Are Christians About to Come Under Severe Persecution? + Persistency in Prayer Redux #343
Hello friends and a happy Friday to you! Today we’re reading 2nd Chronicles 3 and 4, Nahum 2, Luke 18 and 1 John 3. Today our focus is in 1 John 3, which is a bit of a surprise if you know me, because the Parable of the Persistent Widow is my absolute favorite parable of Jesus, and I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk about it. Oh, who am I fooling! I need to talk about Luke 18 at least a bit, because we have not talked about the Persistent Widow parable enough this year, so here it is…the easiest to understand parable of Jesus:
Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect people.3 And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect people,5 yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so that she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’” 6 Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.7 Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?8 I tell you that he will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
How do I know this is the easiest to understand parable of Jesus? Because Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us EXACTLY what this parable means right off the bat – “WE SHOULD ALWAYS PRAY, and NEVER GIVE UP.” Jesus gives us the model of a widow in great need who literally pesters and nearly wears out an UNjust judge by her frequent coming to him and asking for justice. The unjust judge finally gives her justice, and Jesus brings the home to point to us – will God – who is a JUST judge – not do the same for us when we come to Him in prayer? He absolutely will, so, saints of God – be reminded to be persistent in prayer – always praying and never giving up.
Back to 1 John 3 – in this passage, we have a bit of bad news:
13 Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
1 John 3:13
It is a very short statement from John, and he doesn’t hardly elaborate on it at all, but it is sandwiched in the middle of a series of commands for Christians to walk in love and love each other. Let’s read the whole passage and then discuss this likely hatred we will be facing.
As I have probably mentioned before, my family and I have lived in California for the last (almost) three years, moving here from Alabama where we had spent the entirety of our lives previously. Moving from a more conservative state to a more liberal state politically has been interesting, and every now and then, friends from back home ask us about the atmosphere out here on the West coast. In fact, during an online Bible study tonight with friends from the South, my wife was asked how much persecution we face out here in Cali. I’ve thought about that question quite a bit since we’ve moved to California. It is certainly different here – less churches, less people in church, and a much more secular atmosphere in many ways. Are Christians being persecuted here? I’m sure that is happening to some degree, but I’ll be honest: Living here in California, I certainly don’t get the feeling that the politicians or anybody else has an axe to grind with Christians here. Is everything absolutely fair? I doubt it…but I think that it rarely rises to the level of actual persecution. That said, when I read the Bible, I see numerous verses that teach something similar to 1 John 3:15 – we should NOT be surprised if the world hates us. Seemingly, John is telling us, that will be par for the course – to be expected. Indeed, Paul addresses this dynamic also, even more strongly:
12 In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2nd Timothy 3:12
That sounds like a virtual guarantee right there – it doesn’t mean we will be persecuted 100% of the time in 100% of the places we find ourselves, but it does seem we are guaranteed at least some persecution, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the world hates us. As you might expect, Jesus also warns us that we should expect persecution:
20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And, though it is a more general principle, notice the message of Paul and Barnabas to the churches in Acts 14:
22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
So – we should expect hardship, persecutions, and to be hated. How do we respond? Well, we have already discussed the command of Jesus – love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you – and we absolutely should do that! I think John also tells us how to respond here:
14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.
1 John 3:14-18
We respond to hatred not with hatred, by with love and blessing – doubling down in particular on our love for each other – a love that is expressed, says John, by sacrifice and actions. Let me close with an encouraging word from John Newton about how to manage when the world hates us:
By enduring temptation, you, as a living member of the body of Christ, have the honour of being conformed to your Head. He suffered, being tempted; and because he loves you, he calls you to a participation of his sufferings, and to taste of his cup: not the cup of the wrath of God; this he drank alone, and he drank it all. But in affliction he allows his people to have fellowship with him; thus they fill up the measure of his sufferings, and can say, As he was, so are we in the world. Marvel not that the world hates you, neither marvel that Satan rages against you. Should not the disciple be as his Lord? Can the servant expect or desire peace from the avowed enemies of his Master? We are to follow his steps; and can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers, when his was strewed with thorns? Let us be in nothing terrified by the power of our adversaries; which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to us of salvation, and that of God. To us it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his sake. If we would make peace with the world, the world would let us alone; if we could be content to walk in the ways of sin, Satan would give us no disturbance; but because grace has rescued us from his dominion, and the love of Jesus constrains us to live to him alone, therefore the enemy, like a lion robbed of his prey, roars against us. He roars, but he cannot devour; he plots and rages, but he cannot prevail; he disquiets, but he cannot destroy. If we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him: in due time he will bruise Satan under our feet, make us more than conquerors, and place us where we shall hear the voice of war no more for ever.
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 230–231.