Based on my recent reading of the New Testament for anything I could learn about persecution, I never encountered scriptures or stories where God’s people petitioned the government to rescue, intervene, or stop persecution, or for that matter, to solve any of their problems. When faced with persecution, Christ’s followers relied on God and each other. Tweet this!
Let me offer a disclaimer before moving on: I’m not a theologian or scholar, nor do I have a degree from a Bible school or seminary. I’m just a normal Christian woman with a deep thirst for finding answers in scripture. If I have misunderstood a passage I’ve referenced or missed something altogether, please bring it to my attention. My greatest fear in blogging and writing is that I would misrepresent the word of God, and therefore mislead someone. I NEVER want to do that!
Okay, let’s continue.
As Christians in America, we’re citizens of a country whose government is composed mostly of elected officials tasked with representing the people. As God’s people – bearers of light and truth – it is our responsibility and we SHOULD be involved in governing our nation, whether by serving, speaking up, or voting (for more, go to Believers & Politics: The Key to Living Unafraid to download a copy of this free ePamphlet).
Like Paul in Jerusalem. After a Jewish mob beats him near death and is further enraged when he declares his divine assignment to preach the gospel they rejected to the Gentiles, Paul confronts the centurion:
“Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”
When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”
Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.”
The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”
Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him” (Act 22:25-29).
Paul knew the law. He knew his rights, and as a citizen, exercised them. We can and should do the same. Tweet this! It is part of being wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).
By scripture’s teaching on persecution, though, God’s people petition Him, not man or any form of man’s institutions, and they rely on each other. They don’t expect the government to save them; they expect God to, and they do whatever they can to help, either by going or sending relief. Tweet this!
What I find interesting, though, is that there are three instances where “the people,” the followers of Christ at the time, have an influence on persecution.
In one instance, after Peter and John heal a lame man at the gate of the temple, the priests, captain of the temple, and Sadducees take them into custody. They forbid them to speak or teach in Jesus’ name. And “when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done” (Acts 4:21, emphasis mine).
Do you see it? The source of our influence isn’t the power of our collective influence or ability to boycott or otherwise wield power over others. In fact, they weren’t even trying to accomplish any specific end. They simply were glorifying God. Tweet this!
And when they were let go, they joined their companions, and together, they continued to praise God, asking Him:
Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).
That, my friends, is what God’s people are to do in response to persecution: petition and praise Him, and then by the power He imparts, speak His name with boldness. Tweet this! It may be that we speak His name with boldness before the governing authorities of our land, but what we don’t see is the people looking to those authorities to be the savior that stops persecution. Tweet this!
As “believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women” (Acts 5:14), the high priest and his posse were filled with indignation and imprisoned the apostles. The angel of the Lord sets them free that night, and the next day when the high priest sends for them, they’re gone. They’re discovered teaching the people in the temple, and “the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people…” (Acts 5:26, emphasis mine).
Likewise, in Luke 20:19, “The chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Jesus, but they feared the people…” (emphasis mine).
The people. In order to be feared, they must have been physically present and participating in what was happening in their community and country. We must, as well.
As we must do as God’s people did in Acts 2:46-47:
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47, emphasis mine).
God grew the multitudes.
Isn’t that the point? It isn’t to stop persecution. It’s for the Lord to add to His church those who are being saved.Tweet this!
The goal isn’t to make a difference by joining forces to change government; but as we gain favor with all the people and the Lord adds to the church, the increase in numbers can’t help but increase influence in the public square.
We can’t stop persecution, but we can and should stand unmoved in and for God’s truth, leaving the results to Him. Tweet this! If we are feared, it shouldn’t be for our power or collective influence or manipulation, but because God and His power are at work in and through us as we do what He tells us to do. Tweet this!
Sadly, in America, it seems as if the church has fallen into a trance and is afraid of what we’ll lose or have to give up in the way of pleasure if we take a stand for the Lord and His truth. We might lose friendships, family closeness or peace, popularity, business, comfort, ease, acceptance, possessions, pleasures, convenience, the approval of others, sounding or looking good, etc. Or maybe the threat doesn’t seem real or eminent because things are going so well in our own little worlds.
Teaching His disciples in the hearing of the people at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus describes what to expect when the end of the age approaches. He explains:
“Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them. But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.” Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:8-11).
He wants them to know what to look for! He continues:
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist (Luke 21:12-15).
I know many Americans, Christians and unbelievers, completely disheartened by government and what appears to be a complete disregard of the constitution and the very rights and processes its designed to uphold and protect. It’s easy to want to throw our hands up and in frustration do nothing. But Jesus’ words in Luke 21:34-36 are words for us today:
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Part of watching is knowing what to look for. We need to pay attention to what’s going on in our world, our nation, and our own back yards. We need to know the typical tactics of the enemies of the cross so we can recognize their efforts and avoid being caught of guard. That’s what we’ll uncover in our next blog.
I pray this series is an encouragement to you, opening your eyes and equipping you with unshakable hope! Click here for the entire series on “Unshakable Hope in the Face of Persecution.”
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Don’t forget to take a moment to consider the scriptures and questions below. I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below, or feel free to join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. The more we engage with one another, building each other up, the more we glorify God together, the greater our ability to stand firm no matter what we might face.
Lord, we know the goal isn’t that we would be feared but that You would be glorified, and as we glorify You, Your enemies would pause in fear. Tweet this! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Lord, on earth, in our nation, and in our individual lives as we become more wholly Yours. We love You and trust You and believe Your word to be true. Thank You for giving us everything we need for life and godliness, even in the face of uncertainty and oppression. We look forward to the eternal reward of forever in Your presence.
FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION:
- Speaking of governing authorities, Romans 13:4 says, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Yet, nowhere in scripture do we see God’s people petition the government to rescue, intervene, or stop persecution, or for that matter, to solve any of their problems. Why do you think that is?
- Based on 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” This includes in times of persecution. As Christians in a republic, we have the right to petition government for change. It is the power of the people; even as we do, why is it important to remember that it is God who gives us all things?
- According to the following scriptures, what gave God’s people power with governing officials? What conclusion can we draw about what we should be doing for “power” when facing persecution? Does this mean we shouldn’t exercise our civic rights as citizens? Why or why not, and what is the scriptural reason for your position?
“So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done” (Acts 4:21).
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).