The Apostle Paul endured great hardships for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He shares some of his challenges with the Corinthian church: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city,in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Over the past few years, stories of Christians suffering because of their faith have surfaced from time to time, but more in recent months new stories seem to come out on a daily basis. The wave of evil commonly called “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” does not target only Christians. Jews, Hindus, atheists, and even other Muslims face suffering or grisly deaths if they do not submit to a brand of Islam that wants to extend sharia law to every corner of the globe, destroy those who disagree with them, and basically turn the clock back to the 7th or 8th century. Even so, the main brunt of the persecution is aimed at Christians or, to use the term ISIS has coined, “the nation of the cross.”
Christian persecution is not limited to the 21st century. As Christianity began to grow in the first and second centuries, it did so within a culture that sought to eradicate it. The book of Acts and the letters of Paul give us a glimpse into that world, and church history adds details beyond that. It was in this environment that Paul wrote to encourage his young protégé Timothy. He says, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).
None of us would like to step to the front of the line to get beaten or beheaded; in fact, many of us would do all that we could to avoid suffering for the sake of the gospel. Quite honestly, you who read this will suffer very little for your faith. If you are willing to be bold and take a stand for Jesus and His Kingdom, you may endure some criticism and teasing. It is possible you could face some discrimination and rejection. It is unlikely, however, that you will lose your reputation, home, job, business, or head because of it.
In a Middle Eastern village with a predominately Christian population, a pastor named Joseph went door to door warning believers that ISIS fighters were on the way. It was a frantic attempt on his part to get as many people out of the village as possible. As he went from one home to the next, he sought to strengthen their resolve them, “When ISIS arrives they will come to your door and they will ask you if you are Christian or Muslim. I would tell them, ‘I am a follower of Jesus.'” And he would give them with a final word as he left their home to warn the people in another, “If you choose to not convert, then just know it will only hurt for a second.” (Here is the opinion piece from The Christian Post that mentions Pastor Joseph – http://www.christianpost.com/news/nation-of-the-cross-134324/)
As a pastor, I cannot imaging having to say these words to my church members, nor do I ever expect to have to do so; yet in some parts of the world, this is their reality. People are dying because they are boldly identifying themselves with Jesus. Let their example encourage and embolden us to stand up for Jesus in spite of the cost.