated with it, how to handle persecution, and the results thereof. Continue to pray for the persecuted Body of Christ. If they suffer, we suffer with them (1 Corinthians 12:26).