Last week I received an email from a good friend in upstate New York. He was asking for prayer for a friend who works at a university in the South. It would seem as though the “powers that be” in the university have set to work firing anyone who claims the name of Christ.
I responded to my friend by saying I would pray, but I also noted that in 5-10 years, this will be the norm. No longer will people be hired and fired on the basis of competency and job performance, but on the basis of other criteria, such as religion and beliefs. His response: “sad, but true.”
For Christian’s in America, the “persecuted church” has always been placed in a different category. We pray for them, we give to missionaries who work among them, but the American church (and the “Western church” to branch out a little) is not the same. We have always been free to practice our religion and follow Christ without fear of persecution or government crackdown. But for those who are in tune with current affairs, you will know the landscape is rapidly changing. Many have lost their jobs for identifying as Christian; countless more will.
No doubt, this is a sobering reality. The America you grew up in is not the America of 2021. We lament over the massive changes that affect religious freedom, not to mention other freedoms that are in jeopardy. But as Christians, we don’t lament and grieve as those without hope. God, through His Word and Spirit has equipped us for such a time as this.
In Peter’s first letter to his readers, he says something strange to our modern ears. “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). These words are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago when he wrote them.
Peter’s words remind us of several important things. First, don’t be surprised when suffering and persecution come your way. It is not strange or out of the ordinary. Even though American Christians have been blessed to freely live out their faith for the past 250 years, most of the world has not. As the apostle Paul writes, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
Second, this passage reminds us that our Lord and Master suffered. When we suffer, we suffer as sinners (Romans 3:23). When Christ suffered, however, He suffered as a righteous man completely set apart from sin. Seven centuries before the time of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:9-10). The logic is straightforward. If Jesus suffered, so too will you as His disciple (John 15:18-20).
Third, you are blessed and God is glorified. That is not a typo. You are blessed to follow in the footsteps of Christ! God uses trials and persecution to further your sanctification and to give you endurance (James 1:2-4). Think of the athlete who trains and pushes his body to the limit. In much “pain” there is “gain.” One biblical illustration of this is after the apostles were beat up for speaking “in the name of Jesus,” they left rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Lord (Acts 5:41).
As you know, standing firm in your faith is not easy. Thankfully, God has equipped us with everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No matter how bad things get, you can be a faithful witness for the Lord Jesus Christ!
Let’s remember that we are a forward-looking people. For the believer, the best is yet to come! That is why Paul could say, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Our hope is not that our government will somehow get its act together and return our freedoms. Rather, our hope is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ and His reign and rule.
Persecution will come (Matthew 10:16-33). More and more people will suffer and lose their jobs because of their testimony. But God’s grace is enough (James 4:6). God will magnify His grace and power in the lives of those who stand firm and are bold in their witness for Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may we be found faithful!