The title of this article comes from Hebrews 11:38. It falls at the end of the great faith chapter in which we read about men and women of God through whom the Lord performed mighty works through their faith in Him.
But on this faith roster of great men and women, we also read:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV
Today, we hear about the persecuted church in China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, and in many other oppressive nations. The New Testament church was also a persecuted church. This is abundantly clear from Acts and many of the letters to the churches. In fact, wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has gone, men and women and even children have surrendered their lives to Christ, knowing full well that it will cost them dearly in this life.
We don’t like to talk about persecution in the United States. It makes us uncomfortable. But the religious freedom we’ve enjoyed in our country since its inception has been unique. What we take for granted, the rest of the world rarely experiences. Even in Austria where we served as missionaries, followers of Jesus Christ were ostracized as a cult.
We forget that persecution is the norm; the freedom to worship Jesus Christ and tell others about Him without fear of harassment is the anomaly. In John 15:20, Jesus told His disciples, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
You might be wondering why I’m writing about this…
First, let me say that I don’t wish for persecution. I think we’re beginning to lose our religious freedom here in America and it may get worse, but I don’t desire persecution. However, if we experience persecution of any kind, we need to view it as that which Jesus told us would happen. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” To be persecuted for Jesus sake is the norm, not the exception. When it comes, it will do us well to remember that.
Also, I can’t help but recognize that the persecution of followers of Jesus has always had the following effects:
- It strengthens the faith of Christ’s followers.
- It purges and purifies the church of posers and nominal Christians.
- It results in the spread of the Gospel.
- Its pruning effect promotes unprecedented growth of Christ’s church.
These have always been the unexpected results of persecution.
In the 1960s, Operation Mobilization began smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union and its communist satellite countries. These bold missionaries did not fear getting caught but were concerned for the welfare of the Christians who lived behind the Iron Curtain. But when the missionaries expressed their concern for them, they replied, “It is not fair of you to rob us of the opportunity to suffer for our Lord.”
In more recent times, many followers of Christ among the Kham people of Nepal have suffered imprisonment, beatings and torture for their faith in Jesus Christ. Like others before them, they counted themselves blessed for the privilege of suffering for Christ.
On Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem, his friends begged him with tears not to go to Jerusalem, knowing what would happen to him there. But Paul answered them, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heat? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
Romans 15:4 reminds us, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
When I read about those faith-filled men and women in Hebrews 11, in Acts, or those around the world today who are suffering for Jesus Christ, my faith is increased. It motivates me to live for Christ whole-heartedly. It also prompts me to pray for those who are being persecuted and for the church in the US.
For us who live in freedom in America right now, the
question isn’t whether we’re willing to die for Jesus Christ, but whether we’re
willing to live for Him.
 Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2017), 9.