Persecution—Badge of the True Christian
Do you have this mark of distinction?
A BADGE is worn mainly to let people know what you stand for, or what group you belong to, whether it be religious, political or social. The value of such a badge is diminished through its being worn by unauthorized or unworthy persons. So whether it be a small metal cross, a star, a crescent, or a scarab, such badge is frequently no true identification. Its wearer could have picked it up on the street, or he may no longer have any genuine interest in or identification with what it represents.
How different the badge that distinguishes the true Christian! There are various marks by which you can identify the genuine follower of Christ, but this is one that is easily observable by all. In fact, its absence puts into grave doubt the claim of being such a follower. The apostle Paul focuses attention on it when he writes: “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) The Lord Jesus had already laid down the rule: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) Persecution truly identifies the Christian.
Not just any kind of persecution will meet the requirement here. Persecution for right or justice in the abstract, or for personal right and opinion in the fields of religion, politics and social betterment is not involved here. It must be persecution for righteousness’ sake, and, since it is God’s righteousness, this sort of suffering comes upon one simply because he insists upon doing the will of God. Millions of persons have suffered for their own personal ideas, whether right or wrong, but still they have not been thereby identified as true Christians.
Not just anyone can wear this badge of distinction. Unworthy ones are quickly detected and exposed. Those who suffer because of their earnest efforts to “live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus” react to their sufferings in a manner that cannot be duplicated by the insincere. As with their Forerunner, so with them: “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” (1 Pet. 2:23) On the other hand, spurious Christians will become embittered, self-justifying and combative.
THE FORETOLD IDENTIFICATION
Warning his followers of the sufferings they might expect after his leaving them, Jesus declared: “But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name.” (Luke 21:12) The record in the Acts of the Apostles shows that such persecution did come upon those early Christians. Why? Because they were busy doing God’s will, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom message to all. They did not follow the passive course of just belonging to some respectable religious group and attending services once a week if convenient. Had they done so they would have escaped persecution. They did not take the position that they were paying some clergyman to do the preaching. They well knew they had a personal responsibility before God to be witnesses to the things they had seen and heard about the Christ.
Faithful Christians today are also living in an anti-Christian world and are suffering like persecutions. The most common and widespread form of suffering Christians are called upon to endure today is the attitude adopted by so many persons on whom they make friendly visits. People otherwise polite become intolerant and insulting. Rebuff after rebuff is experienced, besides what Jesus himself suffered, namely, the “contrary talk by sinners against their own interests.” (Heb. 12:3) This sort of suffering, calculated as it is to wear down patience and courage, does not succeed in disheartening loyal ministers of God, for they obey the inspired injunction to “keep comforting one another and building one another up.”—1 Thess. 5:11.
Instead of withdrawing into inactivity so as not to become the targets of the enemy, they have gone forward boldly with their work in all lands, yes, even in Hitler’s Germany and now in Godless Russia, even though forced to operate underground. They have withstood confiscations, threats, arrests, sadistic beatings and tortures, and braved the danger of death, ‘rejoicing because they have been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of Christ’s name.’ (Acts 5:41) They draw great comfort from Jesus’ assurance: “It will turn out to you for a witness.” (Luke 21:13) Is not that the main purpose of their lives, to bear witness to the name of God and the kingdom of his Christ? Persecutions, court appearances and imprisonments only widen the opportunities to bear testimony to the truth. Court officials, jail keepers, judges and rulers all have heard the Kingdom message under circumstances that have served to impress it upon their minds, whether they accept it or not.
Merely professing Christians shrink from such experiences because they lack courage, and courage, in turn, is lacking because they have not engaged in a thorough study of God’s Word so as to be “always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you.” (1 Pet. 3:15) The genuine follower of Christ makes such a progressive study a part of his life so that when the time comes to answer for his faith under persecution he is prepared for that eventuality. This is why Jesus could say: “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to rehearse beforehand how to make your defense, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute.” (Luke 21:14, 15) A well-founded faith based upon accurate knowledge of the Bible equips anyone to present and maintain the truth before all who may inquire, even under the most adverse circumstances.
During the early centuries of Christianity many families were divided over the acceptance of Christ and his message. During periods of intense persecution we may be sure that sentiments of patriotism, pagan religious fanaticism or abject fear for their own safety moved some to betray members of their own family to the rigors of the persecuting authorities. Frequently this would lead to a cruel death in the arena. Jesus had warned of this, saying: “Moreover, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” (Luke 21:16) Under totalitarian rulerships in our day there have likewise been instances where true Christians have been betrayed into the hands of sadistic persecutors by relatives and fair-weather friends.
Today, as in the early Christian days, the ruling and upper elements of society who control the various media for public information, and who thereby set the human standards as to what is and what is not acceptable or respectable, frequently make it their business to smear the true Christian witnesses. Any pretext is used to lower them in the public esteem. Hatred against them is kept alive because the ruling elements are out to discount and silence their bold Bible message. (Luke 21:17) After all, that message disturbs the complacency of those who ignore God and insist that they can solve national and international problems and bring in an era of peace and plenty. If true Christians were not thus hated and persecuted and spoken against, how could they be among those described by Jesus: “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake”?—Matt. 5:10, 11.
Christians patiently endure and go on with their preaching ministry despite all types of persecution. And when their fellow servants suffer in other parts of the world, they speak out boldly in their defense, unashamed to be identified with them. Theirs is not just a passive sympathy with the persecuted, but a willingness to expend themselves by sharing zealously in features of the preaching work that are denied to those who are imprisoned. Also, they are only too glad to contribute toward the legal costs of defending those sufferers in the courts. This is in accord with the faithful pattern of the early Christians, of whom it is written: “You endured a great contest under sufferings, sometimes while you were being exposed as in a theater both to reproaches and tribulations, and sometimes while you became sharers with those who were having such an experience. For you both expressed sympathy for those in prison and joyfully took the plundering of your belongings.”—Heb. 10:32-34.
Genuine Christians bear up under persecution because they have so many assurances from God’s Word, like that at Luke 21:18, 19: “And yet not a hair of your heads will by any means perish. By endurance on your part you will acquire your souls.” They do not expect some miraculous deliverance from abuse or even death. They are confident in Jehovah’s power to resurrect them out of death to a grand reward in harmony with Jesus’ promise: “He that finds his soul [life] will lose it, and he that loses his soul for my sake will find it.”—Matt. 10:39.
Jesus’ fellow witnesses are determined that no amount of persecution will separate them from the congregation of those who love and obey God. While never courting persecution, as some fanatics do, they know from God’s Word that it will come upon them, and when it does they are ready to meet it without flinching. To them persecution for the right reason, for righteousness’ sake, is a badge of honor and a cause for joy.