Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Nature of Persecution

Dear God-seekers,

In my previous post, I wrote about The Persecution of the Saints, which seems to be on the rise in these last days. Today I would like to encourage you further, by showing you the nature of persecution. In other words, I want to show you how the enemy persecutes the saints.

You see, some may think that in order for someone to claim that the suffering they are experiencing is persecution, they must be under attack as a direct result of ministry activity, such as preaching or evangelizing. However, I will give you some examples from the Bible and modern times that illustrate how persecution does not necessarily have to fit that pattern in order to be considered "religious" persecution.

Consider the way they persecuted Daniel. They knew they could not get him for anything he was actually doing wrong, so far as righteousness was concerned.

Then these men said, "We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God." (Dan 6:5)

He was thrown into the lions den for breaking the law of evil men, not the law of God.

"Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king's injunction, 'Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions' den?' The king replied, 'The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.' Then they answered and spoke before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day." (Dan 6:11-13)

They found a legal loophole to get him thrown into the lion's den, which would have been certain death for him, if God had not rescued him from the mouths of the lions. Daniel was not actively proselytizing among the Babylonians, and that was not the reason he was thrown into the lion's den. He was living a righteous life, which they hated. He was in a high position of power, of which his enemies were probably jealous.

Likewise, when Joseph's brothers threw him into the “pit” and sold him into Egypt as a slave, it was not for anything he had actually done wrong. Nor was it for preaching the gospel or conducting evangelism. It was for being the "dreamer", who was favored by their father favored above them all, and who dreamed of being ruler over them.

"They said to one another, 'Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, "A wild beast devoured him." Then let us see what will become of his dreams!'" (Gen 37:19-20).

Their motive was jealously. “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt." (Ac 7:9a, NIV).  They knew that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of them, and had given Joseph a robe of many colors, but they did not receive one. So they did not persecute Joseph for actively preaching righteousness or prophesying, but out of jealousy and hatred toward him.

Later when he was in charge of Potiphar's house, he was thrown into jail, based on false accusations by a wicked woman.

"It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, Lie with me.' But he refused and said to his master's wife, 'Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?' As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her." (Gen 39:7-10)

Joseph refused to do this great evil and sin against God.

"She caught him by his garment, saying, 'Lie with me!' And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside...So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, 'The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.' Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, 'This is what your slave did to me,' his anger burned. So Joseph's master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail." (Gen 39:12,16-20)

Potiphar's wife was jealous of him and wanted to see his downfall. She hated him for not fulfilling the lusts of her flesh. He was not actively proselytizing among the Egyptians. Instead he was simply living a righteous life, refusing to sleep with his master's wife, who was attracted to his handsome form and appearance (Gen 39:6).
David was persecuted by Saul, but not for religious reasons. It was jealousy and spite, because he did not want David to take over the kingdom.

"It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, 'Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.' Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, 'They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?' Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on." (1Sa 18:6-9)

He was also persecuted by his son Absalom, but not for religious reasons (2 Sam 15-19). It was a case of tyranny and usurping the throne. These things were no less persecutions just because they were not direct consequences of preaching the Word of God.

Paul faced many persecutions, but I would like to talk about three of them in particular. One of them was in Pisidian Antioch. The ministry of Paul and Barnabas was so successful in that city and drew such crowds that the Jews became jealous. "But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming." (Act 13:45). So according to Scripture, the underlying reason behind the persecution was jealousy.

The second persecution I want to mention happened in Philippi, when Paul and Silas were on their way to the place of prayer. They were not actively preaching or conducting any meetings, just headed off to prayer. They encountered a slave girl who had an evil spirit by which she predicted the future, and who continued to annoy them for many days by following them and shouting (Act 16:16-17). Paul eventually cast the demon out of her (Act 16:18). When the owners saw that their hope of making money from this girl was gone, they grabbed Paul and Silas, and dragged them before the authorities (Ac 16:19). The charges they made against these men of God were completely false.

"And when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, 'These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.'" (Act 16:20-21)

Because of the self-interests of the slave owners, Paul and Silas were falsely accused of "throwing our city into confusion," "being Jews," and "proclaiming customs unlawful for Romans." Because of this, they were beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Aside from the fact that Paul and Silas were of the Jewish race, there was no truth to these allegations, but this is the nature of persecution that I want to show you.

