Learning From The Persecuted Church
By Lois J. Stucky
What a moving experience it has been, as we prepare this issue of Herald of His Coming, to explore publications which detail the persecution of devoted Christian brothers and sisters in many places around the world. Having glimpsed their gallantry in enduring the trials, tragedies and triumphs of persecution for the sake of Christ, it seems to me that we Christians of the free world can learn some valuable lessons from them.
We may know something of the loneliness of standing humanly alone because of our faith in Christ, or of being misunderstood or ignored or belittled because of our Christian convictions. We may have learned of something said behind our back in ridicule or anger because of our stand, or perhaps we have met this face to face. But very few of us have gone through unspeakable tortures or been jailed or been attacked viciously and left for dead because of our faith in God. Yet some young Christians in other areas, only weeks or months old in the Lord, have faced this along with mature saints.
We who have much religious freedom, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves if our good is spoken ill of, ought to thank God for an opportunity to touch even the fringes of suffering for our faith. It strengthens our fellowship with Him who "that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach [disgrace]" (Heb. 13:12-13).
It makes so little sense humanly speaking, that the ones attacked are often the community’s most moral and trustworthy citizens, the most diligent workers, and the most kind and helpful to the needy. Yet because of their devotion to Christ, they suffer. Human reaction could well be anger at the injustice.
We need to keep in mind it is part of the spiritual battle going on in the world--the battle between the spirit of the devil and the Spirit of God, the battle between evil and good. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).
Some of the tortures inflicted on Christians are frightfully inhuman. How can it be so? We must see that on one end of the scale is the love of God so "rich and pure, so measureless and strong," so superbly excellent as to be unfathomable to us. And it is likewise on the opposite end of the scale, the hatred propagated by satanic forces has gone to such horrific, cruel depths as to be incomprehensible to us. How can Christians bear up under such torture, we might wonder. Richard Wurmbrand who was imprisoned fourteen years for Christ, bears testimony to the grace God gives. He tells us, beatings can be endured.
Wurmbrand further writes that it was while enduring beatings in prison that the Christian prisoners learned to love--yes, love!--their tormentors and to pray for them. One of the last things he did before leaving his home country after release from prison where he had suffered immeasurably for Christ’s sake, was to put a flower on the grave of the official who had commanded his arrest and torture. Only love divine, "all loves excelling," could have enabled that. The message Wurmbrand brought to the free world from a suffering land of Communism, was the message of Jesus to "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
Hate the sin and cruelty, but love the sinner. "For if ye love them which love you, what reward have you?...what do you more than others?...Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:46-48). What lessons many of us have to learn in loving as Jesus loves!
We need also to learn to appreciate and develop the deep-seated joy we have in our hearts because we know the Saviour and are a partaker of the blessed salvation and eternal life provided for us through His shed blood. We Christians of the free world may have much happiness and joy because of favorable circumstances and because of liberties now ours to propagate the Gospel freely and win souls for Jesus. Our hearts should overflow with joy.
But what if we lose many of the things which we now find so enjoyable? What if to witness and win souls, instead of flooding the heart with joy, would sober us because it could mean that someone we win might one day have to give his life for Christ, leaving behind a widow and children who would suffer greatly as the family of a martyr? Would we have an inner joy that could endure that? Have we learned to so rejoice in our Saviour who abides within, that it will carry us through when we are in "heaviness through manifold temptations [trials]" such as this? We can practice now enduring trials God permits in our lives without murmuring and complaining, without bitterness eclipsing the joy of our salvation, and without losing sight of our grand hope of eternal life.
We need to develop the kind of joy that was displayed by the Apostle Paul and Silas when they sang in prison, with bleeding backs and with hands and feet aching in stocks. "Rejoice in the Lord always:" says the Apostle Paul, "and again I say, rejoice!" Paul had long practiced keeping under his body (1 Cor. 9:27). He did not let it dominate him lest in the end, it result in his downfall. He renewed and strengthened the inner man day by day. He kept filled with the Holy Spirit by which the deeds of the body are mortified, and from whom comes the fruit of joy.
"Rejoice in the Lord" Paul says. That is the secret. It may mean rejoicing through tears and through pain. But looking unto Jesus who will never leave us nor forsake us, we are able to endure with patience, with "cheerful" endurance. Our Lord’s precious presence can make even prison walls sparkle like diamonds. One can look out through prison bars and see not mud, but stars, as the poet says.
Suffering triumphantly borne, develops sterling character. Quality character pleases and glorifies God. It adds luster to a heavenly crown. It provides a good example to a struggling fellow traveler along life’s way.
Our persecuted brothers and sisters have learned that the best antidote to anti-Christ propaganda drummed into one’s ears for hours on end, is God’s holy Word. Hiding it in the heart, committing it to memory is a great way to keep from sinning and to cut to pieces lies with which the devil would want to invade our minds. A dear 88-year-old missionary friend wrote recently that she has again taken up Scripture memorization, after laying it down for some time. It can be done! How wonderful it is to think God’s thoughts after Him! His Word is truth. Truth is part of the armor by which we withstand the devil, and having done all, to stand.
Might we not neglect helping children memorize Scripture. The discipline of it does not make it popular. Especially is this true for children accustomed to being effortlessly entertained by TV or videos. Oh, parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers--encourage Scripture memorization even among the youngest! The seed of the Word of God sown in fertile young minds will bring forth good fruit for a lifetime. It will help guard them against bombardment of satanic lies from whatever source.
We are told that the most likely place to find fervent first love is where there is persecution. It is too risky there to be half-hearted. They know it is costly to be a Christian, but they are willing to pay the price. They value highly that which Christ has imparted to them. Their love for Jesus overflows.
God help us all to learn from persecuted Christians and to pray for them, not only on November 4, but on and on and on.
In a recent letter David Wilkerson told of ministering in Russia to pastors, some of whom had been in prison under Communism, and who are now facing opposition from the Orthodox Church. The pastors told him that they understand the Spirit of God is telling them that persecution and hard times are soon to come to them again. Confident of the Lord’s love for them, they declare they are not afraid. Confidence in God breeds courage. Let’s learn from those who serve God amid persecution to strengthen our confidence in God through whatever trials He allows to come our way!