Recently I spent a week with the leaders of a network of five million believers in China. It is an astounding movement of God, one of several to arise in China despite suppression by the government.
Chinese food is wonderful. Everyone eats communally out of the same bowls of delightful dishes, mostly fresh vegetables
The top leader, who was at our gathering, has spent 16 years in prison for his faith.
Other members of the network have spent various amounts of time in jail. One lady who picked us up at the airport was just released after three months incarceration.
For security reasons I cannot show pictures or give names.
What a privilege to be with such incredible men and women of God.
While I have been privileged to train members of this network for church planting, I felt like they should be training me!
What is their crime? It is the crime of sharing their faith—the same problem we read of repeatedly in the Acts of the Apostles which landed early believers in jail.
One saintly older woman shared how they beat them on the back with bamboo rods. She would try to wear a thick shirt to minimize the pain. Sleep deprivation, interrogation, and forced “confessions” are common.
In spite of all this, there are some five million who have come to faith and joined the underground house churches in just this one network.
What does the Bible say about persecution and what can we learn from these dear believers?
Here are five principles of persecution from Scripture:
1. Persecution is a normal part of being a Christian.
Did these Chinese believers do something wrong? If they were living agreeably, wouldn’t they have favor with people?
Not according to the Bible which says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
It is Christ-like to suffer persecution: “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV)
2. It is an honor and a blessing to be persecuted for Christ.
Jesus said “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV)
3. Persecution sometimes comes from the inside.
Note in the following passage that persecution came from “imposters:” “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:12-15 ESV)
Likewise, in the end times, we can expect persecution from “insiders:” “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14 ESV)
It was religious leaders who engineered the crucifixion of Christ.
Betrayal by religious people, by imposters and even by fellow believers adds another layer of pain in persecution.
4. God uses persecution for our refinement.
“But God shows undeserved kindness to everyone. That’s why he appointed Christ Jesus to choose you to share in his eternal glory. You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm.” (1 Peter 5:10 CEV)
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
The pain of persecution can be lessened when we know we can be matured by it.
5. We must pray for, encourage and assist believers who are suffering.
“But you must defend those who are helpless and have no hope.” (Proverbs 31:8 CEV)
“Remember the Lord’s people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don’t forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them.” (Hebrews 13:3 CEV)
A Final Word: To help support the persecuted church around the world, Carolyn and I financially support the ministry of International Christian Concern. We have no connection to this organization, but believe they are doing wonderful work.
In accordance with the biblical teaching above, I pray regularly for their daily update and recommend you do the same.