Thanking God for being able to meet together for worship “without fear of molestation” or persecution is common. We certainly ought to be thankful. Most of us do not worry much about that when we meet in nice buildings, and while we know that this isn’t the case everywhere, we typically have no expectation here in America of being physically persecuted for our faith in Christ.
What if that changed? What if more and more churches began to be interrupted and persecutions became more common? What if we found ourselves in the same type of situation that early Christians faced?
What if... we actually were being put to death because we are Christians? What if we could no longer think in terms of having no fear of persecution? What if our prayers needed to change in order to reflect the fact that persecution is very real in our lives? How would we handle this? What would be our attitude about this?
We certainly have enjoyed an unprecedented period of time in which Christians are able to meet freely, and generally not fear repercussions or interruptions. However, that has also been challenged lately in our present culture, and it is fitting for us to consider our attitudes toward facing such extreme difficulties.
Consider the apostle Paul’s attitude toward dealing with persecution:
In writing about those who wanted to harm him, Paul told the brethren at Philippi, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil 1:19-20).
Paul’s view of “deliverance” is interesting here, isn’t it? He says that He’s confident that he will be delivered, and he includes within the scope of that deliverance both life and death. In other words, deliverance, in his view, wasn’t just the idea of getting physically free from the difficult circumstances. Even if he had to give his life, he considered himself delivered by God.
Deliverance even by death? Yes. How could he say that? It’s all about perspective, and this requires a greater outlook than merely focusing on the here and now. He was looking not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen (2 Cor 4:18). Whether by living another day to tell others about Jesus or dying and going home to be with Jesus, the Christian can be confident of being delivered from evil. We must avoid thinking in terms of deliverance as only being a physical rescue. Part of the reason we are Christians is because we see, by faith, a much greater reality.
As Paul came face to face with his own death, he was able to look ahead to the great reward in Christ. To this end, Paul wrote to Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:6-8). Then, toward the end of same chapter, he wrote this:
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim 4:18).
Paul considered that being rescued from every evil deed was ultimately fulfilled by being brought safely to the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. In other words, the Lord taking us from this world and bringing us to Him IS being rescued. It IS deliverance. There is no greater deliverance.
The idea here, that through physical persecution and death one may be brought safely into eternity, is powerful. It is a message of faith and hope. While we tend to think we aren’t safe unless we have some physical way to defend ourselves (though we try to protect our families), the real, ultimate safety is found in such a relationship with God that when we are taken from this life, even if violently, we will be brought safely to His heavenly kingdom.
Perhaps, then, Christians, secure in their relationship with God, ought not to think, “we are not safe.” If we are in fellowship with God, then we are safe, no matter how much violence and evil the world throws at us. Why? Because we see a much bigger picture of deliverance than merely being spared our physical lives. True deliverance, ultimate deliverance and safety, is found in our eternal home, not in our own might and strength.
“If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name … Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet 4:16, 19).