Persecution has a broader definition, however. Because it is primarily associated with barbarous acts, we can fail to recognize that it takes less violent forms. Persecution can occur all around us and can effect us in our personal lives as Christians.
Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.” Jesus warned us in Matthew 5:10-12 that it would come;
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Christian persecution is at an all-time historical high.
It is important that we do not discount personal ill-treatment as not being persecution. It is inaccurate to think that we must be actually risking our lives in the worldwide underground church, or something similar, to classify harassment as persecution. Persecution has many levels and forms. We can respect and have compassion on our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ by praying for them, and by helping them as God leads us to do so. But it is helpful to understand that we are also subject to it at times.
Do some of us to live in persecution-free bubbles? Yes, some of us do. But some of us just don’t recognize persecution when we see it. To understand persecution and call it what it is can change the way we react to situations. It can redefine conflicts in our lives, and help us to redirect our energies and concerns. Ill-treatment, insults, and false-accusations do not always take the form of physical aggression. Sometimes the ones we love the most provide painful persecution within our own living rooms.
A friend of mine became a Christian years ago. The rest of her family has had difficulty understanding her recent choices for her children. While her extended family tries to be understanding and supporting as relatives, there has been a history of conflict regarding school choices, media exposure, etc. My friend has been subject to painful disapproval and has sought to appease her family with explanations. None of her efforts have lessened their disapproval. Her family has confronted her and directly challenged her choices. They have ridiculed her children. Their concern and disapproval is strong. They want her children to be like the rest of the kids in the world. She and her husband do not have that same goals as these well-meaning, but critical relatives.
Situations like this are common. My friend’s choices, made to honor God and His word, are unacceptable to her family. They, in turn, with the best of intentions, condemn and attempt to coerce her and her husband. Over time, her relatives’ frustration has increased and their actions have become less sensitive and even desperate and degrading. The children are healthy and are already showing amazing spiritual and natural giftedness, but her family thinks they are being treated too “differently.” While these parents struggle to hold their own at family gatherings, they had not recognized (until recently) that this is actually persecution.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “ We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” My friend, her husband and their children have been in a long season of rejection, feeling “hard pressed on every side” as misunderstanding has gradually become intolerance. Her parental freedom has been brought into question. Her family is being ill-treated for taking a stand against the societal norm. They are being persecuted. All other members of the family are against their choices as Christians. They have been singled out, disrespected and accused.
"Her family is being ill-treated for taking a stand against the societal norm. They are being persecuted."
What should we do in the face of persecution? Scripture addresses this situation in many ways. When you come to understand that relational or situational problems may be the result to other people’s negative or hostile reactions to your obedience to The Lord, here are things you should do.
1. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)
Jesus reminds us that all of our rewards are not in the here and now. He tells us that when we are subject to persecution and defamation, lies and insults, in His name, then we should be joyful and happy! We will be rewarded, and we should not forget that.
2. Take heart; remember that you are in good company.
Jesus said that “in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) Jesus’ words tell us that even prophets face persecution, so be honored. Persecution has happened before, and it will happen again. In Heaven, the persecuted are honored. And Jesus, Himself, sees what you are enduring for Him.
3. Pray, worship and sing hymns to God.
When Paul was persecuted as a Christian and was thrown in prison, having seen both sides of it, what was his response? He rejoiced in prison with Silas; “….Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25) Paul is repeatedly put before us in Scripture as an example to follow, and this is the example that he set.
4. Shine in the face of intimidation.
Matthew 5:15-16 says; ”Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Our tendency may be to run from people who persecute us. We can do that with strangers. But with family and friends, we tend to try to avoid conflict. Instead, God calls us to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (see Ephesians 6:13) He equips us to stand tall in our convictions, and to be light in the process. There is no need to justify or apologize for our obedience to our King. We must allow Jesus to shine through us.
5. Pray for grace.
II Corinthians 12:9 tells us that “(His) grace is sufficient for you, for (His) power is made perfect in weakness.” Ask for, and rest in, His grace.
6. Forgive your persecutors.
Matthew 6:14-15 makes it clear that no one one should be exempt from our forgiveness; “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” And when Jesus’s persecutors mocked Him and divided His clothing, He responded with unexplainable compassion, praying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
7. Give the situation to God.
While under persecution, David went to his Vindicator; “Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.” (Psalm 35:1) In Psalm 138:8, David similarly acknowledges that this is God’s fight; “ The Lord will vindicate me, your love, Lord, endures forever.” He knew that arguing could be in fruitless, and trying to change people’s hearts was God’s job. We must not fight a fight that is not ours.
8. Bless your persecutors.
Romans 12:14 says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” If we curse, we are using the same tactics that the enemy uses. If we bless, we are responding in God’s way.
9. Pray for your persecutors.
In Luke 6:28, Jesus tells us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” In Matthew 5:44 He says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Our prayers, in fact, may be key in turning the situation around.
10. Love your persecutors.
Luke 6:32 says “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. (verse 32) But love your enemies, do good to them…(verse 35)” This situation may be your truest test of your devotion to the Lord. It may be your biggest opportunity to be a living testimony. God bless you as you persevere.