Christianity 201

November 9, 2014

Rejoicing in Persecution

 NIV I Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

This morning at church we observed the International Day of Persecution. When we think of some of the news stories we’ve been tracking in the last few years, even more so the last few months, and especially even in the last few weeks, it may seem odd that IDOP organizers chose the theme “Rejoicing in Hope.”  Rejoicing?  Here’s an explanation:

Rejoicing in Hope

Romans 5:1 – 5 

Through him, we have also obtained access by faith
into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
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.

Today, Christians in regions of the world face some of the worst persecution in history. It is difficult for Canadians to imagine the day-to-day sufferings of those who live in countries where religious freedom is not regarded by their governments or neighbours. Imagine facing threats of false accusation and imprisonment, injury and harm to you or your family, attacks on businesses and homes, and even threats of death–all because of your faith in Christ?

Rejoicing in Hope IDOPHow do our brothers and sisters cope with such conditions? How can their faith remain strong when it costs them so much? God alone empowers them to do so. We are humbled and encouraged as we witness their courage and obedience.

Often we ask, “What can we do to help them?” What does God call us to do? We can be the tool He uses to encourage them through our prayers. Many are the testimonies from persecuted believers who say they find hope knowing that their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world raise a voice of prayer for them—praying that God give them strength and protect them. They find hope knowing that we have not forgotten them.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is: Rejoicing in Hope based on Romans 5:1-5.

“… We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

For every Christian, regardless of our circumstances, hope is found in the promise that one day we shall see Christ face-to-face. Knowing that death will not be the final word gives us great “Hope.” Ultimately, we shall see suffering replaced with rejoicing, and receive our greatest reward when Christ ushers us into eternal life with Him and says “Welcome home, my faithful servant.” For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters who are imprisoned or who constantly live under the threat of death this is their one focus—this is their “Hope.”

“… 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.”

The world does not understand suffering the way a Christian believer does. “How can you rejoice?” they ask when faced with difficulty, hardship and persecution. We know that it is through our suffering that Christ promises to create in us his likeness—his traits of endurance, character and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts honed and refined in the fire of suffering are deeply imprinted with his likeness, and understand how suffering is used in its development.

“… Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The persecuted often ask that we pray for one thing specifically: that their hearts be filled with love for their persecutors. Loving our enemy as Christ loved us leaves a lasting testimony with those who hate the Christ in us and seek to harm us. Many have come to Christ in the face of this kind of inexplicable, undeniable, selfless Love. It is the stamp of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a believer, to love those who hate us, just as Christ loved us.

This year, we remember and identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering because of their devotion to him. We ask God to protect them and give them courage and perseverance in the face of harm or attack. And we open our hearts and dedicate ourselves to follow their example—to “Rejoice in Hope” in the midst of suffering. We ask that God’s Holy Spirit will do his work in the hearts of his children, to make us more like Christ.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”