In writing to the Philippians, Paul explains that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse” (NASB, 2 Timothy 3:13) and “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). To gain victory, we are to “continue in the things [we] have learned” (2 Timothy 3:14). Peter also understood that God’s people will be persecuted and he told the scattered Christians that they were not to be surprised at the “fiery ordeal among [them]” (1 Peter 4:12) and that if “anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16). Indeed, it is clear biblical teaching that all who follow the Lord Jesus will suffer persecution and that the experience will glorify God. Sadly, accounts throughout the scriptures, beginning in Genesis with the account of the murder of Abel and ending in Revelation, with the persecution of God’s people, all testify that His people cannot escape from misunderstanding and even hatred by non-believers, even including family members.
TWO SIDES TO THE COIN
Though every coin has two sides, it has the same monetary value whether you present one side or the other to the person at the cash register. In the same way, there are two sides or fates to the Christian’s persecution, and either experience will ultimately glorify God.
One Side of the Coin: Misfortune Fate
Often people go through hard times and unsupported, they may even come to believe that God has forsaken them. In fact, because God seems to be silent, some may be tempted to doubt God’s goodness and even whether He cares or not.
A thick cloud of darkness gathers round, blocking the face of our loving God. One feels alone. God’s apparent silence, coupled with a deep sense of aloneness, can sometimes break the Christian’s heart and cause discouragement. As a result, it is extremely important to trust in God’s providence, to count one’s blessings, and to diligently study and meditate upon His words. When we experience this aspect of persecution, we must claim God’s promises to be able to endure and be faithful till death. Though it is not easy, strength will come from above if we continue to trust God.
A Christian writer says, “at times a deep sense of our unworthiness will send a thrill of terror through the soul, but this is no evidence that God has changed towards us, or we toward God. No effort should be made to rein the mind up to a certain intensity of emotion. We may not feel today the peace and joy which we felt yesterday; but we should by faith grasp the hand of Christ, and trust Him as fully in the darkness as in the light” (Ellen White, The Sanctified Life 90).
There are several biblical examples of those who faced the “misfortune fate”. As an illustration, let us consider Uriah (2 Sam. 11), a man unwaveringly faithful to king and country, whose wife was taken in adultery by his king, and then he himself murdered in the king’s attempt to cover up the horror of his sin.
Uriah’s faithful character
Uriah’s high regard for the reputation of his nation thwarted David’s initial attempt to cover his sin of adultery. When David endeavoured to cover his sins by proposing Uriah rest from the hardships of army life and spend time with his wife at home, Uriah could have accepted the royal privilege, without knowing David’s real intent. Like many of us, he could have considered it to be a scholarship from the king and an opportunity to rise high, yet he decided to be faithful to God. And in spite of Uriah’s faithfulness, God kept silent and watched him go through his painful ordeal, apparently alone at the hottest point of the battlefield, and finally dying in battle.
Did God care about Uriah? The answer is yes. God is alive and ever vigilant for His people, ever watching. However, it is just as true that His thoughts are not ours and that He allowed Uriah’s experience to happen.
The faithfulness and ultimate fate of John the Baptist is another example. Though he preached of the coming Messiah, he never had opportunity to personally witness Jesus’ ministry. He learned of Jesus’ work, only through the account of others. In fact, this same man called by God to declare the Saviour as the Lamb of God, in the gloom and inaction of his prison cell, exposed to the doubts and questioning of his disciples, himself began to experience despondency and doubt (White, Desire of Ages, 214). He was deeply troubled to see that his own disciples were cherishing unbelief in Jesus because of their deep love and loyalty for him. But John would not discuss his doubts and anxieties with his companions and he did not surrender his faith in Christ. Hoping that his disciples’ faith would be confirmed after an interview with Jesus, He sent two of them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we look for another?” In his discouraged state, John also longed to hear some word from Christ spoken directly for himself (White, 216).
When the disciples returned to John and described what they had seen and what Jesus had said, John readily understood their evidence and he had a fuller understanding of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1,2. Without his knowledge of the scripture, John would have imagined cause to doubt and perhaps even questioned why Jesus did not perform a miracle to release him from his prison experience. Because he understood Jesus’ words in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy, John “yielded himself to God for life or for death, as should best serve the interests of the cause he loved” (White, 218). In the end, John experienced freedom from prison when he was beheaded for his faith.
The other side of the coin: fortune fate
On the other side of the persecution coin, there are those who live faithfully and though having suffered for the sake of the gospel; their earthly end is glorious as well as their heavenly end. Though they go through a fiery ordeal, they experience a miracle of God and finally emerge victorious. Biblical examples are Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and the three Hebrew men.
Because this side of the persecution coin (fortune fate) seems to dominate the Christian story, many Christians forget the “misfortune fate” and come to God with the expectation that yes, we may suffer for Christ’s sake, but just as God did for Daniel in the lions’ den or for Joseph in the pit of slavery, God will work a miracle and ultimately relieve us from the suffering we experience today. It is indeed true that God said, “them that honour me I will honour,” (KJV, 1 Sam. 2:30), but how and when this will come about is not our business, but solely His.
Many may be led to give up their faith, believing God has failed them. For this reason, it is imperative to remember that God is still on our behalf, whatever side of the persecution coin we experience. This is why Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego could say with certainty, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire…but even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (NASB, Daniel 3:17,18).
In fact, no matter which side of the persecution coin we may fall on, all Christians, like the three Hebrew boys, experience persecution identically. While in the throes of persecution, neither one knows their fate on earth. They walk with no assurance of earthly rescue or glorification, but the victorious trust God’s ultimate will. For this reason it is imperative that we trust implicitly in God’s holy word to uplift and encourage us through our dark days of persecution.