Rejoicing in Persecution
© 2021 C. O, Bishop
1st Peter 4:12-19
We have gone through several passages dealing with how we are to live, as believers. But Peter now acknowledges that persecution is coming, and he gives instruction regarding how we are to view it. Are we to flee? Fight back? Conform to the World so as to escape their notice? What is our response supposed to be when the World hates us, or when we are essentially “outlawed?” When the moral and spiritual climate around us changes to the point that we are clearly “out of step” at every level with what the World sees as acceptable, how are we to respond?
The first thing we are to remember is that Jesus warned us about this in advance:
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of Good Cheer; I have overcome the World!” So, at the very least, we should not feel shocked that such things happen. And that is what Peter says:
Don’t be Surprised!
12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
The first thing Peter tells us is that we are not to see it as “strange” that persecution should come. We are to anticipate it, though we are to do nothing to precipitate it. As a general rule, when we treat others well, they will tend to see us as “friendly” and not mistreat us, simply because we do not mistreat them. That is common even among the lower animals. But we mustn’t forget that we are in a war! Be aware that the enemy will not allow his “troops” to maintain friendly relations with the people of God when it really matters. The same enemy who sought to destroy Jesus will also seek to destroy us, beginning with luring us away to sin, but always pursuing the goal of literally destroying us. He would rather destroy our fellowship first, so as to make us unfruitful, and our testimony, so as to bring shame to the Lord Himself. If He can destroy those things then we will be without Joy and without Peace, so no one will have a reason to desire what we have in Christ. We will be utterly ineffective as His ambassadors. Then, if he can trip us up and influence us to sin in some very public way, and destroy our physical life in the process, he will consider it a victory. He will have rendered us useless to the Lord Jesus, and ended our service on such a negative note that we will only be remembered as a phony.
Remember Balaam: this is exactly what happened in his case. He was a genuine prophet of God, but he desired the things of the world and its rewards so much that he “sold out” and served the enemy. He is only remembered for his bad behavior. Whatever he may have accomplished as a man of God, earlier, has been forgotten by us humans years ago: we only recall the sin. God remembers Balaam as the man he was supposed to be. His position was secure, but his condition was terrible! Whatever believers were supposed to do regarding the World, during that time, Balaam did not do it! We do not want to follow his example. In fact, that is specifically warned against in 2nd Peter 2:15 where God mentions the way of Balaam, Jude 11 where He mentions the error of Balaam, and Revelation 2:14, where He calls out the doctrine of Balaam.
The next thing Peter says is that we are to Rejoice.
13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
“Rejoice” is a verb: an action word: It does not say “feel happy,” although that could be the result of choosing to rejoice. Instead, it says “rejoice,” because you are partaking in Jesus’s sufferings, so that (future tense) “when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy!” This parallels what Jesus said: “…but be of Good Cheer…”
The feelings of gladness are to follow the obedience of choosing to rejoice. In Acts 16:22-34 (turn there, please) Paul and Silas were not “feeling glad” when they were sitting in the dungeon, with still-bleeding wounds and their feet clamped in the stocks. Their clothes had been torn from them; they had been savagely beaten, without cause, and imprisoned without a trial. But they rejoiced anyway, praying and singing praises together, to God. They rejoiced in spite of the pain and the filth, and the shame. The “gladness” came later!
They were freed at midnight, by miraculous intervention, and they were then privileged to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ, along with his entire family. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy cometh in the morning.”
We go through periods of “night” in our lives, especially during times of sickness, or in crushing disappointments, or as we near the end of our life, or that of a loved one. But the times of tribulation, too, can be seen as a “passing cloud:” a temporary period of deep darkness, beyond which we earnestly look to see the light of God’s countenance. In John 1:4, 5, it says of Jesus, “In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” The contrast between light and dark can only be seen where there has been some darkness. Remember that darkness has no “substance” in itself: it is only the absence of light. Many jewelers display their best gems against a black-velvet background. The velvet absorbs light, reflecting little or no light back at the eye, while the gemstone reflects light, and we are attracted to its beauty. God displays His light against the backdrop of the darkness of the World. Our light is to shine in that darkness, as a reflection of His glory!
Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.
We all know of situations in which a Christian was shamed, punished, dismissed from a job, or even imprisoned for things they did wrong: things for which anyone would (and should) receive punishment. I knew a Christian man who went to prison for tax evasion, and another, a pastor, who was jailed for shoplifting. A friend of mine knew another man, apparently a real believer, who committed multiple murders. Am I “comfortable” with those facts? No, of course, I’m not! But those two facts line up with what Peter just said!
There is no “invisible fence” set up for Christians, so that they cannot commit horrible sins. Remember that David committed both adultery and murder. Yes, it cost him dearly, but the fact is, he was a man of God, by God’s own statement, and he committed things regarding which I would love to be able to say, “Christians just don’t do those things!” (Sorry! God says it is very possible and a deeply shameful thing when it happens. There is no “suffering for Jesus” in that sort of experience, when it is punishment for crimes that have actually been committed.)
Notice, too, that being a “busybody”…a meddler in other people’s lives (possibly including a general “snoopiness” and perhaps gossip) is included right along with the general term “evildoers” and the specific crimes of theft and murder. We like to categorize sins as being “little” or “big.” And, in terms of the immediate effect of such things, that makes sense. But in terms of long-term effect, we have no idea what the overall result may be of what we may consider to be “minor.” Go back to Genesis chapters 12 through 19, and ask yourself, “What was the long-term effect of Abraham’s just “bringing Lot along with him,” when God had told him to leave him behind?” Could Abraham have predicted that outcome? Perhaps he just thought he was “sharing the blessing” God intended for him. (Sharing is good, right?) But not only did God not want that particular blessing to be “shared” (it was for Abraham and his progeny alone,) but the result in Lot’s life was horrendous; and the long-term result for Abraham’s progeny is a huge number of enemies who still want nothing more than to wipe the nation of Israel off the globe!
