Persecution against Christians has been ubiquitous since the earliest days of the church. In the book of Acts, we read about the early church and its struggles against external attacks: first with the religious authorities in Jerusalem, then with local authorities in towns scattered around the Mediterranean Sea and ultimately with the highest powers in the Roman Empire itself.
Knowing that persecution has been present throughout the history of the church does not, however, make it easier to endure when it comes. Sometimes, when persecution comes, the privilege of gathering together to worship may not last as a church can be ordered to stop meeting. Some churches are permitted to continue but are ordered to reduce their activities significantly. Often, workers are forced to leave the country while others are detained for weeks and questioned incessantly. Computers can be confiscated and searched, which can lead to even further recriminations because of details discovered on files. For those who are not able to leave a country in which there is persecution, they can face much more trying oppression.
When persecution pressed against the apostle Paul, he had different responses. Sometimes he fled, other times he couldn’t escape and had to be rescued, still other times he had to endure imprisonment or physical abuse, and once he was stoned nearly to death. In short, there is no single response to persecution against believers that can be claimed as more righteous or godly than another. We are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Even so, Peter’s & John’s response to persecution in Acts 4 is instructive. After being arrested and forced to stand before Israel’s leaders who charged Peter & John never to speak or teach in the name of Jesus again, they answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”. In the face of immanent repercussions and suffering, the severity of which had been demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion, these Christians show us what it means to fear God.
It is relatively common today to say that the biblical command to “fear the Lord” or “fear God” has more to do with respect than actual fear, but such an interpretation is concerned to reduce offense rather than take the text seriously. Yes, Christians love God. Yes, Christians are sons and daughters of the Father. But even while we are invited into intimate relationship with God, we cannot forget that he is still God. Peter and John not only loved God more than themselves, but they feared God more than the authorities.
Join us on Sunday from 8:15-8:45 am to pray for those we know who are facing persecution, that their love and fear for the God of their salvation might continue to spur them on to obedience as well as to wisdom as they face difficult decisions in the days ahead.