One biographer said of Savonarola, the Italian preacher and Reformer, “His preaching was a voice of thunder, and his denunciation of sin was so terrible that the people who listened to him went about the streets half-dazed, bewildered, and speechless. His congregations were so often in tears that the whole building resounded with their sobs and their weeping.” Savonarola was later convicted of heresy and hanged.
Although we don’t like to think about it, faithfulness to God involves persecution in some form or fashion.
Kingdom Faithfulness Entails Persecution
Living godly confronts evil head-on. Though increasing, opposition to and persecution of Christianity in America doesn’t compare to what some believers experience in other countries where Christianity is illegal. Perhaps believers in “Christian” countries are not doing enough for the cause of Christ. Believers who make their views known tend to be persecuted in some form.
Think of Abel and Moses. Abel lived a godly life and was killed by his brother, Cain. Moses, who wanted to identify with his people, had to escape to the desert.
Following God is a costly endeavor, and we do an injustice to teach otherwise. Obedience entails great sacrifice, but results in great rewards.
The forms of persecution vary. We may be asked to cut the quality of our work on the job. We may be asked to do or say something at our job that conflicts with our faith. Our employer may even ask us to lie. We may refuse to listen to off-color jokes or resist sexual advances and face persecution because we do. Our number of friends might diminish because of our godly stand.
Persecution is evidence of our salvation. Paul wrote, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). If we are praised and upheld by unbelievers, something is wrong.
Jesus promises persecution, but he does not say it will be constant. Jesus’ wasn’t persecuted continually, and we may experience times of popularity. Nor does Christ expect or want us to have a martyr complex or become obnoxious to others.
However, we should not be surprised at persecution or conceal our beliefs. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
Persecution can be physical. Many face this, but it has decreased or increased depending on where we reside. The service to God breaks down at this point.
There are also verbal insults. Abusive words from friends or family. God doesn’t call us to be celebrities. Persecution may come in the form of false accusations, such as abusive words spoken behind our backs. Sometimes we cannot defend ourselves, and our reputation may be ruined.
Whatever form the persecution takes, we must remember the persecution is not against us, but the One whom we serve.
Nero, first- century Roman emperor, is famous for his persecution of Christians. He covered them with pitch and set them afire in his garden. Believers were accused of cannibalism because they partook of the Lord’s Supper. They were also accused of sexual orgies because of their celebrations of worship. Additionally, believers were accused of being revolutionaries for claiming Jesus as Lord and were accused of being traitors who set fire to Rome.
Thomas Watson said, “Though they be never so meek, merciful, pure in heart, their piety will not shield them from sufferings. They must hang their harp on the willows and take the cross. The way to heaven is by way of thorns and blood…Set it down as a maxim, if you follow Christ you must see the swords and staves.”
Kingdom Faithfulness Involves a Promise
Jesus said, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We receive a double blessing: happiness and the kingdom of heaven.
Paul wrote, “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
Our blessings come now in the form of comfort, strength, and joy—but they also come later in heaven.
Kingdom Faithfulness Requires a Posture
Jesus, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”
The word means to be overjoyed and rejoice greatly. To skip and jump.
We can because our reward in heaven will be great and because we know godly people before us were persecuted as well.
John Chrysostom preached against sin and in doing so offended the Empress, Eudoxia, and church officials. He was summoned and threatened with banishment. “Sire, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house,” he said. He was told he would be slain. He responded, “Nay, but you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” They threatened to confiscate his treasures, but he said, “Sire, that cannot be, either. My treasures are in heaven, where none can break through and steal.” They finally proposed to drive him away from his friends, but he replied, “That you cannot do either…for I have a friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
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