The New Testament has so much to say about this that I encourage you to dig into your own study. Read through the New Testament and mark these words (and similar forms): love, joy, contentment, patience, and any blessings. (If you are not a Bible marker I encourage you to start.) Also, be on the look out for references to persecution. For this article, we will focus on patience, contentment, joy, and love.
In 1 Peter 2, starting in verse 18, Peter begins speaking to servants. Even though this passage is specifically to servants, I believe we can apply these things to ourselves. Peter says, in verse 20, that it “finds favor” before God for you to suffer trials with patience. We certainly want to find favor with God! Peter goes on to say Christ left us an example. (1 Peter 2:21-24) When He suffered, He suffered patiently. He didn’t revile in return, He didn’t call down threats, but, Peter says, Jesus trusted in Him who judges righteously (vs. 23). Verse 24 goes on to say that He bore our sins so that we might, in turn, die to sins and live righteously. This righteous living involves being patient, trusting God, during persecutions.
When I think of patience during sufferings, I think of Joseph. He was far from his home, sent there by his own brothers. He was wrongfully accused of fornication with Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned. (Genesis 39) While there, he interpreted a dream for Pharaph’s cupbearer and asked the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh, but he was forgotten. Joseph did not wallow in self pity, nor did he revile or become bitter. He simply did what he did best, living righteously, – and he thrived; even in prison. I believe one reason he did so well was his patience. He lived his life as a man of integrity, no matter the sufferings he faced. Like Jesus he entrusted his life to God and served God patiently. We should follow their examples.
In Acts 16:22-25, Paul showed contentment. He and Silas had been beaten with rods, stripped, thrown in the inner prison without medical treatment, and put in stocks. We know that Paul and Silas have undergone a severe punishment, made all the “worse” by being innocent men, in God’s eyes.
What happens next is an act of contentment. Instead of being angry, trying to escape, or yelling they were innocent, Paul and Silas begin to pray and sing hymns of praise to God. Despite all that had happened to them, they were content. (vs. 25) Can we say the same when we under go trials? Can we find a peace within ourselves to settle and be content – no matter what? Let us pray that it be so!
An important point to ponder is a reason for contentment. Consider these verses:
Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:5-7
The implication in verse 6 is that the Hebrew writer is including persecutions. The writer says, be content. Why? Because they may beat you, take away your possessions, kill your family members, but one thing they cannot do: they cannot separate you from the Lord. (See also Romans 8:38-39) They cannot take away your inheritance. Be content that you can go to Heaven. Going there is the most important thing.
For a long time, I have been fascinated by the book of Philippians. The book is so full of joy! He begins by saying that he thanks God for every remembrance of them. He calls them his joy and crown. This church began right before his imprisonment. He suffered many “labor pains” while planting this congregation. And yet, he is joyful when he remembers them.
James tells us to consider it ALL joy, when we encounter various trials. (James 1:4) There are several forms of trials and persecution is definitely a trial. James goes on to say that we should be joyful because of the benefits. Just as a runner receives benefits from the trial of physical exertion, so does the Christian who endures trials. Let’s keep this in mind when we face persecutions.
The Hebrew writer tells them they had joyfully accepted the seizure of their property. This was because they knew they had a better, eternal possession. (Hebrews 10:34) It could not be taken from them. These Hebrew Christians kept that all in mind and were joyful at a time when most would be angry and/or sorrowful.
Finally, our examples in the New Testament showed love. Jesus and Stephen both showed love when they prayed that God would forgive their persecutors. (Luke 23:34 and Acts 7:60) After Paul and Silas prayed and sang, God freed them with an earthquake. They could have escaped, but did not; and saved the jailers life. Paul expressed love instead of the hatred he could have shown. Then Paul furthered his love by teaching the jailer the gospel and baptizing his household that night. (Acts 16:25-33)
Imagine Jesus, standing before Pilate, soldiers all around him, taking a spear from one of the soldiers and fighting back. Well, of course he wouldn’t. He needed to die for the sins of the people didn’t he? What about Paul? When the earthquake happened, would he have taken a weapon, killed the guard, and escaped? Should we if we are persecuted?
Sometimes, I fear, we mix our American rights with our Christian duties. Should we use a weapon to fight back when we are persecuted? I don’t want to condemn those who want to fight, but ask yourself this question: Is it showing love to kill someone, taking away any chance they might have at redemption with a loving Savior? Our persecutors also have a soul, created in the image of God, that Jesus died to save. I simply cannot imagine any 1 st century Christian returning violence for violence.
In 1 John 4:8, John tells us that God is love. Just a few verses down we are admonished, “…because as He is, so also are we in this world.” (4:17) God is love and as He is, so are we in this world. We are to be and to show love.
Let us all pray that when/if we are persecuted we can show these attributes in our lives. During times of persecution we can be patient, content, joyful and loving. Next week we will dive into the blessings that come from trials/persecutions.
by Dawn Pasley
Dawn Pasley has been married to her college sweetheart, James, for more than 21 years. They attend Fraley’s Chapel church of Christ in Corinth, MS where he works as a minister. Together they have 5 children: a son and 4 daughters. She is blessed to be a homeschooling mom and enjoys her family, church family and pets. A graduate of Faulkner University, Dawn has a degree in Elementary Education.