Enduring Joyfully Despite Persecution
“Let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment.”—Romans 5:3-5.
1. What is evident as a result of the persecution of Christians in these “last days”?
THE experiences of Jehovah’s people in these “last days” have certainly proved Jesus’ words to be true: “Happy are you whenever men hate you, and whenever they exclude you and reproach you and cast out your name as wicked for the sake of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap, for, look! your reward is great in heaven, for those are the same things their forefathers used to do to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22, 23; 2 Timothy 3:1) Yes, God’s servants can faithfully endure all manner of persecution, and do so joyfully.
2. (a) Do those experiencing more persecution receive a greater reward? (b) What are some of the beneficial results of successfully enduring persecution?
2 It is not that we enjoy being persecuted, for persecution is unpleasant and usually painful. It is not the persecution itself, but the outcome of it that gives us reason to be joyful. (James 1:2, 3) Christians do not want to be persecuted. They are not trying to be martyrs, thinking that the more persecution they endure the more merit they will have in the eyes of their heavenly Father. Those experiencing more persecution do not receive a greater reward, nor are they necessarily more faithful than those who have received less persecution. But note the chain reaction that takes place when a Christian successfully endures tribulation: “Tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment.”—Romans 5:3-5.
3 When we read of the persecution that our fellow Christians are undergoing in some places, we may wonder, “Would I be able to endure that?” But then, when opposition or trials suddenly come our way, and, instead of giving in or drawing back from serving God, we turn to him for help, we find that he answers our prayers, and we experience how tribulation produces endurance. Then we no longer wonder whether we could endure it; we know we can, in Jehovah’s strength. The first trial may not have been so very severe, but our faith has nevertheless been tested, and it is stronger for it. The next test may be harder, but our faith is that much stronger because we did not shrink back from the former one. So in Jehovah’s strength we can actually meet any test of our faith, knowing that he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear; nor will he leave us “in the lurch.”—1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10.
4. After successfully enduring temptation or persecution, what real reasons do we have for being joyful?
4 Endurance of tribulation is truly a reason for exultation. We can be glad that we did not submit to temptation but held fast to what is right. We know this is what God approves, so our successful endurance has brought us closer to him, which is a further reason for joy, as so clearly stated at James 1:12.
Persecution in Many Forms
5. What is the situation in many countries today as regards persecution and harassment of our brothers? Why is this so? (Amos 7:10-17)
5 Today the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is restricted in more than 40 lands, and in many of these places God’s people have had to endure severe trials and persecutions simply because they are determined to serve their God, Jehovah, faithfully. In many cases bans have been instigated by the religious clergy, who have misrepresented our noninvolvement in politics in order to stop our preaching work. Informed officials know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not subversive or dangerous to the State in any way. Enlightened government officials know the Witnesses to be conscientious, law-abiding citizens who do their best to uphold and obey the laws of the land. However, in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their allegiance to God comes first. Hence, they do not take part in politics in any country. So if there is a conflict with God’s laws, they, like the apostles, “obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
6. (a) What are some examples of persecution that Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to endure? (b) Can you tell of similar situations at the present time?
6 Lawless mobs, sometimes led by religious clergymen or political fanatics, have ill-treated Jehovah’s people in many places. Many of our spiritual brothers have been forced to abandon their homes and possessions and flee for their lives, as has happened in recent years in Malawi and Ethiopia. Some have been fired from their jobs or driven away from their places of work, while others have had their businesses closed solely because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Revelation 13:16, 17) Their Christian meetings for Bible study have been interfered with and broken up; their homes have been searched and Bibles and Bible literature confiscated. Intimidation and threats have been used to try to frighten them, and many have been arrested and imprisoned, some even being killed. Persecution was particularly severe during the world wars, but it is going on right now in many lands.
7. Even in lands where there is no active persecution by the authorities, what situations have to be endured by many of God’s people?
