Abuse Endured Results in Glory
COULD a person’s being reviled, spit upon, slapped or beaten bring glory to anyone? Generally acts of this nature would be humiliating to the individual. But there is nothing disgraceful about enduring such abusive action if it results from being a loyal disciple of Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter pointed this out to fellow believers, saying: “If he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name.”—1 Pet. 4:16.
The apostle Paul’s experiences illustrate the sufferings a Christian may undergo and he explains why these brought him no sense of shame.
In discharging his commission as an apostle to the nations, Paul endured much—imprisonment, blows and near-deaths. About the year 55 C.E. he wrote to Christians at Corinth: “By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from my own race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness.”—2 Cor. 11:24-27.
What the apostle here described was only a part of the sufferings he had undergone when, some five or six years afterward, he wrote to Christians at Ephesus. Aware that some Ephesian Christians might become fearful upon learning about all the tribulation he was undergoing, Paul, while imprisoned at Rome, encouraged them: “I ask you not to give up on account of these tribulations of mine in your behalf, for these mean glory for you.”—Eph. 3:13.
It was because of laboring among the non-Jews as a disciple of Jesus Christ that the apostle Paul incurred the wrath of his own countrymen. This finally led to his being imprisoned at Rome. For this reason he could speak of himself as suffering for “people of the nations,” the Gentiles. He was a ‘prisoner of Christ Jesus in their behalf.’—Eph. 3:1.
Was Paul’s tribulation any reason for fellow believers to become fearful or ashamed? No, instead it meant glory for them. How so? For one thing, Paul’s love had been so great that he had been willing to serve in their behalf despite any and all personal difficulties that might result therefrom. Where among people in the world could they find such a marvelous love in evidence?
Furthermore, the apostle’s willingness to endure tribulation demonstrated to the Ephesians that what they had as Christians was truly valuable. Their hope and their relationship with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ were worth suffering for, yes, worth dying for. Had Paul given up when faced with tribulation, it would have made it appear that there was little substance to Christianity. His faithful endurance, however, exalted and honored Christianity, for it showed that being a disciple of Jesus Christ was something that persons would hold to as of the highest value, worth any sacrifice. Thus Paul’s tribulation meant “glory” for fellow believers.
The same is true today. The terrible suffering and abuse experienced by loyal disciples of Jesus Christ result in glory for the whole association of brothers throughout the earth. It is, of course, saddening to hear that devoted Christians have been cruelly beaten, sexually assaulted by mobs or abused in other ways. Nevertheless, their faithful endurance brings them a moral victory over their persecutors. Such victories add nobility and luster to true worship. They elevate the worth of genuine Christianity in the eyes of thinking persons who do not blindly ‘follow the crowd for evil ends.’ (Ex. 23:2) On the other hand, were a person to give in to persecutors, the worth of true Christianity would appear to be cheapened and degraded.
When suffering personally or hearing about the tribulation of others, one may naturally ask, ‘Why must this be?’ That was the experience of God’s servant David in ancient times. Surrounded by enemies, he felt as if God had abandoned him. Unaware of any guilt on his part, he asked: “My God, my God, why have you left me? Why are you far from saving me?”—Ps. 22:1.
Even when a person knows the reason for persecution, the weight of intense difficulties may still move him to ask, “Why?” For this reason it is especially important to have the right view of tribulation or persecution. Otherwise the extremes of certain situations may cause one to draw the wrong conclusions.
Devoted disciples of Jesus Christ should not be surprised when they are forced to undergo suffering for faithful adherence to the Holy Scriptures. “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus,” says the Bible, “will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) Jesus Christ himself was a victim of intense persecution and finally was put to death on an execution stake. He told his disciples: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”—John 15:20.
The reason for intense hatred of God’s true servants is that the rest of mankind is controlled by another god, Satan the Devil. The Bible tells us: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) In connection with God’s faithful servant Job, that “wicked one” claimed: “Everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul.” (Job 2:4) This is really the Devil’s contention respecting all who want to serve Jehovah God. Satan maintains that none are moved by love but that all, being motivated by selfish interests, can eventually be induced to turn their backs on the Creator. Jehovah God has permitted Satan to have time to prove his claim. Persecution, including the threat of violent death, has been one of the means by which the adversary has tried to break the integrity of God’s servants.
By remaining faithful despite persecution, God’s people have shared in proving the adversary to be a liar. Yes, their appreciating the real issue involved and their looking to Jehovah to strengthen them have enabled them to maintain integrity. They know that even though they may be killed, men can never prevent their being restored to life. This has aided them, with the help of God’s spirit, to act in harmony with Jesus’ words: “He that is fond of his soul destroys it, but he that hates his soul in this world will safeguard it for everlasting life.”—John 12:25.
JOY IN THE FACE OF PERSECUTION
Of course, great suffering in itself could never occasion joy. Much sadness results when homes are burned, land is confiscated, children are ripped away from their parents and when men and women are brutalized and even killed. Yet, despite all of this, a person can have a great inward joy.
There is the joy of knowing that one is doing the right thing, sticking loyally to one’s God. By preserving a clean conscience in the face of persecution, the individual has the assurance that he stands approved before the Almighty. The apostle Peter made a point of this when he wrote: “If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.”—1 Pet. 4:14.
Firm faith in God as “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him” also contributes immensely to the joy of those being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Heb. 11:6) The prospect of that reward can result in such great joy that the worst of sufferings pale into insignificance. This is the way the Scriptures express it: “For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting.”—2 Cor. 4:17.
That is how Jesus Christ felt about the reward. His example can be a real source of encouragement in faithful endurance. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” the Bible urges, “as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.”—Heb. 12:1-3.
As in the case of Jesus Christ, nothing, not even a person’s death, will prevent Jehovah God from rewarding that faithful one. “I am convinced,” wrote the apostle Paul to Christians at Rome, “that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38, 39) God’s love is manifested in sustaining his servants now, and in giving them the richest reward possible—life everlasting as persons approved by him. What greater joy could there possibly be! Should not that joy impel us to remain faithful even when faced with intense persecution?
Whether persecution is experienced by ourselves or others, we need to keep the real issue clearly in mind. We should never become frightened to the point of siding with the adversary by breaking integrity. May we, instead, always appreciate that faithful endurance under persecution brings glory to Jehovah’s name and supports his side of the issue. It also means glory for the whole association of brothers. If we endure, we can look forward with confidence and joy to the glorious reward—life everlasting as approved servants of Jehovah God and loyal disciples of his Son.