The third persecution of Paul that I would like to mention is when Paul was attacked in the temple in Jerusalem. He had simply followed the advice of James and gone through a seven day period of ceremonial purification with four other Jewish men.

"When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, 'Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.' For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple." (Act 21:27-29)

The accusations they made were false once again. They said he was preaching to all men everywhere against the Law and the temple, which was false. And they said he had defiled the temple, because they had previously seen a Gentile with him in the city, and they incorrectly assumed he was with Paul in the temple. Because of that, they dragged him out of the temple and were seeking to kill him (Act 21:31). When the Roman guard came and arrested Paul, some in the crowd were shouting one thing and some another (Acts 21:34). So again we see the nature of persecution, how it is often based on false accusations and not for actual ministry activities.

The Lord Jesus Christ
When Jesus was arrested, He was not doing any ministry activity. He had simply been praying in a private place at night with His disciples. Do you know why they arrested Him?

"Pilate knew that they had handed Jesus over to him because they were jealous." (Mat 27:18, GW)

It was because of jealousy that they brought Jesus to Pilate for execution. When He was on trial, people were bringing up everything they could think of to try to accuse Him.  But there was nothing there. They found no ground for putting Him to death.

"Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward." (Mat 26:59-60a).

"And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed." (Act 13:28)

"In his humiliation he was deprived of justice." (Ac 8:33a, NIV).

This again demonstrates the nature of persecution. As the Lord said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Finally I would like us to consider a modern preacher who was persecuted. According to Wikipedia, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church...Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing."

He opposed the Nazi's efforts to control the German Protestant churches. He initially avoided military service in the war for reasons of conscience, because He understood the teachings of Jesus to mean that He had called us to love our enemies and be at peace with them. But finally joined the Intelligence for the German military, working as a double agent against Hitler. He staunchly resisted Nazism. As an intelligence agent, he participated in efforts to help some German Jews escape to neutral Switzerland.

Why was he arrested? It was because Hitler's regime was determined to eliminate all opposition and establish total control over society. This was clearly motivated by self-interest. What was the specific crime that Bonhoeffer committed? It was his involvement in helping Jews escape the country. That is what led to his arrest, once the Gestapo uncovered his involvement in this activity. He was not imprisoned and executed for for his ministry of preaching and teaching. Nevertheless, it was still persecution in the sight of God.

Putting it All Together
Based on the examples I have just cited in God's Word and in modern Church history, the persecution of the saints is not always carried out in direct response to some ministry activity. Sometimes true persecution comes in the form of actions taken against the saints for other things they have done that would not be considered ministry activities. Often times the motive is jealousy, ill will, hatred, or self-interest. It is still considered true persecution, but the enemy and his agents often use false accusations against the saints or find some legal violation or infringement of some law that has been committed, in order to attack God's righteous people. Please beware of this tactic and be on your guard against it. Let us be sober and vigilant.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" (1Pe 5:8, KJV)

"Be on your guard against men..." (Mt 10:17a, NIV).

"The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Tim 4:18, NIV).

Image credit:  "The Christian Martyr's Last Prayer" by Jean-Léon Gérôme - Walters Art Museum, image taken from Wikimedia Commons.  William T. Walters commissioned this painting in 1863, but the artist did not deliver it until 20 years later. In a letter to Walters, Gérôme identified the setting as ancient Rome's racecourse, the Circus Maximus. He noted such details as the goal posts and the chariot tracks in the dirt. The artist also commented on the religious fortitude of the victims who were about to suffer martyrdom either by being devoured by the wild beasts or by being smeared with pitch and set ablaze. In the painting, you can see one martyr standing and praying in the midst of other kneeling saints huddled in prayer, and others are hung on crosses about to be burned alive.

Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Other Scriptures may be taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®.
Author's note:  If you enjoyed this post, I also recommend The Persecution of the Saints, Persecuted or Popular?, Faithful Until Death: The Glory of Martyrdom for Christ, The Cost of Discipleship, Confrontational Evangelism, The Rise of Antichrists, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Popularity of the Gospel, Ask for the Ancient Paths, The Knowledge of the Holy, Separation from the World, Ultimate Accountability, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, and The Judgment Seat of Christ. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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