7 Throughout the earth, too, thousands of our brothers and sisters must daily face opposition and persecution from their families and relatives because of wanting to serve Jehovah as disciples of Jesus Christ. As Jesus foretold: “A man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.”—Matthew 10:35, 36.
The Aim of Persecution
8. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses persecuted because they are evildoers or lawbreakers?
8 What do the persecutors of God’s people hope to achieve? Do they persecute his witnesses because they are evildoers or criminals? No. Jehovah’s Witnesses are universally recognized as law-abiding people of good moral stature. They are good workers, pleasant, friendly, kind and reasonable and do not behave like religious fanatics. In fact, they are fine people to have as neighbors. (Titus 2:6-10; Galatians 6:9, 10) Their message is a peaceful one, bringing comfort to those who are afflicted and mourning. They preach the “good news” that God’s kingdom will soon remove oppressors and usher in a righteous new order.—Matthew 6:10; Psalm 37:10, 11.
9. What activity of ours do opposers want to stop, and why?
9 However, the preaching of this “good news” shows up the religious leaders of Christendom as having no message of hope for the people. So they try to silence those who preach it! Some government leaders, too, while being willing to permit Jehovah’s people to believe what they wish, object to their preaching to others. Like the Jewish religious leaders who were confronted with the zealous activity of the early Christians, they say, in effect: “Let us tell them with threats not to speak anymore upon the basis of [Jesus’] name to any man at all.” (Acts 4:17, 18) Yes, it is our preaching that they want to stop.—See also Acts 5:28, 40.
10. (a) Besides trying to stop our preaching work, what else does Satan want to accomplish? (b) How is this shown by the type of ban that is often placed upon our activity?
10 Remember, too, that the real instigator of the persecution is Satan the Devil. (1 Peter 5:8) Not only does he want to stop our preaching, but also he wants to weaken our faith and cause us to break our integrity to God, thus making us lose out on everlasting life. So another aim of the persecution is to cut us off from the spiritual food and from association with our brothers at our meetings. Hence, when our activity is banned, it is generally our preaching and our meetings that are prohibited. “You can be Jehovah’s Witnesses,” we are often told, “but you may not preach or hold any meetings.” Yet if we did not preach or hold meetings, we would not be witnesses of Jehovah God or Christ Jesus, since a witness who does not say anything is really not a witness at all. (Isaiah 43:10, 12; Acts 1:8) And what would happen to our faith if we no longer obeyed God’s command to meet together?—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Bearing Up Under Persecution
11. What has been the reaction of faithful Christians to the persecution heaped upon them?
11 How have God’s servants in modern times reacted to the persecution heaped upon them? Like the early Christians, they have not become fearful but have boldly pressed on with the preaching work despite bans and threats. They, like Paul, have reason to “be glad and rejoice.” Their firm stand on Jehovah’s side of the issue is proving the Devil a liar. What a privilege to be able to share in magnifying Jehovah’s name!—Philippians 2:17, 18; 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
12. Is there reason to be afraid of what persecutors may threaten to do to us?
12 There really is no reason to be afraid of those who persecute us. Paul wrote the Philippians: “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news . . . in no respect being frightened by your opponents. This very thing [that you are not afraid of them] is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you; and this indication is from God.”—Philippians 1:27, 28.
13, 14. (a) What did opposing officials in one country recently do in an effort to cause Jehovah’s Witnesses to become frightened? (b) What do these experiences really indicate?
13 Recently, in one European country where the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not legally recognized, a brother was arrested for giving a short, comforting Bible talk at a funeral. The brother who gave the prayer was also arrested. The local officials said that only persons authorized by the State may speak at funerals, and that prayer is forbidden “because prayer can be used for teaching.” Another brother in the same area was arrested because he was reading the Bible to his own family. No charges were laid against these brothers. They were held for a short time and then released. The obvious aim was to cause them to become fearful and desist.
