Endurance Under Trials Brings Praise to Jehovah
“If, when you are doing good and you suffer, you endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God.”—1 PETER 2:20.
1. Since true Christians are concerned about living up to their dedication, what question must be considered?
CHRISTIANS are dedicated to Jehovah and want to do his will. To live up to their dedication, they do their utmost to follow in the footsteps of their Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and to bear witness to the truth. (Matthew 16:24; John 18:37; 1 Peter 2:21) However, Jesus and other faithful ones gave their life and died as martyrs for their faith. Does this mean that all Christians can expect to die for their faith?
2. How do Christians view trials and suffering?
2 As Christians, we are exhorted to be faithful until death, not necessarily to die for our faith. (2 Timothy 4:7; Revelation 2:10) This means that while we are willing to suffer—and, if necessary, to die—for our faith, we do not relish the thought of doing so. We take no delight in suffering and derive no pleasure from pain or humiliation. Since trials and persecution are to be expected, however, we need to consider carefully how we might act when such do come upon us.
Faithful Under Test
3. What Biblical examples of dealing with persecution can you relate? (See box “How They Dealt With Persecution,” on the next page.)
3 In the Bible, we find numerous accounts that show how servants of God in the past reacted when they faced situations that were life threatening. The different ways in which they responded provide guidance for Christians today if ever these have to face similar challenges. Consider the accounts in the box “How They Dealt With Persecution,” and see what you can learn from them.
4. What can be said about the way Jesus and other faithful servants reacted when they were under trial?
4 Although Jesus and other faithful servants of God reacted to persecution differently, depending on circumstances, it is clear that they did not needlessly jeopardize their life. When they found themselves in dangerous situations, they were courageous yet cautious. (Matthew 10:16, 23) Their objective was to advance the preaching work and to maintain their integrity to Jehovah. Their reactions in various situations provide examples for those Christians who today are faced with trials and persecution.
5. What persecution arose in Malawi in the 1960’s, and how did the Witnesses there react?
5 In modern times, Jehovah’s people have often found themselves under conditions of extreme hardship and deprivation because of wars, bans, or outright persecution. For example, in the 1960’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi were bitterly persecuted. Their Kingdom Halls, homes, food supplies, and businesses—practically all that they owned—were destroyed. They were subjected to beatings and other harrowing experiences. How did the brothers react? Thousands had to flee their villages. Many found refuge in the bush, while others went into temporary exile in neighboring Mozambique. Though many faithful ones lost their life, others chose to flee from the danger zone, which was apparently a reasonable course under such circumstances. In so doing, the brothers followed the precedent set by Jesus and Paul.
6. What did the Malawian Witnesses not forsake in spite of fierce persecution?
6 Even though the Malawian brothers had to move away or go into hiding, they sought and followed theocratic direction and carried on their Christian activities underground as best they could. The result? A peak of 18,519 Kingdom publishers had been reached just before the ban in 1967. Though the ban was still in force and many had fled to Mozambique, by 1972 a new peak of 23,398 publishers was reported. They averaged more than 16 hours in the ministry each month. Without a doubt, their actions brought praise to Jehovah, and Jehovah’s blessing was upon those faithful brothers through that most difficult time.*
7, 8. For what reasons do some choose not to flee, even though opposition is causing problems?
7 On the other hand, in countries where opposition is causing problems, some brothers may decide not to leave, even though they are able to do so. Moving away may solve certain problems, but it would probably create other challenges. For instance, would they be able to maintain contact with the Christian brotherhood and not be isolated spiritually? Would they be able to keep up their spiritual routine as they struggle to reestablish themselves, perhaps in a more affluent country or in one that provides more opportunities for material advancement?—1 Timothy 6:9.