What is Sin?
Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:
- 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law” (God’s Law…possibly specifically the New Commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”)
- 1st John 5:17 “All unrighteousness is sin.” (It doesn’t have to be “on a list” somewhere!)
- James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
- Romans 14:23 “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Are any of those four necessarily crimes against civil law? No! There could be things that the civil law could not even address, such as our thoughts. Human law does not prohibit lust or coveting…and our culture openly encourages both. But, are there things that are declared legal by man, but which God condemns without exception? Absolutely, there are! We see these things flaunted every day! And that has been the case throughout human history. Are there things that the world says are righteous, but which God clearly says are not? Absolutely! We think revenge is a good thing! We say “Yep! There’s some ‘karma’ for you!” And that whole concept (karma) is not only against God’s written Word, but it comes from a false religion; Hinduism.
It was completely legal for Abraham to do what he did with Hagar, the Egyptian woman. Did Abraham “Know to do good?” Maybe. Maybe not…again, it was approved by his society, and he had his wife’s approval as well! But the direct result of his action was to produce a nation that was, and still is today, the largest group of enemies Israel has ever had! What Abraham did was not against civil law, nor even seen as “unrighteous” by his wife, or himself, or the rest of their society. But it was sin! Why? Because it was not of faith! He could have asked God, and had clear direction, but he failed to do so, and we are still reaping the consequences today!
If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…
16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
There was a poster, fifty years ago, which posed the question, “If Christianity suddenly becomes a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We want to make certain that that accusation—being a Christian— is the only one that will stick.
Yes, false accusations will always be a possibility. And, in today’s world there exists technology by which people can make what appears to be a “real video” of someone committing a crime (or any other activity) and even their friends and family would be convinced that “that is what they saw.” Movie producers have been using this technology to produce films of people who are no longer alive, and who died before modern cinema technology existed. It is amazingly seamless and convincing. So today, they would not have to “find false witnesses” to testify against you: they can simply “make a video” of you doing something you have never done, with people you have never met, in places where you have never set foot. How’s that for deception?
And, we are told ahead of time that we are to rejoice! We are told to not be ashamed, but to glorify God because of the false accusations and the unjust punishment. If we suffer for the “crime” of believing in Jesus, and for walking in obedience to Him, that is cause for rejoicing! You can rejoice that you are identified with Him closely enough that His enemies consider you to be their enemy, as well, regardless of how well you treat them. I have only had this happen a couple of times for sure, and in those particular cases, it did not result in any “real” persecution: I was simply aware that they hated me and talked behind my back. When I finally found out that it was specifically because I was a believer, it quit bothering me: If you hate me because of Jesus; that is OK by me!
People are (usually) judged in four ways by other humans:
- What they do.
- What they say. (And whether number one and two match one another.)
- Who their friends are: who they are most comfortable around?
- Who their enemies are: who despises them, and why?
If their only reason to hate you really is because you are “friends with Jesus,” then that is a good thing, regardless of the result. If you are despised for wrongdoing, or for hypocrisy or inflammatory orungodly speech; a sharp tongue, perhaps: then that is not a good thing. But, if you are seen as “an enemy of evil, both in word and deed,” and a “friend of Good,” as well as a “friend of God, through Christ,” then, come what may, the reward will be good!
17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
The world should see the severity of God’s Holiness along with the deep Grace that He offers and imparts to those who love Him. But frequently the strongest testimony of the saints of God is their response to calamity, and their response to false accusations and unjust punishment.
18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
The World should be able to sunderstand that, if believers must experience the chastening and discipline of God, then they themselves face even worse consequences for their unbelief and sin.
Think of a gymnastic team. They have excruciatingly difficult workouts and practices, and they push themselves to do things that no “ordinary” human can do. Observers are thrilled with what they can do, but they are keenly aware that they themselves cannot do anything remotely similar.
Or, consider any of the martial arts, whether wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu or any other such discipline: Like most men, I have cherished the notion from childhood that, “Oh, I can take care of myself!” But I have watched videos of fights performed strictly for fame and prize money, and I have had to confess that “That young man could have hit me a dozen times before I could even get my guard up!” No, I cannot do what they are doing!
In both of the above cases, the participants subjected themselves to rigorous, painful and prolonged training, in order to “get that good” at what they were doing. And any honest observer can see the results of that discipline: Can the world see that in you? The result should be that, when harsh things happen in your life, and your response is good, they will be convicted by the knowledge that, “If that had happened to me, I would have been devastated!” And then, perhaps they will begin to wonder, “What makes them tick? What have they got that I haven’t got?”
Allow God to Work!
19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
Therefore, we are to submit to the hand of God in all genuine tribulation, looking to Him for direction and release. The patriarch Joseph is a great example of this: He was sold by his brothers; he was enslaved to His enemies; he was lured (unsuccessfully) by an evil woman, and finally imprisoned for a crime he did not commit; but he still trusted in God, and he was eventually raised up, fully prepared for the purpose God had intended all along.
Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom and faith to respond in Godly fashion to the trials we may face in this world. You alone are worthy of all honor and glory, but you submitted yourself to continued abuse, at the hands of your enemies, and have been raised up by the Father, forever. Help us to follow in your footsteps.