This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Irina Ratushinskaya (from Russia, imprisoned for seven years in a labor camp), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
For my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Matthew 11:30)
These words from Jesus seem strange. What is easy--and what is light?
Even the decision to start practicing it is heavy. But once having decided, we notice that it is easy. I experienced this in a camp with political prisoners. The life that the prison guards arranged for us seemed one dark nightmare. But by the spiritual attitude of my friends and myself this nightmare changed completely.
Why? Because we had an amazing sense of protection around us. And a conviction that all the evil intentions of the guards ultimately would only lead us closer to the heavenly kingdom.
Knocked out by cold or hunger? Threatened with death?
But aren't we serving the Lord? The fear of suffering loses all its power when a person takes up that service.
The inevitable sadness only scratches the outer cover of the soul--but can never penetrate it. There, within, is only light and joy and peace. And from there comes new strength.
And every time you are astonished, you remember: Christ did promise that it would be light!
A moment of introspection: Is there a purpose to persecution, in today's world? If so, what might such purpose(s) be? In Irina’s wisdom, she describes a decision to start applying God’s Word, and said that the onerous burden of persecution and suffering became easy. Perhaps we might come to understand Irina’s decision in light of understanding the purpose(s) of persecution in the life of Believers. Jesus told us Believers that we will know persecution on this earth (John 15:20). Let us give this further consideration. The world tells us the purposes of persecution--subjugation of individuals and of whole populations; elimination/genocide of non-conformists; homogenization of a population with intent to enforce conformity to ideology or governmental power demands; elimination of competing beliefs, philosophies, or life-styles that take away followers/customers/captive consumers or audiences; etc. In short, as George Orwell wrote (in his book, 1984, Chapter 3, Page 3), "The purpose of persecution is persecution." To the world, persecution is meant for harm. But are there any purposes to persecution in our lives? Some contend that there are purposes to (and reward in persevering in the face of) persecution. From the world's perspective, one such as Sir Thomas Browne might say, "Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant religion." (Quoted from his book entitled, Religio Medici [The Religion of a Doctor], printed in 1643, Part I, Section 25); yet Christians such as St. Jerome consider persecution and see its purpose in the growth of the church.
He wrote, "The Church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made the Church grow; martyrdoms have crowned it."
(St. Jerome [AD 347-AD 420], best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin [the translation that became known as the Vulgate], and his commentaries on the Gospels. His list of writings is extensive.)
More contemporarily, Og Mandino spoke from the world's view of success, when he wrote, "So long as there is breath in me, that long will I persist. For now I know one of the greatest principles of success, if I persist long enough, I will win." For a Christian, though, perhaps persecution might persuade us that if we persist long enough, Christ will be glorified. God's Word urges us to persevere in the face of persecution and suffering; Revelation 2:10 urges us not to "fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (emphasis mine)
Purposes to persecution -
- church growth,
- glorification of Jesus Christ.
- the Crown of Life for those who persevere to the end
Today, many non-believers in the Middle East are coming to faith in Christ, through the testimony and the suffering of Christians they know. Iran, China, India, Africa, South America, Asia, and more countries/lands are noting a significant growth in the body of Believers, as Jesus Christ is glorified.
For this to be realized, we Believers may have need of a change of perspective. In the book of Genesis, Joseph spoke of such perspective: (Genesis 50:19-20) Joseph said to his brothers, "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." Indeed, the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Colossae, that "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." (Colossians 1:24) Our sufferings do not add to the atoning worth of Jesus' sufferings. Rather, because His sufferings are not known to the world, we suffer to bring that news of Christ to those His sufferings were meant to save. In this, a purpose appears to the persecution promised by our Savior: that when we are persecuted, and when we suffer for the sake of Christ, we help to fulfill the spread of the aroma of life leading to life though we, as Paul was, also may need to be the "aroma of death leading to death" to accomplish such. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17) The apostle Paul, imprisoned for his testimony of the power of God in his life, asked for prayer--that God would use his imprisonment: "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make know the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (emphasis mine; Ephesians 6:19-20) To the Church at Colossae, he encouraged them to "devote yourselves to prayer...praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak." (emphasis mine; Colossians 4:2-4) The apostle Paul, (and we, if caught up in suffering from the world) still wanted to be an aromatic conveyor of the Truth, and we too should pray that God will give us the right words in such a situation, and that we too would fearlessly make Christ known. Not uncommonly do reports arrive, of Christians leading many non-believing cellmates to Christ. In the reports of persecution, too, we are offered the opportunity to lend strength to beleaguered and suffering saints, via our intercession. (Hebrews 13:3;1 Corinthians 12:26) Jesus said that He must work while the day is here, for the night is coming when no work can be done. (John 9:3-5) It behooves us to be about our Father's business while there is still time.
Purposes to persecution/suffering -
- rallies the body of Christ to support persecuted Believers,
- speaking forth the earthly life and divinity of Christ, and
- a wafting of the aroma from that of death to that of the glorious life in Christ.
One of the purposes of persecution and suffering is that it teaches us to trust in God--not in ourselves. The apostle Paul informed the members of the church in Corinth saying, "we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead." (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) From this, perhaps we, too, might see the opportunity within persecution, to more completely trust in God. If we suffer, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, we might count ourselves pilgrims making progress toward God's Kingdom. It is for the strengthening of Believers, that he spoke to disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, "...exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:21-22) The apostle Paul encouraged the Believers in Rome, when he described his own sufferings from his own perspective: "For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) Suffering for Christ's sake brings with it unbelievable future glory." It is right for us Believers to keep an eye to the future, even as we do our work in the present. Irina Ratushinskaya agreed, saying "The fear of suffering loses all its power when a person takes up that service." To us Believers who have been born "...for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14), the apostle Paul reminds us, above, that it often is "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." To the church members in Philippi he said this was fact: "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Philippians 1:29); to us in our time it remains a possible grant. Persecution brings scars to have meaning, in the life of believers; the apostle Paul wrote of bearing on his body "the 'brand marks of Christ'. Believers in the world today have shown other Christians the scars of bullets on their bodies and spoke of them as being "medals" of Christ. They rejoice that they bear in their bodies the 'brand marks of Christ'. (Galatians 6:17)
Purposes to persecution -
- teaching us to trust in God, not in ourselves;
- seeing our suffering in eternal light of unbelievable glory;
- receiving a grant, or "gift" for Christ's sake;
- wearing medals/brand-marks of Christ.
Perhaps the purpose of persecution in our lives as in Jesus' time, is to receive from the Father's hand, blessing upon blessing. Jesus, in Matthew 5:10-11, described these graces thusly: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account." Desiring God, trusting Him, we live to do His will. Colossians 1:9-23 presents the encouragement to us: to know His will for our lives (being filled with wisdom and spiritual understanding), to walk worthy of Christ and fully pleasing Him, to be fruitful and growing in our knowledge of the Father, to be strengthened for all patience and longsuffering; and then the finale--"if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister."
Purposes to persecution -
- to receive from the Father blessing upon blessing,
- to receive encouragement and strengthening,
- to be strengthened for patience and longsuffering,
- to develop perseverance and staying power/stamina (so that we may not be moved away from the hope of the gospel, no matter what may happen),
- to experience the Truth of God’s Word. (John 1:1)
Applying our efforts to these purposes, may we live and flourish to the end of the glorification of Christ, continuing in the faith no matter what adversity, persecution or suffering may confront us, for the sake of our Lord. Jesus tells us, "my yoke is easy and my burden light." (Matthew 11:30)