2 Timothy 3:10–17
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Paul didn’t try to pretend that being a follower of Jesus is easy. In his second letter to Timothy he warned that everyone will suffer persecution. If you want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will suffer persecution.
Now that doesn’t sound like a great advertisement for becoming a Christian if you aren’t one already. Indeed, from the world’s way of looking at things it is a bad deal. But Jesus said it is actually a good deal. If you look at things in the long term, it’s the best deal. In fact, it is a way to be blessed by God. And it’s the way God defeats evil.
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:11)
The deep truth of this promise is experienced by people who have been persecuted for following Jesus. An Egyptian who converted to Christ and was persecuted discovered this. He said later:
“In great suffering you discover a different Jesus than you do in normal life… Pain and suffering bring up to the surface all the weak points of your personality. In my weakest state, I had an incredible realization that Jesus loved me even right then.”
Today is the first Sunday of November. This is the month when each year we pray for persecuted Christians around the world. International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a global outpouring of prayer that we in Jinju are part of.
What do we mean when we talk about persecution? Open Doors has this definition.
“Christian persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals because of their Christian faith.”
Persecution includes physical abuse, torture, rape, mutilation, destruction of property, imprisonment and murder.
It can also be cultural and societal discrimination, family excommunication, loss of job or loss of income. Persecution might take the form of loss of family and friends, the inability to marry, or prevention of education. It comes in many many other shapes as well.
If any of these things happen to you because of your faith, you are being persecuted. If they happen to you for other reasons, you aren’t being persecuted for your faith.
For the third year in a row, last year the persecution of Christians worldwide reached another record high. The primary cause was Islamic extremism, but ethnic nationalism comes a close second. Open Doors says 2016 was the worst year ever in modern times.
For the fourteenth year in a row, North Korea is the worst country in the world to be Christian. The situation worldwide is deteriorating and other countries are starting to rival this extreme level of persecution. In particular, persecution has exploded in countries in South and Southeast Asia.
Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution. Last year, Pakistan rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence, exceeding even northern Nigeria. With persecution rising sharply in their nations, Bangladesh, Laos, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have joined the list of shame for the first time.
India rose to its highest rank ever, No. 15, amid the continued rise of Hindu nationalism. An average of 40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed. Of the 64 million Christians in India, approximately 39 million experience direct persecution, according to Open Doors.
Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheading, rape and even death as a result of their faith.
Every month, hundreds of Christians are killed for their faith in Jesus. According to estimates, persecution of Christians claims more than 150,000 lives every year. Some 200 million Christians face persecution on a regular basis. Every month, 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed.
What are we to do? How should we react to this information? Are we to be depressed because we aren’t being persecuted? Should we raise up an army to defeat the persecutors? Should we feel angry or sad? Is it God’s will, so we should just accept it?
Those who are being persecuted say that the reaction they seek from you is to pray for them.
They want our prayers, because our prayers are the most effective thing. But they don’t want us to pray for the persecution to stop. They want us to pray that they will have the faith to endure and win the great prize.
One Chinese church leader, who spent 23 years in prison, once said this to Christians who did not face persecution: “I was pushed into a cell, but you have to push yourself into one. You have no time to know God. You need to build yourself a cell, so you can do for yourself what persecution did for me – simplify your life and know God.”
They are worried about us. They are worried that we are lazy Christians. They see how God has blessed them through persecution. They ask us to pray that they would continue to shine for Jesus and share their testimony to their persecutors with boldness. They ask us to pray that despite difficult trails, they would continue to have perseverance, endurance and persistence.
Paul wrote to the Philippian believers of the great victory God won through his persecution. Turn now with me to Philippians 1:12–14.
“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.”
The unintended result of persecution is that the true church of Jesus Christ continues to grow and spread.
There are believers in North Korea even though they have been the most persecuted of all believers for 14 years. The church is growing in China. The world’s fastest growing church is in the most unlikely place – Iran. Despite – or maybe because of – horrific persecution, the number of Christians in Iran has shot up from around 500 in 1979 to hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, today.
The second fastest growing church is reported to be in Afghanistan.
The church is growing fastest where it is persecuted. Persecution does not kill the church.
But our prayers are a vital part of supporting and strengthening our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. This month is so important for God’s work on earth. Praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters is not a waste of time.
There is only one church. We are all members of one body. We are the body of Christ. It is in fact the body of Christ that is being persecuted, not individuals.
Where is the church shrinking? It is shrinking where the believers are comfortable and free. Where they aren’t putting all of their trust in Jesus. Where they aren’t united as one body.
There is only one church, and we are all members. We are called to pray for this one body to be healthy and for it to grow. We urgently need to pray for those parts of the body that are in trouble, having their faith tested in extreme ways.
All of us together are Christ’s body, and each of us is a part of it.
These people we call the persecuted church are people just like us. Part of the same body. We need to pray for them. It weighs on them when they know the police are after them, but it also weighs on them when they can’t feed their families.
It is written in James 5:16 – “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
- Pray persecuted believers would have access to a Bible.
- Pray they have the courage to remain in their homeland.
- Pray for believers who have been rejected by family and friends. Pray that God would surround them with a new Christian ‘family’ who loves them and supports them emotionally and physically.
- Pray for God to be an advocate for women who are socially vulnerable or have lost the custody of their children because of their faith.
- Pray that God would provide persecuted believers with jobs and safe places to live.
- Pray persecuted believers would know the hope God gives (Ephesians 1:18).
- Pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen them (Ephesians 3:16).
- Pray persecuted believers would know how much God loves them (Ephesians 3:17).
- Pray they would know how to share the gospel (Ephesians 6:19).
- Pray persecuted believers would fearlessly tell others about Jesus (Ephesians 6:20).