A Biblical Response to Opposition

By Steven Masood on 09/02/2022
A Biblical Response to Opposition

Indeed, this life is given once, and we should use it to the full for his glory. A general misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching on persecution is that believers humbly do nothing while being attacked or assassinated. Certainly, retribution and hostility are not, at all, part of a biblical response (Romans 12:19; John 18:23-40); it does not mean that believers should not seek to escape harm when possible. Jesus told his followers to flee persecution in one town by moving to another (Matthew 10:23). This way, the good news about faith in Jesus will spread throughout the towns and cities. In the book of Acts, we see how the religious leaders launched the first great persecution against the church in Jerusalem after stoning Stephen. This caused the disciples to scatter through the “regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1-4), but they preached the word wherever they went. They did not become secret believers; they still shared the gospel.

By following Jesus, we may lose our families and our friends. It could be the loss of a job or business. We may be accused of doing something we did not do. Perhaps we may be dragged into worldly courts and put on trial or condemned to sentences we do not deserve. Yes, it has happened to many and still is happening. Let’s not forget that God has a complete picture of the problem in such a situation. Sometimes, the Lord allows such things for a very different purpose. He wants to reach someone with the gospel through us.

We find an example of such a situation in the case of Paul and Silas as missionaries in Philippi. They found a group of Jewish and God-fearing Gentile women and told them about Jesus. As a result, the church in Philippi began with a group of praying women. We then see Paul and Silas in the market, followed by a fortune-teller girl possessed by Python’s spirit. She started announcing, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17; Mark 1:23-26). Paul commanded the evil spirit to leave her in the name of Jesus, and she was healed. When the devil tells the truth, the effect is always confusion and deceitfulness (1 Timothy 4:1). Owners of the slave girl losing money stirred up the crowd against Paul and Silas. They were beaten and imprisoned in a maximum-security cell – not a Holiday Inn (Acts 16:19-26).

Backs bruised and torn, punished illegally for an act of mercy. But these crazy deplorable Christian zealots had no time for a self-pity party. Rejoicing was the order of the evening – they were singing the Halleluiah hymns to God. Suddenly there was an earthquake. The prison doors flung open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up and saw the prison door open; he thought the prisoners had fled. He was about to commit suicide. Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We all are here” (Acts 16:27-28). That evening the jailer took Paul and Silas home. He and his household embraced the saving grace of Jesus (Acts 16:33-34). Here is the lesson I learned from it. We should be careful how we interpret the situations that come upon us. It is not always for self.

How should today a believer respond to suffering?

How should we respond to being mocked by friends for our belief in Christ? How should we respond when sometimes even our families don’t understand us? During our conversations worldwide, new believers in Christ often raise such a query. Several decades ago, I was reminded that I also used to raise such questions. I am thankful that God brought friends locally and worldwide who helped me grow in Jesus – finding guidance in the Bible. The best example I found is in what Peter wrote to believers:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal or even as a meddler.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:12-19).

This passage is not about the dilemma of suffering in general. It is not a reflection on why good people face physical or psychological illness, die in accidents, or some misfortunes overturn their lives. It is pastoral counseling and encouragement for those who face harm, rejection, and public humiliation because of being followers of Jesus.

Peter has a lot to say about suffering. The fifth emperor of Rome, Nero (d. 68 AD), blamed the Christian community for the devastation from fire in the city, initiating the empire’s persecution against them. He had Christians covered with tar and burned at stake to light up his garden. These Christians needed to hear that suffering was part of the will of God and that they should not be shocked by it. They also needed to understand how to respond to it.

Many of the Christians in this context were shocked by the suffering they were enduring. However, Peter says they should not be shocked or surprised by this painful trial. The word painful can also be translated as “fiery.” He may be referring to the common practice of burning Christians at stake.

Jesus had already said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19).

I remember complaining to God about my problems because of my faith in Christ. I was upset. I wanted a miracle in my life. A wave of peacefulness came over me. It was late evening. I had not turned on the light. Only the streetlight shone through the window on the open Bible before me. I looked down and read the following passage: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). (Emphasis in italics are mine).

I cried again, but this time this cry was of rejoicing. It was here that I found how the Scriptures give us hope. I was reminded of eternal fellowship in peace with fellow believers forever. I am continually reminded of Jesus’ second coming. No other leader is coming back for his flock. Not even Muhammad for my Muslim friends, but Jesus is coming back for his people. There will be an end to all persecution. His people will be overjoyed at his second coming.

As followers of Christ, we have another reason for rejoicing: we are not alone in our suffering and persecutions. The Holy Spirit is there to help us. The Bible reminds us: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14)

In the earliest days of the Jerusalem church, John and Peter were interrogated after healing a lame man in  Jesus’ name. When authorities question them, we are told that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and responded (Acts 4:8). When the church was persecuted, they saw it as an occasion to pray for boldness, and the Bible states: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31)

 

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Please write to me, and I will be happy to send you my new book, ‘One God, One Mediator, One people’ (254 pages), on just one condition: please read it and pass it on to a Muslim or a Christian friend. [email protected]

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