Christianity 201

April 15, 2011

Remember the Persecuted

This is an edited version of a post by Stephen and Brooksyne at Daily Encouragement which I strongly suggest you read in its original form.

“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them” (Mark 13:9).  “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).

Persecution has long been a part of the life of the church practically from the beginning, though it’s difficult for many of us to identify with our persecuted brethren around the world.  This is especially true if we live in free countries where we haven’t yet experienced persecution. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to “remember”. “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). I have memorized this verse and I earnestly desire that God would help me to live in daily prayerful remembrance and intercession for my persecuted brothers and sisters. Frankly, the Holy Spirit convicts me in this regard that I am not more concerned and moved by their plight.

I am thankful for “prison ministries” and we normally use that title to describe ministry to those imprisoned for crimes they have committed, but this is not what the writer of Hebrews had in mind in this text.  He is surely speaking of those who were imprisoned specifically due to their obedience to Jesus Christ.  In many countries of the world this is still happening today.  Just yesterday I read about 200 Christians who were rounded up and imprisoned for their faith. Scripturally, we are called to remember them.

We are also to remember those “mistreated”.  In my judgment the NIV uses far too mild a word here.  The KJV states “suffer adversity” and the literal Greek word “kakoucheo” means “torment.”  It is used only one other time in the entire NT, also in Hebrews referring to persecuted believers through the ages, “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.  The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:37,38).

Imagine with me being in the early church when Hebrews 13:3 was first read. You intently listen as your pastor solemnly reads the letter from the esteemed apostle.  A short time before this you had heard this exhortation, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). You look around and note not only those present, but those who are missing. No, they’re not at a game or the mall or sitting home reading the Sunday cartoons. They’re not even sick.

You look around and see Martha and her children.  Her husband is imprisoned for his faith. You look over and see James whose tongue has been cut out attempting to silence the gospel message that fell from his lips.  Jude is missing; his whereabouts unknown but many suspect he was killed.

You really have no problem identifying with the missing since you know you could be next.  The cost of being a disciple of Jesus is very great.  The sense of the call to “remember” is not that they had forgotten but a solemn reminder of the cost of discipleship. This is a present tense experience for many. I merely consider the brutal treatment of believers in Saudi Arabia and so many places in the world especially where the Muslim religion dominates.

One of the most gratifying aspects of this online writing ministry is the ability to share a message of hope and encouragement with those in spiritual isolation. We regularly get email replies from readers all over the world. We recall a message from a believer living in one of the most notoriously oppressive countries of all. In his email he shared how he had made a soundproof room so he could pray. Most of us cannot imagine living under such danger and confinement.

When the letter to the Hebrews was written very likely the recipients actually knew someone undergoing persecution.  Perhaps they could put a family member’s face on the suffering or had even suffered themselves.  Few of us reading this Scripture passage can identify with the writer, but the early church surely could.  Paul wrote many of his letters from prison.  He recounts his sufferings in some detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.  The early church watched and wept as the budding preacher Stephen was stoned.  They grieved when James was put to death with the sword.  Persecution did not stop with the closing of the apostolic age.  It actually intensified at times and one of the most severe times was early in the fourth century.

All throughout the church’s history our fellow believers have endured persecution.  The 20th century is considered to be the most severe in terms of sheer numbers.  And now, early into the 21st century, it seems that this persecution is intensifying even more.

Let us pray and “remember”.  We are called to seek to identify with these believers, “as bound with them” and “as being yourselves also in the body.” As I seek to identify I consider the unwavering faith required if I were to face persecution and even execution as I persevere in my profession of faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

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