Maintaining Integrity in the Face of Brutal Persecution
EACH year the evidence mounts to show that the institutions of this world are crumbling. Crime increases in staggering proportions, political upheavals are the order of the day, marriage problems grow, parental authority over the young diminishes, and fiendish weapons are perfected that could annihilate mankind.
All this fulfills Bible prophecy precisely. It shows that we are without doubt living in the final years of this system of things. Of our time Revelation 12:12 says: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” Because his time is due to expire shortly, this adversary of God “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
In this time of the end Satan’s fury is especially directed toward those who will not submit to his control, the worshipers of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God. Because they refuse to cooperate with Satan and his visible organization in their opposition to God, Satan brings pressure on them to force them to compromise their faith.
Hence, one who has cast in his lot with Jehovah God and His Son, Jesus Christ, will be the target of persecution inspired by demon forces. Jesus informed Christians that following in his steps would mean trials in the flesh. He said: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) His apostle Paul also stated: “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Tim. 3:12.
That this persecution is unjust can be seen from the meaning of the term. Persecution means primarily the infliction of an injury as a punishment for adherence to some opinion or course of conduct that cannot properly be regarded as criminal, such as a manner of worship. The apostle Peter showed that Christians would ‘suffer because they are doing good,’ and not for any wrongdoing on their part.—1 Pet. 3:17.
Not all persecution is of the same nature. Some Christians are persecuted by having their family or friends turn against them. Others are thrown into jail. Some have been put under severe mental pressures such as “brainwashing.” There are many who are subjected to brutal physical persecution, where blows from fists or weapons are directed against them and they may be deprived of food, water and sanitary facilities. Some are put to death because of their faith. Such brutal persecution has occurred within our lifetime in Russia, Germany, the United States and other parts of the world.
WHY GOD PERMITS IT
It is vital that those who serve God appreciate fully why the all-powerful Jehovah would allow persecution to come upon those he loves. That he could prevent this is unquestionable. But he does not choose to do so, for very important reasons.
In these days God is calling out a people for his name. These he brings together into one fold for the purpose of building up their faith so they can worship him properly. Also, God is educating his people for life in his new world. He does not want any who will be disloyal to him in that new world. Thus he will determine now, before the end of this old world, who will maintain integrity to him and be worthy of living in his new world. God does not want any who are out of harmony with him to disturb the marvelous peace he will establish in that restored paradise. Hence, while God does not cause the persecution, he permits it to come upon those who profess to love him to test their loyalty. Those who do not truly love God will be sifted out of his organization.—Matt. 25:31-33; 2 Cor. 13:5.
However, the greatest reason for permitting persecution is in connection with the issue of universal sovereignty raised by Satan. The integrity of man when put under test has been called into question by Satan. He challenged God, claiming that no human would remain faithful if he, Satan, were permitted to test man. Thus God permits this test to come. Every person that maintains integrity under test proves the Devil a liar and shows he upholds God’s side of this issue and supports God’s right to rule our universe.—Job, chapters 1 and 2.
Not only will persecution test God’s people as to their integrity, but it will strengthen them, for every trial endured with faithfulness brings a victory to the Christian that strengthens his resolve and ability to withstand further tests. As the Christian apostle Peter said: “Take your stand against [the Devil], solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world. But, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness . . . will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Pet. 5:9, 10.
WHAT SATAN WANTS
Satan wants the Christian to compromise his faith in God, thus upholding his side of the challenge. When he tested Jesus he said: “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” (Matt. 4:9) Satan knew that an act of worship would compromise Jesus’ faith and would support his challenge that man would not remain faithful under test.
The Christian must not delude himself and think that the most important thing is to be freed from persecution so he can continue to preach the good news of the Kingdom, and therefore compromise to effect his release. Any compromise is a crack in the Christian’s integrity that could begin his downfall. When that compromise consists of “an act of worship” of Satan or any part of his organization, the person who has thus broken integrity to God can no longer represent Jehovah’s Kingdom interests on earth.—Ex. 20:5; Matt. 4:10.
Some point to Peter’s denial of Christ and ask how he could be forgiven this dereliction so quickly. We must keep in mind that, although he denied knowing Christ, Peter did not engage in an act of idolatry. He did not bow down to an image, whether in the form of a dumb idol or any other form. He did not deny God, but was temporarily overcome by human weakness, from which he quickly recovered. The situation would have been different if Peter had engaged in an act of idolatry.—Matt. 26:69-75; John 21:15-17.
ATTITUDE UNDER PERSECUTION
Persecution is never pleasant, but the Christian can endure it and be strengthened by it if he maintains the right attitude. Said Peter: “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy,” and, “If he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God.”—1 Pet. 3:14; 4:16.
