The Christian in the World, Part 3- Persecution

Posted: April 17, 2013 in The Christian In the World, Uncategorized
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The following is the text of the message delivered from the pulpit of The Refuge on Sunday, December 2, 2012, by Rev. Robert Hughes.

1 Pet 4:12-19

Introduction:

The past few Sundays we’ve been looking at 1 Peter and what it means to be a foreigner: A Christian in the world.  A few weeks ago Bro. Munn preached about how we, as Christians are foreigners: we belong to a different kingdom, with different laws, and different customs.  He mentioned three elements related to being foreigners:

First, The foreknowledge of God – Gr. “Prognosis” God knew you before you were born. You are not here by accident.  Second, sanctification – Gr. “hagiasmos” holy, separate. You have been separated unto God, and as such you will never truly fit in.  Finally, Covenant – You have been chosen by God—embrace that sense of heavenly citizenship.

Last week Pastor Munn spoke about what it means to be exiles—“An alien alongside.” He discussed the three conditions of exile:  First, how that we as Christians are here by Necessity.  Second, there is a fundamental purpose in us being here—and that is to do the work of God.  And third, as exiles we should live our lives with the hope of return—with the anticipation of going home to heaven.

Today we’re going to speak to (focus on) another aspect of what it means to be a foreigner: A Christian in this world and that is: “Persecution.”  Before examining the text it’s important to establish what is meant by persecution/suffering in the context of 1 Peter.

The nature of Christian suffering is a broad subject that embodies a number of causes.  There is random suffering that occurs as a result of being an inhabitant on a planet laded with sin.  There is self-induced suffering as a byproduct of bad choices or behavior.  There is suffering as a result of God’s retribution.  There is suffering that is inflicted by the devil, and which God allows, as indicated in Job, and also in Paul’s account of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).  Finally, there is suffering as a Christian for our solidarity with Jesus Christ.

This last type of suffering is what Peter is referring to in his letter and what is defined as persecution. It is suffering resulting from our identification/association with Christ. It has nothing to do with suffering as a result of disease, violent crime, or other grief/deprivations experienced in life.  Instead, it is suffering specific to our faith in Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Suffering . . . is the badge of true discipleship.”—The Cost of Discipleship

Background

Understand that the religious climate of Peter’s day was one filled with numerous temples, shrines, and altars to the various pagan deities–the many Greek and Roman gods.  People sought to appease the gods in order to sustain divine favor toward their family, local community, and the empire.  Religion was not compartmentalized but rather, it affected every aspect of the citizen’s public, commercial/mercantile, social, and private lives.

When the Christian sect grew, and more and more people became Christians and refused to worship the idols, the pagans began to fear that the Christian’s actions might provoke the gods and thereby engender widespread disfavor.  It was a superstitious environment, but not unlike some Christian actions today.

For example; do we lobby today against certain sins because we know they grieve the Lord? Or is it because in our hearts we fear our nation will lose the favor of God (however true that may be) and we would not be able to enjoy our current lifestyles?  It’s a matter of motives…and it’s also a product of the selfish and materialistic society we are a part of.  Somehow we’ve got to extricate ourselves from the thinking of our society, and profess anew our allegiance to the Christ and His kingdom.

In the ancient pagan world, “Christianity would be seen from outside as an infectious superstition that turned solid citizens of the Roman world and reliable friends and members of one’s own household into an unreliable and rebellious lot.”—David DeSilva, Ashland Theological Journal

The Christians were viewed as antisocial and even subversive.  And the actions of the Greco-Roman society attempted to cajole or coerce them back into conformity.  It was this backdrop of fear, suspicion, and distrust that led to the suffering/persecution which Peter addresses in his letter.  Most commentators agree that Peter penned this epistle just prior to the severe persecution at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero.

There are several important things we learn here regarding persecution/suffering.

 First, that Christians should expect persecution.

It is not the exception but the rule/norm. Jesus taught it: John 15:11-“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.”  Paul taught it:  2 Tim 3:12-  “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  Peter taught it: 1 Peter 4:1- “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.”

The phrase arm yourselves is a military one, from the Greek  “hoplizo” (hop-lid’-zo) meaning “’to arm oneself,’ to prepare, with focus upon the process of equipping – ‘to prepare, to make ready.’ ‘prepare yourselves with the same insight’ or ‘get ready by having the same understanding’.  Dr. Segraves notes: “To arm oneself ‘with the same mind’ as Christ had regarding His suffering means to be willing to accept unjust suffering as part of God’s larger plan by which He works out His purposes.”

Despite that fact that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others taught that suffering/persecution are part of being a foreigner in this world, you don’t hear it preached often in many churches.  Why is that? Perhaps because it doesn’t attract large audiences.  It’s not palatable to our Christian tastes.

Second, Christian persecution is an indication of genuine faith.

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)  This metaphor of refining fire is found throughout the Bible and in the Apocrypha.  In the Apocryphal book of Wisdom of Solomon the writer writes concerning the Jews: “Though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of Himself; like gold in the furnace He tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering He accepted them.” (Wis 3:4-6)

After the apostles were imprisoned, beaten, and let free the Bible records their exceptional response: Acts 5:41-“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”  It is cause for rejoicing to know one’s faith has stood the test!

Let’s face it, people are not going to enduring suffering for something they don’t believe in.  What’s more, even those who believe, if their faith is not strong enough, or they are not rooted and grounded in their relationship with Christ, they will not be able to endure.  Jesus spoke of believers with this type of a shallow relationship in the Parable of the Sower: Matt 13:20-21 “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”—ESV

Third, there is an intrinsic value/worth to suffering persecution.

Peter’s benediction in 1 Pet. 5:10 is the prayer that “the God of all grace .  .  .  after you have suffered awhile, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”—NKJV  Dr. Segraves points out that “the word translated ‘perfect’ is “Kartartizo,” which the New Testament often uses with the idea of mending or repairing something that has been broken…[indicating] the suffering will be followed by restoration and mending.”  This is further supported by the translator’s use of the word “restore” rather than “perfect” in the NIV, RSV, and NLT versions.  Restoration/mending is coupled with the promise to establish, strengthen, and settle.  The sense is that the resultant Christian is superior to the former self, having gone through the suffering.

“Real spiritual progress can only be achieved through catastrophe and suffering, reaching new levels after the profound catharsis which accompanies major upheavals. Every such period of mental and physical agony, while the old is being swept away and the new is still unborn, yields different social patterns and deeper spiritual insights.”—William Foxwell Albright

C. S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain”: “I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects. I see in loved and revered historical figures . . . traits which might scarcely have been tolerable if the men had been happier. If the world is indeed a ‘vale of soul making’ it seems on the whole to be doing its work.”

Is it any wonder that Peter said: 1 Peter 4:13-14 “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. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you . . .”   He was merely echoing the word of Jesus: Matt 5:11-12 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Conclusion

So what is to be the Christian response to suffering? 1 Peter 4:19 “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.”  The Greek word translated “commit” here “has to do with entrusting oneself to the care or protection of someone.”—Segraves.  Jesus used the same word in Luke 23:46: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  We do so with the promise that He will not put on us more than we can bear.

But we must be willing “to take up our cross.”  Luke 9:22-24 “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”  The context is persecution—Jesus’ at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes . . .And His followers who are given the injunction “Take up your cross.”

Have you picked up your cross?

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