‘Not Only To BELIEVE, But also to SUFFER’

During His earthly ministry, one of the important aspects of the life Lord Jesus exposed to His followers was suffering and persecution. He forewarned them that the world we live in hates believers. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15: 18-21). After death and resurrection of Jesus, His disciples were empowered and carried forward preaching of good-news in Jerusalem. But they were put on trials and suffered at the hands of their own countrymen. Stephen became the first martyr of the early church. A great persecution arose against the assembly in Jerusalem from that day. They were scattered abroad throughout the neighbouring regions, except for the apostles (Acts 8:1). In the first century, the gospel spread to almost all parts of the then known world and so also persecution of believers became wide spread. The book of Hebrews describes trials of believers during that era: Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground (11:35-38).

The history says Apostles Peter and Paul were executed in Rome during first century. But before they departed they reminded the churches about sufferings of Christians. As Paul was awaiting his execution, he wrote to young Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted “(2 Tim 3:12). Peter also in his general epistles mentioned: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (1 peter 4;12-16).

Every century, kings, empires, dictators and religious leaders have leased persecution on the Christian believers, preachers, pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries in different countries throughout the world history. As the present generation mostly lived in 20th century, it is important to mention some examples of persecutions of this century. In China, 32 adults and children from missionary societies plus 12 catholic priests were beheaded in Shansi province. Ten Swedish missionaries and their children were stoned to death. 188 foreign missionaries and children and hundreds of Chinese believers were murdered. Many Chinese Christians were killed in Szechwan and Kiansi provinces in 1927. Between 1949-1958, 700 priests died in prison. After Korea was conquered by the communists, they attacked the churches. People were shot dead for refusing to deny Christ. In USSR, attacks began on orthodox churches and priests were killed. Thousands of believers were sent to concentration camps where they died in terrible conditions. In Nazi Germany, not only the Jews were massacred but also Luthern pastors and others were executed. In Poland, over 1600 catholic priests and an unknown number protestant pastors were sent to concentration camps where they were either hot or gassed. Numerous attacks were made on Sudanese Christians. Christian schoolboys were rounded up by soldiers and their teeth pulled out. In 1970, Christians in a village of Banja were massacred in their church and the building set alight. In Zaire missionaries were found cut to pieces and parts of their bodies were thrown into the river. Hundred were killed to stamp out Christianity. A missionary along with his two teenage children were burnt alive in India. Even in 21st century believers all over are being persecuted, tortured and threatened with dire consequences for their faith and preaching of the gospel. Pastors, preachers and believers and their families are beaten up, put in prisons on false charges and even killed for the sake of the gospel.

Apostle Paul reminds us, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake..” (Phil. 1 :29). When we suffer, we are sharing with the sufferings of Christ. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,(2 Tim 1;8). When we are persecuted, let us bless them who persecute us and not curse them (Rom. 12 :14). Forgive them as our Lord forgave them as they do not know what they are doing. When asked by the press about her reactions to the burning alive of Graham Staines and their sons, act of forgiveness was shown by his wife Gladys Stains . Let us not me ashamed for suffering as a Christian, but let us glorify God in that name (I peter 4:16). We should refrain from doing any evil to our enemies, rather we should learn to live peaceably with them (Rom. 12:17). On suffering we are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor. 4 :9). Consider ourselves blessed when others revile and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on account of the Lord (Matt 5;11).  We are told to pray for the people who caused our suffering and endure all suffering. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3). Through suffering we get opportunity to bear witness for our Master (Luke 21:13). Suffering strengthens life, builds our faith and draws closer to God.

Believers over the ages have undergone afflictions, suffering, torture, persecutions and even death all around the world and still suffering goes unabated today. The more the suffering, the more lives are touched and transformed. Empires and kingdoms have arisen and fallen but the faith of believers continues to rise. No sword, flame and suffering can suppress them. For them, suffering is temporal and the glory to come is eternal. Believers will willingly and gladly continue to endure suffering till the gospel reaches every shore. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:12).

Ref: “70 Great Christians” Geoffrey Hanks, Pp 357-358 persecutions during 20th century

Dr. Nanda Dulal, is presently working as Group Director in a Government Department. He resides in Bangalore with his wife Geetanjali.

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