PERSECUTION: GOD WILL HELP US MAKE IT TO THE END
6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:6-9
In Matthew 24:9-13 Jesus says, …”Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and betray and hate each other…. Because of the increasing wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” In John 15:18-21 Jesus tells us in very clear and very strong language that if the world hated him it will hate us as well. In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul states that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul says that he was persecuted so severely while in the Asia that he did not even want to live. These are just a few of the many, many scriptures on the hatred and persecutions that we, as true believers in Jesus Christ, will suffer, especially as the end draws near. If we don’t ever experience opposition because of our faith, perhaps it is because in our hearts, we really love and belong to the world.
The fact that there are so many scriptures on persecution and being hated for the sake of Jesus is sometimes overwhelming, and frankly are a bit frightening. How can I, a weak, selfish and simple human, possibly make it through that? I cannot stand being rejected or hated at all, so how can I possibly survive and make it to heaven to be with my Lord forever in light of what I will face? The example of Paul’s life is both helpful and daunting. He was constantly being imprisoned, flogged, or stoned, and was even shipwrecked multiple times on his journey together with God – yet he counted everything that was to his benefit as a loss for the sake of Christ because he understood exactly who he was serving. (Philippians 3:7-14). May I, by the grace of God, have the same heart.
The only possible way to make it through intense persecution, remaining in Christ Jesus, is by trust – trust in the one who made us, and who loves us. In John 14:1 Jesus says, trust in God trust also in me. We have to believe in our hearts that the God of all creation, who began a good work in us, will indeed carry it on to completion, to the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Fortunately, there are many scriptures which say essentially the same thing as Philippians 1:6. They are very helpful to me because they remind me that, as I continue to fix my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3), I can be confident that God himself will carry me home by his power and by his strength, and not by my own feeble human efforts.
In John 6:37-40, Jesus says that it is the Father’s will that he should not lose any of those whom He has given to Jesus, and that Jesus will never drive us away. In John 10:27-30, Jesus states that His sheep listen to His voice and He knows them and that we will follow Him. He says that he gives eternal life to us, and that we shall never perish. Jesus then goes on to state that no one can snatch us out of His hands, and that His Father who has given them to Him is greater than all, and that no one can snatch us out of His Father’s hand and that Jesus and the Father are one. That is very comforting. The Father Himself has given us to Jesus – and no one can snatch us out of either of their hands!
In Romans 8:28-39, Paul states that God predestined us to conform to the likeness of his Son, and if God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, or hardship, or persecution? No person and no demonic force can divide us from Jesus, the one who is constantly interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. There is truly nothing that will be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Paul believed these promises and exhibited this trust by his actions, as 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 illustrates. Even in the most extreme moments of suffering, Paul knew that God was with him and had a purpose in that suffering. Paul knew that God’s purpose was to teach him not to rely on himself, but instead to rely, moment by moment, on the living God who made all things and who had an eternal reward prepared for him in heaven.
Paul viewed all of life in light of God’s purpose for him, with no consideration for his own wants or needs. His statement in Philippians 3:7-14, that whatever was to his profit is a loss for the sake of Christ… is one of the most beautiful and powerful sections in all of scripture. It defines the purpose life as it should be defined by one who truly understands what both the Father and the son have done for us. Everything in life was a loss to Paul if it didn’t involve growing in the knowledge of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. Job had that same attitude when he was going through unparalleled suffering. In Job 1:20-22, he stated that, whether the Lord gives or takes away (and this just after his entire family was killed and his wealth destroyed), blessed be the name of the Lord. Only the Holy Spirit can give us that attitude. Lord, help us to trust you and submit to your will like Job and Paul!
In 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 Paul states that Jesus himself will make us strong to the end as we eagerly await His return. Jesus will do this so that we will be blameless on that day. Paul goes on to assure us that God, who has called us into fellowship with the son, is faithful. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-24 Paul states that it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ. He has set His seal of ownership on us, and has put His Spirit in our hearts. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Paul prays that God Himself will sanctify us and keep us blameless until the coming of Jesus, for the one who calls us is faithful, and He will do it. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2-3 Paul says that the Lord is faithful, and will strengthen and protect us from the evil one.
It is deeply encouraging to see that Paul maintains and even grows in faith and hope in the midst of the most severe suffering. As previously stated, he was beaten multiple times, was stoned (and dragged outside of a city and left for dead), was imprisoned, and was even suffering to the point where he despaired of life. Yet in 2 Timothy 1:11-12, Paul states that, despite all of this, he was not ashamed because he knew whom it was he believed and he was fully convinced that Jesus was able to guard what Paul has entrusted to God for the day of judgement. In 2 Timothy 4:18 Paul confidently states that the Lord will rescue him from every evil attack and will bring him safely into His heavenly kingdom.
The greatest example of trusting God in the midst of tremendous suffering is of course the life of Jesus. Philippians 2:5-11 lays out Jesus’ life in that regard clearly and perfectly. That passage sets forth how Jesus chose to step down from His heavenly throne and walk in the skin of man, obeying His Father perfectly, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Because He trusted His Father fully and obeyed him to the very end, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name and that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…to the glory of God the Father.
Another beautifully articulated picture of Jesus’ trust in His Father is in 1 Peter 2:23-24. In that scripture, Peter points out that, while Jesus was hanging cold and naked on a cross, enduring insults from his enemies, and bearing our sins in his body, he did not retaliate. He could have called down 10 legions of angels to avenge him…but instead He entrusted Himself to the one who judges justly, His Father. For He knew that after suffering for a little while, God, in his perfect justice, would restore everything and the power of sin would be broken forever. That is the same attitude I should have. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to build that love and trust into me.
In 1 Peter 1:3-9, Paul makes it clear that, although we are shielded by God’s power, we do still suffer as Christians so that our faith may prove to be genuine. In 1 Peter 5:10-11, Paul states that the God of all grace, after we have suffered a little while, will Himself restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. In 2 Peter 2:4-9 Paul states that the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials, and he points to Lot and Noah as examples. Thus, we do have excellent illustrations of God’s saving power in the midst of deep earthly darkness.
In Hebrews 10:22-23, Paul states that we should hold unswervingly to the hope in Jesus which we have professed, because the one who promised is faithful. In Hebrews 13:5-6, Paul reminds us that God has said, never will I leave you or forsake you. The Lord is my helper I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? In 1 John 5:18 the apostle states that Jesus will keep us safe, and that the evil one cannot harm us. In Jude 1:24, the author says that God is able to keep us from falling and will present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.
The bottom line to all these scriptures seems to be that we will both suffer, and eventually, in God’s timing, be delivered from that suffering. The key is for us to know the scriptures and more specifically, to study the lives of Jesus and Paul. In doing so we will understand that God will deliver us in His time, and in His way. We are not living for this fading earthly kingdom. Instead we live for a glorious, eternal kingdom – one which can never be shaken. I know that I need to pray daily that the Holy Spirit will help me fix my eyes on Jesus and on eternity rather than on myself. Then I will be able to run the race with perseverance and faith. I certainly cannot do it in my own strength. But as Paul’s life illustrates, I truly can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.