January 31, 2020

Blessed Are the Persecuted

By Grace Church

Are you planning for the future?

When most people hear that question, they think of 401Ks and college tuition. Certainly those things are important, but in 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul urges us to think even farther into the future: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

As you plan for the next fifty years, don’t forget the next fifty million years. Be eternally-minded, Paul exhorts.

If you think back to your very first job, at some point you probably received a job description. Maybe you watched training videos in the back office of a Wendy’s, or shadowed a supervisor at the Gap. Eventually, you understood what was expected of you, and more importantly, what type of work would be rewarded come evaluation time.

It’s no secret that certain work on earth will reap eternal reward. The Bible teaches that one day, every person will stand before the judgment seat of God to give an account for his or her life (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). We will be rewarded for things like:

  • steadfastness when suffering (James 1:12)
  • stewardship of our talents (Matthew 25:21)
  • generosity (I Timothy 6:17-19)
  • laboring for the gospel (I Corinthians 3:8)
  • loving God (I Corinthians 2:9)

…and being persecuted for Christ.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:11-12).

That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Yet across the globe today, 260 million Christians are living out these verses in a significant way, daily experiencing high levels of persecution for their faith. That number comes from careful analysis by Open Doors, which releases an annual World Watch List.

The World Watch List tracks persecution in the top 50 countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus. Countries receive a score based on two components: governmental pressure and violence. Five years ago, North Korea was the only country to score in the “extreme” range for their persecution of Christians. Today, there are 11 countries with extreme levels of persecution, leading analysts to conclude that Christian persecution is higher today than ever before in modern history.

In 2019:

  • 2,983 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons (that’s an average of eight Christians per day)
  • 9,488 churches or Christian buildings were attacked
  • 3,711 Christians were arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned without trial

In China (number 23 on the World Watch List), mandatory facial scans are required before buying a phone. With a facial scan database of the entire country, plus 415 million surveillance cameras, the government can track people like never before. They’ve instituted a country-wide Social Credit System to reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, such as illegal evangelism.

In countries like Iraq (number 15) and Syria (number 11), Christianity is on the verge of disappearing altogether. In the span of one generation, Christianity has dropped by 87% in Iraq and 66% in Syria.

What do these numbers mean for Christians in America? In speaking of the body of Christ, I Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Let’s pray for our brand new brothers and sisters who profess faith in Christ and immediately face persecution. Let’s pray for 97 million Christians in China who live in a state of constant surveillance. Let’s pray in line with Matthew 16:18 — that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church in Iraq and Syria.

Finally, let’s pray that we, too, would have an unwavering commitment to Christ and His mission. As believers, we are not called to seek out persecution. Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul encourages Christians, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Our aim is not to chase persecution, but to be so devoted to Jesus that we are willing to endure anything for His sake. As Pastor Clint would say, our aim is to be “all in.”

We don’t know what Jesus will ask of us in the years to come. But by faith, we can say “yes” in advance. Yes, to obedience. Yes, to surrender. Yes, to loving Him with our whole hearts…however that may look.

When the “yes” feels especially difficult, remember, the day is coming when we will stand before the judgement seat of God, and He will say “yes” to us. Yes, to every true believer who has kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Yes, in Christ Jesus. Yes, “My good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of Your Master” (Matthew 25:21).

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