8 Others choose not to move away because they are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their brothers. They choose to stay and face the situation in order to keep preaching in their home territory and to be a source of encouragement to fellow worshipers. (Philippians 1:14) By making such a choice, some have even been able to contribute to legal victories in their land.*
9. What factors must a person consider when deciding whether to stay or to move on account of persecution?
9 To stay or to move—that certainly is a personal decision. Such decisions, of course, should be made only after we prayerfully seek Jehovah’s direction. No matter what course we may choose, however, we must bear in mind the apostle Paul’s words: “Each of us will render an account for himself to God.” (Romans 14:12) As we noted earlier, what Jehovah requires is that each of his servants remain faithful under any and all circumstances. Some of his servants are facing trials and persecution today; others may do so later. All will be tested in one way or another, and no one should expect to be exempt. (John 15:19, 20) As dedicated servants of Jehovah, we cannot sidestep the universal issue involving the sanctification of Jehovah’s name and the vindication of his sovereignty.—Ezekiel 38:23; Matthew 6:9, 10.
“Return Evil for Evil to No One”
10. What important precedent did Jesus and the apostles set for us in dealing with pressures and opposition?
10 Another important principle that we can learn from the way Jesus and the apostles reacted under pressure is never to retaliate against our persecutors. Nowhere in the Bible do we find any suggestion that Jesus or his followers organized themselves into some kind of resistance movement or resorted to force in order to fight against their persecutors. On the contrary, “return evil for evil to no one,” the apostle Paul counseled Christians. “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” Moreover, “do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:17-21; Psalm 37:1-4; Proverbs 20:22.
11. What does one historian say about the early Christians’ attitude toward the State?
11 The early Christians took that counsel to heart. In his book The Early Church and the World, historian Cecil J. Cadoux describes the Christians’ attitude toward the State during the period of 30-70 C.E. He writes: “We have no direct evidence that an effort was ever made on the part of the Christians of this period to withstand persecution by force. The furthest they go in this direction is to lash their rulers with spirited censure or to baffle them by flight. The normal Christian response to persecution, however, did not go beyond a temperate but firm refusal to obey such orders of the government as were felt to conflict with obedience to Christ.”
12. Why is it better to endure suffering than to retaliate?
12 Is such a seemingly passive course really practical? Would not any who react that way be easy prey for those bent on stamping them out? Would it not be prudent to defend oneself? From a human point of view, that may appear to be the case. As servants of Jehovah, however, we are confident that following Jehovah’s direction in all matters is the best course. We keep in mind Peter’s words: “If, when you are doing good and you suffer, you endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God.” (1 Peter 2:20) We are confident that Jehovah is well aware of the situation and will not allow matters to go on indefinitely. How can we be sure of that? To his captive people in Babylon, Jehovah declared: “He that is touching you is touching my eyeball.” (Zechariah 2:8) How long will anyone permit his eyeball to be touched? Jehovah will provide relief at the proper time. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.—2 Thessalonians 1:5-8.
13. Why did Jesus submissively allow the enemy to arrest him?
13 In this regard, we can look to Jesus as our model. When he allowed his enemies to arrest him in the garden of Gethsemane, it was not because he could not defend himself. In fact, he told his disciples: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels? In that case, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must take place this way?” (Matthew 26:53, 54) The accomplishment of Jehovah’s will was of paramount importance to Jesus, even if it meant that he had to suffer. He had full confidence in the words of the prophetic psalm of David: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol. You will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.” (Psalm 16:10) Years later the apostle Paul said about 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.”—Hebrews 12:2.
The Joy of Sanctifying Jehovah’s Name
14. What was the joy that sustained Jesus through all his trials?
14 What was the joy that sustained Jesus through the severest test imaginable? Of all of Jehovah’s servants, Jesus, God’s beloved Son, was surely the foremost target of Satan. So Jesus’ maintaining his integrity under test would be the ultimate reply to Satan’s taunt against Jehovah. (Proverbs 27:11) Can you imagine the joy and satisfaction that Jesus must have felt upon his being resurrected? How happy he must have been, realizing that he had fulfilled the role he had been given to play as a perfect man in the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty and the sanctification of His name! Additionally, being seated “at the right hand of the throne of God” is unquestionably a wonderful honor and the greatest source of joy for Jesus.—Psalm 110:1, 2; 1 Timothy 6:15, 16.