14 But who really are the fearful ones? If the local officials feel threatened by a man reading the Bible to his family or by a brother giving a talk or saying a prayer at a funeral, they must really be very much afraid of the Bible message and those who preach it! So why should we be afraid of them? As Paul indicated, our unity and courage “is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you.”—Philippians 1:28.
15. How can our reaction to threats actually have an effect on the continuation of the persecution?
15 In some places publishers of the “good news” are called to the police station every few weeks to be lectured, and they are often threatened with severe punishment if they do not stop talking about God’s kingdom. But usually when the brothers and sisters ignore the threats and fearlessly carry on with the work, the officials give up and leave them alone. If they see any evidence of weakening on the part of the Kingdom publishers, however, they will continue their efforts to intimidate them.
Carrying On Under Ban
16, 17. (a) What efforts have been made to get spiritual food to brothers in places where the work is banned, and to those in prisons? (b) Why is this important?
16 Witnesses in countries where the work is banned and the circulation of their literature is prohibited appreciate the importance of getting the spiritual food regularly. Since The Watchtower and other publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot legally be published and sent through the mail in certain lands, other arrangements are made to see that the spiritual food reaches everyone. In Germany, during the persecution under Hitler, study articles were mimeographed, typed and, in some cases, even copied by hand. This also has to be done in many places today. If not enough copies can be made for each one to have his own, they are passed around so that each one will have a chance to read the material. The important thing is to take in spiritual food regularly.—Matthew 4:4.
17 Experience has shown that Jehovah has always directed matters so that the spiritual food gets through, even in very difficult circumstances. Various means have been used to smuggle it into prisons and concentration camps. And how strengthening it has proved to be to those incarcerated there!
18. Why is it important to consider spiritual food together with others on a regular basis, and how might this be done even under difficult circumstances?
18 If at all possible, faithful servants of God regularly partake of spiritual food together—even though meetings are banned, even though they are imprisoned. Consideration of a Bible text each day, together with others if this can be done, serves to focus the mind on spiritual matters. Even a short discussion every day gives much spiritual strength.—Psalm 1:2; Acts 17:11.
Importance of Meetings
19. (a) What unexpected experience did many of our brothers in Liberia have? (b) According to the 1977 Yearbook report, what was it that helped the faithful ones to endure?
19 In March 1963, at Gbarnga, Liberia, about 400 persons attending a district assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up and held for four days without food at a military compound. In an effort to force them to compromise their religious beliefs and salute the Liberian flag, the Witnesses were ill-treated and their belongings were plundered. While a few did give way and compromise because of fear, the great majority maintained integrity. Note the comment made in the 1977 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 176: “They were from all classes, illiterate and well-educated. Those who were in the group of the loyal ones had been faithful meeting attenders.”
20. How do many make strenuous efforts so as not to ‘forsake the gathering of themselves together,’ and in spite of what dangers?
20 God’s inspired Word counsels us not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) The importance of this is not diminished in times of persecution. Meetings may have to be held in small groups in private homes; places and times may have to be varied and may not always be convenient, some meetings being held late at night. Yet, in spite of the dangers, our faithful brothers and sisters make every effort to be present at every meeting. And brothers are willing to let their homes be used for such meetings, even though discovery may lead to loss of freedom for them.
21. (a) What opportunities are there to benefit fully from the spiritual food under such circumstances? (b) What scriptures show the importance of regularly attending and participating in such meetings?
21 Meetings in smaller groups may not perhaps allow all to get the benefit of the best teachers in the congregation, but there is greater opportunity for each one to participate and thus get much out of the meetings. At times, larger groups can get together in connection with picnics, outings, or, on occasion, by private invitation. Regular attendance at all the meetings is an important factor in their ‘making fast their hold on the confidence they had at the beginning firm to the end,’ so as to maintain their integrity and get the fulfillment of the promises by ‘not giving up.’—Hebrews 3:14; 10:36; Galatians 6:9.
Preaching Under Ban
22. (a) Why can God’s people today not stop speaking about the things they have seen and heard? (b) How is this carried on in some places?
