About Persecution

By Jack Glover

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. (I Pet. 2:18-20)

Peter directed that admonition to his brethren scattered among Gentile nations. It was important that they set the proper example before the Gentiles. He had instructed them to “[put] aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (verse 1), and to seek growth in Christ by desiring the milk of the word (verse 2). They (both Jews and Gentiles) were a chosen generation and were to keep their manner of life honest before the Gentiles.

Among the good, correct attitudes to be displayed, Peter said, are respect and honor to various government authorities and their brethren, and a fear of God. By doing this, the Christians of the first century would “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” After those instructions, Peter then wrote the words at the beginning of this article.

What kind of reasoning prompted Peter to teach obedience to “froward,” or severe, masters? Actually, Jesus had taught something similar in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt. 5:44, 46-47)

Persecution takes many forms. Many of the first Christians faced death or other physical hardships. We seldom face such things today, but we do face dealing with good and bad actions by others. The boss may be unreasonable; fellow employees often ridicule or seek unfair advantage; friends become enemies; and brethren do not follow the instructions to lay aside guile, hypocrisies and evil speaking. With little thought, this list could increase. Christians often struggle with how to deal with this type of persecution. We do not necessarily face it because we are Christians, but our reactions to it show what kind of stones we are.

The point made by both Jesus and Peter is that suffering for your own fault brings no reward from God. Sin always has consequences. Suffering for our lack of love or wrong actions are simply the consequences of sin and deserve no reward. We should expect it and take it patiently, even if the one causing the suffering is a perverse, unreasonable master or enemy.

However, suffering for doing what is right and good does bring reward from God. We may not see the reward immediately, but God will reward our suffering for good. Peter even had the nerve to say that we should be happy about this type of suffering (I Pet. 3:14, 17; 4:15-17). And Paul added in one of his letters to Timothy: “It is a trustworthy statement: ‘For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (II Tim. 2:11-12).

A certain amount of suffering or persecution will come to all Christians, some more than others (II Tim. 3:12). How we deal with that persecution, and with those who are responsible for it, is vital to our salvation.

Christians do not have the privilege of revenge (Rom. 12:19-20). There are times that we simply have to endure the suffering, ridicule, unjust treatment, lies, gossip and lack of love by brethren and the world. We should expect these things from those who do not love God or subscribe to His principles, but it hurts much more when it comes from those in the church, who are supposed to know better. Nevertheless, it will come, as it always has (I Tim. 4:10; Philip. 1:29-30).

Developing the ability to endure suffering does not come easy. For most of us it will be a lifelong struggle. But remember that God is on our side and that spiritual endurance has its eternal reward. “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (I Pet. 4:19).

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