24th Jan 2013 by Timothy Tai-
As followers of Christ, we should not be surprised at all whenever we go through trials and times of persecution. In fact, we should expect them! All we have to do is just read the 7th and 8th chapters of the book of Acts to see the fiery trials that the Christians in the early church had to endure.
It started when Stephen, whom the Bible describes as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, boldly preached the truth to the religious members of the Sanhedrin. The people were so enraged that they screamed at the top of their lungs and dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death. That very day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and Saul began to destroy the church by going from house to house and throwing the early Christians into prison.
Consequently, we are told that ‘all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria’. However, it was during that time of great persecution, that the early church also began to grow exponentially. Even though many of the early believers had been scattered, they continued to ‘preach the word wherever they went’ and multitudes were added to church as a result.
We would do well to remember that every time we are persecuted and go through trials now, we also have a remarkable opportunity to win people to Christ through our words and actions. With that in mind, how should we as Christians respond during times of persecution? The Bible has so much to teach us about that but let’s just take a look at a few verses.
First of all, we should definitely be slow to anger and not seek to take revenge.
This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, NIV)
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19, NIV)
Secondly, we should obey Jesus command to love our enemies and pray for the salvation of those who persecute us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)
Thirdly, we should follow the example of our beloved Savior when He was unjustly nailed and put to death on the cross.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)
After all, Stephen did the same thing and forgave the Sanhedrin as he was being stoned to death by them.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60, NIV)
And by the way, let us not forget that Saul (the same one who zealously persecuted the early church) was standing by and watching in approval as they murdered Stephen. Of course, we all know now that Saul would later have a personal encounter with Jesus and become the great apostle Paul but the early Christians had no way of knowing that then. But that’s one of the most amazing things about God isn’t it? He can totally transform the life of someone who was so opposed to Him and turn him into one of His most outspoken ambassadors.
After all, don’t forget that we were all once enemies of God ourselves who have now been reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
So, as Christians let us be very wise in how we respond to trials and tribulations because the people around us are watching. Who knows how many people might come to know Christ through our prayers and conduct?
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Note: Timothy grew up in Kuching and worked in KL before jumping off the corporate ladder in 2006. He moved to New York City where he served at an inner-city kids ministry for almost 6 years. He has since returned to KL and has just married his Irish fiancee Sarah.
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