22 Like the apostles, Jehovah’s people today ‘cannot stop speaking about the things they have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:20) Jesus said that “in all the nations the good news has to be preached,” and no human or demon agency can prevent this. (Mark 13:10) In some places, even though the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses is banned, it is possible to go from house to house as a private person, using just the Bible.
23, 24. (a) How is the preaching work done in places where house-to-house work is not advisable? (b) Can you relate any experiences showing that good results have been obtained in this way?
23 Where it is not advisable to go from house to house, the “good news” can be preached in other ways. Possibly isolated calls can be made in different parts of the territory, so as not to cover any buildings in a consecutive manner. But we do not need to wait until people are behind doors. Our brothers in many lands are having marvelous success in talking to people wherever they are to be found—on the streets, in cemeteries and parks, or when traveling. Some have even gone as tourists into areas where there are no Witnesses, and there they start conversations with people wherever this is possible. There is absolutely no way the enemy can prevent our talking in these different ways, so long as we have breath and there are people to whom we can talk.
24 With practice, Jehovah’s people have become adept at starting friendly conversations on many different topics, suitably leading the discussion to the Bible. A Witness in one country approached a young couple in a park as they were getting a drink of water from a stream. The Witness asked whether they would not like to know where there was some better water. With that, he began to tell them about life-giving water in the coming Paradise, and they had a discussion that lasted three hours. This led to a Bible study, and after three months the couple began to share in the field ministry. A year later, both were baptized, the man later serving as a ministerial servant in the congregation.—Compare John 4:7-15.
25. What should we try to avoid, especially where our preaching is banned?
25 In all this activity it is wise to avoid direct confrontation with opposers. Also, we need to be cautious about giving information to the enemy in response to their trying to win us over by friendly talk and flattery. We want to keep in mind Jesus’ counsel: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Paul also counsels: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:18.
The Fine Results of Maintaining Integrity
26. What are some of the fine results of maintaining integrity in spite of intense persecution?
26 What a marvelous witness has been given down through the ages by all those who have held fast their integrity in spite of intense persecution! All the efforts of the Devil and his agents to prevent the giving of a witness only result in a greater witness to the honor of Jehovah’s name. And what a marvelous share all the thousands, yes, millions, have had who have maintained (and are continuing to maintain) their integrity under persecution, thus showing the Devil up to be a liar and proving their unbreakable faith in Jehovah God and love for him!
27. What personal benefits do we experience from faithfully enduring trials and persecution?
27 When we faithfully endure, we have a good conscience, knowing that we have done what is right and that we have Jehovah’s approval. This fortifies our hope, which, in turn, increases our joy. Our faith was put to the test, and, since we did not shrink back or run away from the persecution, Jehovah helped us to endure. As a result, our faith is now stronger than ever. This ‘tested quality of our faith’ makes us better able to meet future trials.—1 Peter 1:6, 7.
28. (a) What reasons for joy does the aforementioned Finnish sister now have? (b) What may she continue to hope?
28 The sister mentioned at the beginning of the preceding article found this to be true. She is once again living in her hometown, where she has been serving as a regular pioneer (a full-time Kingdom proclaimer) for some time now. Though she does not have custody of her three young children, she is permitted to see them three times a month, and she has been able to share the “good news” with them, with some encouraging response. And who knows what the final outcome may be? There have been many, many cases where violent opposers and persecutors have been so impressed by the faithful stand our brothers and sisters have taken that they have been moved to look into the Bible for themselves, and some eventually have become worshipers of Jehovah.
29. What further encouragement do all of us have to remain faithful and be joyful in spite of persecution?
29 James wrote: “Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah. Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured.” (James 5:10, 11) And, with the additional fine examples of Christians of the first century and those of modern times, all of us are greatly encouraged to be joyful despite persecution.
[Picture on page 22]
Jesus said: “A man’s enemies will be persons of his own household”
[Picture on page 24]
Even under ban Jehovah’s Witnesses do not stop preaching