Persecution in America

How God uses our suffering to build us up and promote Christ-like character

May 14, 2019

A man came to his pastor and said, “Pastor, would you please pray that God will give me patience?”

Two weeks later, he returned and said, “Good grief, Pastor! Terrible things are happening to me. My life’s coming unglued.”

“Well,” replied the pastor, “you wanted patience. The Bible says, ‘Tribulation works patience,’ so I prayed for tribulation. God must be answering my prayer.”

Although persecution is inflicted by enemies of God, He can use it to mold us into greater Christlikeness. As Paul told us, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3–4). Contrary to what we often hear, the call to follow Christ is not a call to an easy life.

As John Ortberg put it, “God isn’t at work producing the circumstances I want. God is at work in bad circumstances to produce the me he wants.”

Suffering Provokes Courage

Courage reflects Christ’s character in adverse circumstances. It is the crucial virtue that Christians must deploy when facing cultural demands that conflict with biblical teaching.

The apostles Peter and John faced such a demand when the Jewish leaders hauled them into court and told them to cease preaching Christ. Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

After Paul’s conversion, his life became a sterling example of this kind of courage. As he wrote to the Philippians, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20–21).

Suffering Proves Godliness

A. W. Tozer wrote, “To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” As Paul put it, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). It’s a matter of simple logic: Why would the enemies of Christianity bother anyone who is not displaying the nature of Christ?

The writer of Hebrews said, “Whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:6). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “If you are suffering as a Christian, and because you are a Christian, it is one of the surest proofs you can ever have of the fact that you are a child of God.”

Suffering Produces Joy

When we realize the purpose and positive results of suffering persecution, it can become a source of joy, as it was for Paul and Silas when they encountered opposition. In Acts 16:22–24, they were arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison. Then we read, “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25).

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