Published August 12, 2004
1 Peter 3:13-17; 4:1-3, 12-16, 19
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, August 29
If you travel I-75 into Atlanta at 6:30 a.m., you’re not surprised at the number of people who are trying to get to the same place you are ... work! With the number of people that reside in the Atlanta area, it’s no wonder that it could take an hour to go a few miles. I’ve been told that people who travel the interstate system around Atlanta are accustomed to this kind of traffic and are not surprised at the congestion.
Similarly, Peter tells his readers not to be “surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).” Basically, Peter is saying that if you are a Christian, then suffering and persecution comes with the territory.
There are many types of persecution. According to FaithWorks, the following degrees of persecution are possible for those that practice their faith: disapproval, ridicule, pressure to conform, loss of educational opportunities, economic sanctions, shunning, alienation from community, loss of employment or property, and physical abuse. In many foreign countries, torture and death are two very real possibilities for the child of God. If you are vocal about your faith, then you know what it means to be persecuted in the ways mentioned above.
Our culture seems determined to persecute Christians at every opportunity. The moral relativism of our day places the zealous Christian in a precarious position. Because we espouse a belief in absolute truth, and consider moral relativism to be the chant of liberals, we open ourselves up to be misunderstood and labeled, uneducated and ignorant. Josh McDowell writes in Beyond Belief To Convictions, “Our culture is less inclined to believe in the existence of absolute moral truth than ever before. Before September 2001, Barna’s research revealed that only four out of ten adults (38%) believed there is absolute moral truth that does not change according to the circumstances.”
We are persecuted because we believe in the absolute truth of the Word of God and try to live according to its standards. And as we try to live according to Scripture and attempt to elevate our lives above our postmodern society, this puts us in the crosshairs of unbelievers and carnal Christians who call us religious fanatics.
Peter emphasized the importance of all believers defending their faith. In my opinion, the best way to defend the faith is to live the faith. Your actions, attitudes, and associations go a long way in what you believe about Jesus. In a sense, the way that you live your life both defends the faith and invites persecution.
One illustration of what I’m talking about is the life of Martin Burnham. Less than a week before he was abducted by Muslim guerrillas on the Philippine island of Palawan, the New Tribes missionary led a Wednesday evening service at Rose Hill Bible Church in his small hometown outside of Wichita, Kansas. The topic of his devotional was “Follow thou me,” taken from the gospel of John. As Martin spoke of following Christ, little did he know that his commitment to follow Jesus would lead to his martyrdom. Throughout the 376 days of the captivity and persecution of him and his wife, he never considered giving up his faith or giving in to fear. Just before the Philippine raid on the kidnappers that held the Burnhams and others, Martin and his wife of 19 years, Gracia, huddled together in a hammock under a makeshift tent. At that moment, Martin said to his wife, “The Bible says to serve the Lord with gladness. Let’s go out all the way. Let’s serve him all the way with gladness.”
The two then prayed together, recited Scripture, and sang. As the assault on their position began, and the bullets began to fly, Gracia was struck in the leg and Martin received a mortal wound to the chest. What a great demonstration of faithfulness to God in the face of persecution and suffering!
Do you have that kind of faith? Don’t the lives of missionaries like the Burnhams inspire you to stand against your persecutors and realize the persecution you are experiencing pales in comparison to what other believers around the world are undergoing? For example, can you say that you have the kind of devotion to Jesus that you would risk losing everything for Him? The believers in Romania have that kind of God-inspired courage.
Speaking to an American audience about his experience in Romania, pastor John Oros said that when people would come forward after a worship service there to receive Christ, they were told that it was good for them to want to be a Christian, but there was a price to be paid. He said that the typical response to young converts would be, “It is really nice that you want to become a Christian, but when you give your testimony in a crowd, there will be informers there who will jot down your name. Tomorrow the problems will start. You better count the cost. Christianity is not easy. It’s not cheap. You can be demoted. You can lose your job. You can lose your friends. You can lose your neighbors. You can lose your kids who are climbing the social ladder. You can even lose your life.” Oros said that most of them would reply, “If I lose everything but my personal relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, it is still worth it.”
That is what Peter was trying to say. Persecution and suffering will come if you are living for Jesus, but stand firm, don’t be ashamed, and give glory to God!
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