15, 16. What fiendish persecution did the Witnesses in Sachsenhausen endure, and what gave them the strength to do so?
15 For Christians, it is likewise a joy to have a share in sanctifying Jehovah’s name by enduring trials and persecution, following the example of Jesus. A case in point was the experience of the Witnesses who suffered in the infamous Sachsenhausen concentration camp and survived their grueling death march at the end of World War II. During the march, thousands of prisoners died from exposure, disease, or hunger or were brutally executed right alongside the road by SS guards. The Witnesses, all 230 of them, survived by sticking closely together and helping one another at the risk of their own life.
16 What gave these Witnesses the strength to endure such fiendish persecution? As soon as they reached safety, they expressed their joy and gratitude to Jehovah in a document entitled “The resolution of 230 of Jehovah’s witnesses from six nationalities, gathered in a forest near Schwerin in Mecklenburg.” In it, they stated: “A long hard period of testing lies behind us and those who have been preserved, snatched as it were from the fiery furnace, do not even have the smell of fire on them. (See Daniel 3:27.) To the contrary, they are full of strength and power from Jehovah and are eagerly awaiting new commands from the King to further Theocratic interests.”*
17. What forms of tests are God’s people facing now?
17 Like those 230 faithful ones, we too may have our faith tested, even though we have not yet “resisted as far as blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) But a test can take many forms. It may be ridicule by classmates, or it may be peer pressure to commit immorality and other wrongs. In addition, the resolve to abstain from blood, to marry only in the Lord, or to bring up children in the faith in a divided household can sometimes result in severe pressures and trials.—Acts 15:29; 1 Corinthians 7:39; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Peter 3:1, 2.
18. What assurance do we have that we can endure even the most extraordinary trial?
18 No matter what test may come upon us, however, we know that we suffer because we put first Jehovah and his Kingdom, and we count it a real privilege and joy to do so. We draw courage from Peter’s reassuring words: “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 Peter 4:14) In the power of Jehovah’s spirit, we have the strength to bear up under even the most difficult trials, all to his glory and praise.—2 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:13.
The events of the 1960’s were but the first of a series of bitter and murderous persecution that the Witnesses in Malawi had to endure over nearly three decades. For a complete account, see 1999 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 171-212.
See the article “High Court Upholds True Worship in ‘the Land of Ararat,’” in the April 1, 2003, issue of The Watchtower, pages 11-14.
For the full text of this resolution, see the 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 208-9. A first-person account by a survivor of the march can be found in the January 1, 1998, issue of The Watchtower, pages 25-9.
Can You Explain?
• How do Christians view suffering and persecution?
• What can we learn from the way Jesus and other faithful ones reacted when under trial?
• Why is it wise not to retaliate when we are persecuted?
• What joy sustained Jesus through his trials, and what can we learn from this?
[Box/Pictures on page 15]
How They Dealt With Persecution
• Before Herod’s soldiers arrived in Bethlehem to kill all male infants two years of age and under, by angelic direction Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus and fled to Egypt.—Matthew 2:13-16.
• When soldiers and officers came to the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, he openly identified himself, twice telling them: “I am he.” He even stopped his followers from putting up any resistance and let the mob take him away.—John 18:3-12.
• In Jerusalem, Peter and others were arrested, flogged, and ordered to stop speaking about Jesus. Yet, upon being released they “went their way . . . , and every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.”—Acts 5:40-42.
• When Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, learned of the plot by the Jews in Damascus to do away with him, the brothers put him in a basket and lowered him through an opening in the city wall by night, and he escaped.—Acts 9:22-25.
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
Though forced by bitter persecution to flee, thousands of faithful Malawian Witnesses carried on Kingdom service joyfully
[Pictures on page 17]
The joy of sanctifying Jehovah’s name sustained these faithful ones through the Nazi death march and concentration camps
Death march: KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, courtesy of the USHMM Photo Archives
[Pictures on page 18]
Trials and pressures can take many forms