Persecuted for the Faith
Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler. But if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?
1 Peter 4:12-17
First Peter was written by the Apostle Peter (1:1) probably during the time of the Roman emperor, Nero, who ruled from 54-68 A.D. Once described by Dr. Merrill C. Tenney in a class lecture at Wheaton Graduate School as the “Hugh Hefner of the Roman Age,” Nero was the consummate playboy.
Tenney (New Testament Times, pp. 283-292) states that Nero was more interested in self-gratification than taking care of government issues. When much of Rome burned in July of A.D. 64, Nero, in order to throw suspicion off himself, needed a scapegoat and chose to place the blame on Christians. John MacArthur (1 Peter, p. 10) believes the letter was written during the short interval between the fire and the beginning of the persecution that followed.
The letter was written to the “temporary residents of the Dispersion” in several provinces of the Roman Empire that are now part of modern day Turkey. These temporary residents had been scattered because of persecutions that arose periodically under the Jews in Jerusalem and Roman authorities. Thus, it is timeless in its application, even in our own day. Persecution seems to know no boundaries with regard to time or locale.
Although Peter was primarily known as the Apostle to the circumcision (Gal. 2:7-8), there is internal evidence that this letter was written primarily, though not exclusively, for a Gentile audience. Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa (Talk Thru the New Testament, p. 471) cite as evidence the following: “They were called ‘out of darkness’ (2:9), and they ‘once were not a people of God but are now the people of God ‘(2:10). Their former ‘aimless conduct received by tradition from [their] fathers’ was characterized by ignorance and futility (1:18; cf. Eph. 4:17). Because they no longer engage in debauchery and idolatry, they are maligned by their countrymen (4:3-4). These descriptions do not fit a predominately Hebrew Christian readership.”
The letter contains four sections: the recipients’ standing in Christ (1:1-2:12), submission in Christ (2:13-3:12), suffering in Christ (3:13-4:19), and serving in Christ (5:1-14).
Persecution does not usually command a lot of our attention in America, primarily because we do not suffer persecution like that endured by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other nations. We simply don’t think about it that much until some shocking story in the news arrests our attention.
Yet persecution–in some form or fashion–has been around since the beginning of time:
- Cain & Abel
- Egyptian persecution of the Hebrews
- Old Testament Prophets
- Saul—persecutor (pre-Damascus Road experience)
- Saul (Paul)—persecuted (post Damascus Raod experience)
- Stephen (Acts 7)
- Other disciples (Hebrews 11, etc.)
- Early church (http://www.bible-researcher.com/persecution.html)
- John Hus, Wycliff, and others
However, persecution is not a relic of the past. Persecution is still a heartbreaking reality in many places around the world today—places like Iran, China, Myanmar, etc. (See http://www.persecution.com/ and http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33384 for more modern day examples.)
Several of the individuals and people-groups mentioned above died as a result of the persecution they endured. Not all, however, were martyred for their faith.
But all shared the same basic characteristics set forth in the introduction to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (p. 5): “In [the martyr] we behold a spirit upheld, not by the motives of vanity, self-sufficiency, or indifference, but by the simple power of truth; we witness a soul so under the influence of good, that evil, even in its most cruel form, cannot dim its beauty, but serves as a contrast to heighten its luster. Here is self-sacrifice, springing not from pride, but from humility; founded not upon ignorant prejudice, but upon a faith based upon conviction; arising not from hatred or contempt for man, but from the love of God. Truly theirs was the victory that overcame the world, even their faith—a faith which, accepting the future as a true inheritance, enabled them to give up for Christ’s sake houses and lands, children and relationships, yea, and their own lives also, rather than be false to their conscience and their God. The history of Christian Martyrdom is, in fact, the history of Christianity itself; for it is in the arena, at the stake, and in the dungeon that the religion of Christ has won its most glorious triumphs.”
- Persecution to be expected by believers
- Because of faith in Christ—John 15:20-21
- Because of bearing His name—Luke 21:12
- Because the end is near—Luke 21:12
- Because of a godly life-style—2 Tim. 3:12
- Why persecution exists
- Hatred toward Christ—John 15:20-24
- No knowledge of God or His Son—John 16:1-3
- Attitude of arrogance—Psalm 10;2
- Misplaced zeal—Acts 26:9-11; 13:50; 14:2
- Response to persecution by the believer
- Don’t be surprised by persecution—1 Peter 4:12
- Rejoice in the persecution—1 Peter 4:13-14; Matt. 5:11-12
- Give glory to God—1 Peter 4:15-16
- Commit yourself to God—1 Peter 4:19
- Demonstrate patience—1 Cor. 4:12
- Pray for those who persecute you—Matt. 5:44
- Bless those who persecute you—Rom. 12:14
- Pray for deliverance—Psalm 7:1
Those of us who are blessed to live in America know little, if anything, about real persecution. For the most part, ridicule, taunts, and heckling are the extent of what we experience.
Will it remain that way? Many believe it will not—that there will come a time, maybe not far off in the future, when persecution in America will be ramped up. Whether or not that happens, wisdom dictates that we be prepared so that, if it comes, we are not taken by surprise. In the meantime, we owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ in other lands to pray for them and do what we can to assist them.
What Can One Person Do?
- Pray regularly for those around the world who are suffering persecution.
- Financially support organizations (like Voice of the Martyrs) who keep us informed about those suffering persecution.
- Invite someone who has been persecuted (or someone who has worked with those who are being or have been persecuted) to speak on the subject in your church.
- Form a group in your church that has as its purpose to study the issue of world persecution and keep the church informed on what is happening.
- When you become aware of a brother or sister in Christ who is being persecuted in some foreign land, write to the State Department asking them to work with the government in that land to seek freedom for that person.