“For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16)
Today’s big question: should we suffer for the gospel?
God told a man named Ananias that Saul, the church’s greatest persecutor at that time, had converted to Christianity and was on his way to stay with him. Then the Lord said to Ananias that Saul (soon to be called Paul) would suffer “for My name’s sake.”
Paul deserved to suffer because he had greatly persecuted the church, right? Yes and no. He did deserve to suffer, as do we all, but he had also been forgiven of his sins. Christ bore his punishment, so Paul’s impending suffering was not a result of the sins of his past. Instead, Paul faced persecution because he would proclaim God’s message in a dark world.
Many Christians in the Western world today have little to no concept of what it means to be persecuted. The worst trial most of us have faced is being mocked in the media, although we have definitely witnessed an increase in the mistreatment of Christians. For many, what started out as mockery has turned into bigotry against Christianity. Revisionist historians and Marxist professors have painted Christians as the enemy, so many young people carry a bitter animosity against believers. It may not be long before this vitriol turns into violence.
However, many believers around the world regularly face persecution, even to the point of death. This has been the case from the start of church history as recorded in Acts. Stephen was stoned to death, James was killed with the sword, and other apostles were arrested and beaten. Paul was stoned, flogged, and beaten, and tradition tells us he was eventually beheaded.
Christians have suffered because we live in a world that loves darkness rather than light. When we shine the light of the gospel into this darkness, people are either attracted by it or repelled by it. They are repelled because they love their sin too much and would rather continue in their rebellion, so they lash out against godly people whose very existence calls attention to their rebellion and impending judgment.
It has often been said regarding the persecution of Christians that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Persecution purifies the church by filtering out those who are not truly committed to the Lord. When that occurs, true believers are powerfully used by God to shine the light of truth.
Paul could not have been clearer when wrote, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). When that promised persecution occurs, we must face it like the apostles who rejoiced because “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Today’s big idea: rejoice if you are persecuted for the sake of the gospel.
What to pray: thank God for the opportunity to serve Him, and ask for the strength to endure persecution.