There are large numbers of Christians in the world today who are suffering badly for their faith.
In many countries they are routinely forced into low-paying jobs and denied places in higher education.
It is common too for them to be imprisoned for what they believe. And being in prison is often a far more difficult experience than it is in Western countries. There is frequently severe overcrowding, terrible heat or cold, poor sanitation, and a lack of food and water. And it is not unusual for there to be physical and mental torture as well.
Worst of all, there are some countries where Christians are often murdered for Jesus, sometimes in horrific ways.
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. It must be very difficult, even taking into account the power of God to help. Yet this is the reality for thousands upon thousands of Christians today.
Biblical instructions to help persecuted Christians
The Bible teaches us in a number of places to help Christians who are suffering persecution.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus refers to various good deeds that are typically performed by those who will experience final salvation. And one of these is visiting people in prison (v. 36).
Jesus is surely referring, in large part at least, to visiting those who are prisoners because they are Christians.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews also teaches along these lines.
In Hebrews 10:32-34 he 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.”
The author is clearly encouraging his readers to get back into the habit of associating with and suffering with persecuted Christians.
Later in his letter, in Hebrews 13:3, he 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.”
Again, the author is instructing his readers to sympathise with and help persecuted fellow Christians.
We find the same theme in Paul’s letters too.
In 2 Timothy 4:16 he writes:
“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 on trial for being a Christian. Imagine how he would have felt, being let down by fellow believers in this way.
One of God’s purposes in making these words Scripture is surely to encourage us not to treat other Christians in the way Paul was treated on this occasion.
Another relevant verse in Paul’s letters is Colossians 4:18. Here, at the end of his letter to the church in Colossae, he makes a plea to his readers:
“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 support 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 3:31-35), and if family members are badly treated, the others should rally round to help. We are all parts of one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it (v. 26).
Importantly, we should never think that the persecution of Christians who live in distant countries is not our concern. The Bible makes it clear that believers in the first century 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 first century. 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 getting information is relatively easy, and given the emphasis in Scripture on Christians taking a close interest in each other, there is really no excuse for us not to take an interest in what is going on with our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We should be finding out what is happening to Christians in various places and helping some of those who are in need. And a large part of the help we give should typically be for those who are suffering persecution.
Too often in Western countries there seems to be a self-centred attitude among Christians that only rarely looks beyond the borders of the country in which they live. This is surely displeasing to God, and is strikingly different from the attitude of believers we read about in the Bible.
Steps we can take
So what can we do to help? How exactly do we go about helping persecuted Christians in other parts of the world?
First of all, we can find out information about suffering believers in various places, and then pray fervently and persistently for them.
In this respect, I would like to specifically mention Open Doors (https://www.opendoors.org) and Barnabasfund (https://barnabasfund.org). These are Christian organisations which help the persecuted church, and they are excellent places to get up-to-date information on how to pray for Christians suffering persecution.
Second, we can put pressure on politicians who represent us.
It is a fact that some Western countries, especially the United States, have a lot of influence in world politics. If we pressurise politicians, sometimes this can result in influence being successfully brought to bear on the governments of countries where persecution of Christians is severe.
Again, I would recommend doing this through Open Doors and Barnabas. They often have online petitions and letters to sign, and they know exactly which politicians to contact about any particular issue. Pressurising politicians through these organisations is not a difficult thing to do.
Third, we can help financially.
Once again, I would recommend doing this through Open Doors and Barnabas. A major part of their work is to give practical aid to Christians who are in financial difficulties because of persecution. There is a great need for help of this kind, and these organisations are well able to distribute funds wisely.
Not making excuses
It is, of course, true that not everyone who professes Christian faith is genuinely born again. So it makes sense to think that some of those who experience persecution for the name of Christ will not be genuine believers.
Yet to use this as a reason not to give financial help would be a big mistake.
First, just because someone is not a real Christian would hardly be a good reason for not helping them. We are under obligation to love everyone, including those who are believers in name only. In fact, practically loving those whose faith is not real is likely to lead some to a genuine faith and relationship with God.
Second, we need to recognise that we are usually not in a position to say if professing Christians we don’t know personally are really born again or not. And it would be a terrible error to guess wrongly that someone is not a genuine Christian, and therefore to decide not to help them because of that bad guess.
Third, there are undoubtedly very many genuine Christians among those who are persecuted for professing Christian faith. Any Christian who is in contact with churches in places where persecution is strong will testify to the fact that many of those who say that they are believers really are, and clearly know God in a deep way.
Fourth, it is often precisely because Christians are genuine that they are persecuted. They have dared to stand up for Christ against all the odds humanly speaking, when if they had just stayed quiet they could have avoided persecution.
Refusing to give financial help to the persecuted church, then, because there will be some non-genuine believers among their number, makes no sense.
Asking God what we should do
In view of all that I have said, I would encourage everyone who reads this article to prayerfully consider what they are doing to help persecuted Christians. If you are a Christian, it is not someone else’s job to help them. It is all of ours.
At the very least keep them regularly in your prayers. And ask the Lord if He wants you to help in other ways too.