One of the discouragements that meet every true Christian before he has gone very far in the Christian life is persecution. God tells us in His Word that “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Sooner or later everyone who surrenders absolutely to God and seeks to follow Jesus Christ in everything will find that this verse is true. We live in a God-hating world and in a compromising age. The world’s hatred of God in our day is no longer veiled. It does express itself in our land and around the world in the same way that it expressed itself in Palestine in the days of Jesus Christ. The world hates God today as much as it ever did, even more, and it hates the one who is loyal to Christ. It may not imprison him or kill him but in some way, it will persecute him. Persecution is inevitable for a loyal follower of Jesus Christ. Many a young Christian when he meets with persecution is surprised and discouraged and many end up falling away. Many a one seems to run well for a few days but like those of whom Jesus spoke, “They have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17). I have seen many an apparently promising Christian life brought to an end in this way. But if persecution is rightly received, it is no longer a hindrance to the Christian life but a help to it.
Do not be discouraged when you are persecuted. No matter how fierce and hard the persecution may be, be thankful for it. Jesus says, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:10–12). It is a great privilege to be persecuted for Christ and for the truth. Peter found this out and wrote to the Christians of his day: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12–14). Be very sure that the persecution is really for Christ’s sake and not because of some eccentricity of your own, or because of your stubbornness. There are many who bring upon themselves the displeasure of others because they are stubborn and cranky and then flatter themselves that they are being persecuted for Christ’s sake and for righteousness’ sake. Be considerate of the opinions of others and be considerate of the conduct of others. Be sure that you do not push your opinions upon others in an unwarrantable way, or make your conscience a rule of life for other people. But never yield a jot of principle. Stand for what you believe to be the truth. Do it in love, but do it at any cost. And if when you are standing for conviction and principle you are disliked for it and slandered for it and treated with all manner of unkindness because of it, do not be sad but rejoice. Do not speak evil of those who speak evil of you, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21, 23).
At this point many a Christian makes a mistake. He stands loyally for the truth, but he receives the persecution that comes for the truth with harshness, he grows bitter, he gets to condemning everyone but himself. There is no blessing in bearing persecution in that way. Persecution should be borne meekly, lovingly, serenely. Don’t talk about your own persecutions. Rejoice in them. Thank God for them, and go on obeying God. And don’t forget to love and pray for them who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).
If at any time the persecution seems harder than you can bear, remember how abundant the reward is, “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). Everyone must enter into the kingdom of God through much tribulation (Acts 14:22), but do not go back on that account. Remember always however fiercely the fire of persecution may burn, “That the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Remember too that your light affliction is but for the moment, and that it worketh out for you “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Keep looking, not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are but for a time, but the things which are not seen are for eternity (2 Cor. 4:18). When the apostles were persecuted, even unto imprisonment and stripes, they departed from the presence of the council that had ordered their terrible punishment, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus, and they continued daily in the temple and every house teaching and preaching Jesus Christ (Acts 5:40–42).
The time may come when you think that you are being persecuted more than others, but you do not know what others may have to endure. Even if it were true,—that you were being persecuted more than any one else, you ought not to complain but to humbly thank God that He has bestowed upon you such an honour. Keep your eyes fixed upon “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:2-3). R. A. Torrey (1856 – 1928) was once talking with an older black gentleman who in the slave days had found his Savior. The cruel master had him flogged again and again for his loyalty to Christ but he said to me, “I simply thought of my Savior dying on the cross in my place, and I rejoiced to suffer persecution for Him.”