When we read the Bible, over and over again we find God’s people suffering persecution.
In Old Testament times the prophets who spoke out against various evil practices were frequently persecuted.
Jeremiah is a special case in point. His willingness to prophesy God’s words of rebuke to
cost him dearly. See especially Jeremiah 11:18-23; 20:1-18;
26:7-15; 32:1-15; 37:11-38:28. Israel
And the New Testament makes it clear that first century Christians often suffered at the hands of various people. See, for example, Acts 4:1-22; 8:1; 9:1-2; 16:22-40; Romans 12:14; 2 Corinthians 11:23-25; Galatians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Hebrews 10:32-34; Revelation 1:9; 2:10, 13; 6:9-11.
In fact, persecution is such a trademark of what following Jesus involves that in 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul even tells us:
‘Everyone who wants to live a devout life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’
Recent persecution of Christians in the UK
In Western countries today persecution of Christians seems to be on the increase. Here are some examples from recent years in the
· A Christian husband and wife who owned a guest house refused to allow a homosexual couple to sleep in the same bed. They were taken to court and fined thousands of pounds.
· The Christian owners of a bakery refused to make a cake celebrating a so-called ‘gay marriage’. They too were taken to court and were judged to have broken the law. At the time of writing an appeal is ongoing.
· A man sharing the good news of Jesus on the street was forced to spend a night in a police cell despite having done nothing wrong.
· A Christian nurse was suspended from work for offering to pray for a patient.
· A teenage Christian girl wanted to wear a ring at school symbolising her commitment to remain a virgin until she got married. She was forbidden to wear it.
· Wearing jewellery in the form of a cross has been banned in many work places.
This list could be extended with many other similar examples.
Severe persecution in many parts of the world
The instances of persecution of Christians that I have mentioned have, in some cases at least, caused real distress to the people involved. I certainly don’t want to downplay them. Nevertheless, even these examples are very mild when compared to what is going on elsewhere in the world.
in recent years, as far as I know,
no Christians have been sent to prison for the faith. Being imprisoned, however, is something that often
happens to believers in many parts of the world. UK
It is also important for us to remember that in many countries the experience of prisoners is nothing like that of prisoners in the West. There is frequently severe overcrowding, terrible heat or cold, poor sanitation, and a lack of food and water. And often there is physical and mental torture as well.
Furthermore, in many countries persecution of Christians does not stop at imprisonment. There are more than a few places in the world where believers are often murdered – martyred – for Jesus, sometimes in horrific ways.
To be martyred is a huge honour for a Christian (although not something that we should seek out; see Matthew ; Acts 8:1; -25). However, the fact that martyrdom is honourable does not, of course, make the murder involved any less brutal or evil.
Those of us who live in the relative safety of the West should try to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where Christians have recently been murdered. Think how it would feel to know that there are people living nearby who may well be plotting to violently kill you. It must be very difficult, even taking into account the power of God to help. Yet that is the reality for thousands upon thousands of Christians today.
Biblical instructions to remember persecuted Christians
Just as the Bible tells us to expect persecution, so it also teaches us to remember our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus refers to various good deeds that are typically performed by those who will end up in heaven. And one of these is visiting people in prison (v. 36). Jesus is surely referring, in large part at least, to visiting people who are prisoners because they are Christians.
In Hebrews 10:32-34 the author writes:
‘But remember the earlier days, when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard and painful struggle. At times you were publicly exposed to insults and sufferings, and at other times you associated with those who experienced these things. You suffered with those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the seizure of your property, knowing that you have a better and lasting possession.’
This passage gives an example that should be followed.
In Hebrews 13:3 the author tells his readers:
‘Remember the prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and those who are badly treated as people who are also in a body’.
In 2 Timothy Paul states:
‘At my first defence no one stood by me, but everyone abandoned me.’
Paul is referring to what happened on one of the occasions when he was put on trial for being a Christian. Imagine how he would have felt, being let down by fellow believers in this way. God’s purpose in making these words Scripture is surely, in part at least, to encourage Christians to stand by those who are suffering for the faith.
Finally, in Colossians , right at the end of his letter to the church in
, Paul makes a plea to
his readers: Colossae
‘Remember my chains.’
I think there are many thousands of Christians today who would say something similar to us if they could.
The obligation we are under
These passages, and others, show us how important it is for us ‘to be there’ for our fellow Christians who are suffering persecution. If we are in Christ, the ties that bind us to each other are strong. We are all part of one spiritual family (Mark -35), parts of one body of Christ (1 Corinthians -27). If one part of the body suffers, says Paul, all parts suffer with it (1 Corinthians ).
Importantly, we should never think that the persecution of Christians who live in distant countries is not our concern. In the New Testament we constantly find that believers took a close interest in what was going on with churches all over the known world. And we should certainly do the same today.
In fact, in a real sense the world today is a much smaller place than it was in the days of the early church. It is possible to fly to the opposite side of the globe in 24 hours, and to communicate with someone there in a matter of seconds. We are therefore much more able to find out what is happening to Christians in various parts of the world than was possible in the first century.
Given that finding out information is relatively easy, and given the emphasis in the Bible on Christians taking a close interest in each other, there is really no excuse for us today not to take an interest in what is going on with our brothers and sisters the world over. We should be finding out what is happening to Christians in far-flung places and helping those who are in need. And a large part of the help we give should be for fellow believers who are being persecuted.
Steps we can take
So, what can we do to help?
First of all, we can pray fervently and persistently in an informed way.
Second, we can put pressure on politicians.
It is a fact that some of the Western countries, especially the
, carry a lot of
influence in world politics. If we
pressurise local politicians to put further pressure on those in higher
authority, sometimes this can result in influence being successfully brought to
bear on the governments of countries where persecution of Christians is severe. United States
Acting in this way will not be for every Christian. But I would encourage everyone who reads this to prayerfully consider if God might want them to be involved in this form of ministry.
Third, we can help financially.
In this respect, I would like to specifically mention Barnabasfund (https://barnabasfund.org) and the equivalent organisation in
North America, Barnabasaid (https://www.barnabasaid.org).
This is an aid agency that helps persecuted Christians who are in financial difficulties that have been caused by persecution. There is a great need for help of this kind and Barnabas is well placed to distribute funds wisely. It is also an excellent place to get up-to-date information on how to pray for the persecuted church.