Why should the Christian be happy when under persecution? Because he knows he is doing the right thing, that he is maintaining integrity, that he is pleasing God and upholding His side of the issue. How God and his faithful angelic forces must rejoice when they see imperfect humans stand firm and maintain integrity under brutal persecution!
This right mental attitude greatly aided the early Christians in their trials. On one occasion the apostles were flogged and ordered to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name. What was their attitude? Acts 5:41 tells us: “These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.”
On another occasion Paul and Silas were thrown into jail, into the inner prison, and their feet were put in stocks. What was their attitude? “About the middle of the night Paul and Silas were praying and praising God with song; yes, the prisoners were hearing them.” (Acts 16:25) With the proper mental attitude, appreciating why they were being persecuted, they were able to sing praises to Jehovah!
A Christian’s course of action can influence others. If he compromises his faith, he can affect others adversely. The compromiser would not think of getting a gun and shooting his Christian brothers. But the result is worse when by his course of compromise he causes another to break integrity, resulting in that one’s losing opportunities for everlasting life in God’s new world.
A course of compromise may mean the easing of difficulties temporarily, but does it really gain anything worthwhile? No, for while one may gain temporary relief, he may forfeit everlasting life in God’s restored paradise. Also, the one who compromises does not gain peace, because now his conscience will be tormented, especially if he has caused another to stumble. Most important, by choosing friendship with the world, the compromiser incurs the enmity of God.—Jas. 4:4.
One should look to those among Jehovah’s people who remain firm, such as loyal overseers of God’s visible organization. But even if an overseer should capitulate, it should not deter the Christian from maintaining integrity. He should stand, not because someone else does, but because of his intense love for God and for what is right, just as the Levites maintained integrity when the other Israelites made the golden calf, and as the eleven apostles of Jesus remained in God’s service after Judas compromised.—Heb. 13:7; Ex. 32:26; Acts 1:13-17.
In the case of overseers, heavier responsibility falls upon them. Since their course of action can affect many others, their bloodguilt will be heavier if they weaken and fail. However, if they remain faithful under test, then to their Christian brothers they will prove to be like “a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country.”—Isa. 32:2.
WHAT TO DO WHEN PERSECUTED
When persecution comes, especially brutal physical persecution, what should the Christian do? He should first of all call to mind the reason why such persecution comes. Then he should guard against becoming overconfident in his own strength or in the strength of other persons. Where physical persecution is involved, one’s own physical strength can soon run out.
The Christian’s strongest defense is his love for God and his complete reliance on Him. Even after his own physical resources have run out, his mental resources will not be exhausted if he leans upon Jehovah. God will give him strength beyond his own capacity in times of stress. Psalm 46:1, 2 promises: “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses. That is why we shall not fear.”
Continually meditate upon God and his purposes. Dwell on his Word in your mind, even though all Bibles and Bible literature are taken away from you. Keep the vision of God’s new world always before your eyes. Most important, “pray incessantly.” (1 Thess. 5:17) This communication with God is indispensable, otherwise you might think only about the discomfort of the moment and give in to the inclinations of the flesh. If your heart is right, Jehovah will assist you to withstand this persecution, because “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Cor. 10:13.
PREPARE BEFORE PERSECUTION COMES
It is necessary to prepare in advance for persecution. It is good to think now about why persecution is permitted and what our course of action should be, so that when it comes we will be mentally prepared for it.
We need to build up our faith, courage and integrity day by day. We will endure in proportion to our faith. Faith will be in proportion to our love of God, which, in turn, grows with knowledge. Strong conviction based on Bible reading, study, and association with other Christians is needed. In addition, we must live the truth. It must become part of our lives. In this way we will be put in the way of smaller tests day by day. As we overcome them we will be strengthened to endure the more severe ones that may come later. However, if we shrink back from doing God’s will in our daily lives now, then we will not be prepared to stand the more difficult tests later.
Learn all you can of God and his purposes now. Let that knowledge reach down into your heart and motivate your entire course of life. Remember, the person who knows God best will trust him the most in time of test.
We have reached the time of the greatest crisis in the world’s history, a time of shaking and testing for God’s people. Shortly, Satan the Devil will make his final, all-out assault against Jehovah’s worshipers. With complete confidence and reliance on God, Christians will meet this brutal persecution and come off victorious. They will maintain integrity, to God’s honor and glory and to their own salvation. “Hope in Jehovah and keep his way, and he will exalt you to take possession of the earth. When the wicked ones are cut off, you will see it.” (Ps. 37:34) What grand encouragement this is for those who maintain integrity in the face of brutal persecution!