Perspectives on Persecution

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Written by India Gospel Outreach

Categories: Prayer & Praise

Tags: Persecution

Comments: 0

Baptism of a new believer in northwest India. New Christians are often targeted for persecution by radical groups, especially in states with anti-conversion laws.

Praise God that He is able to use even the most heinous torture and persecution to His glory, to our blessing, to the destruction of the devil’s work and to the establishment of His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Almost every day, IGO President Valson Abraham receives reports from graduates of IGO training centers, now serving as evangelists and church planters and pastors, who suffer persecution from groups silently approved by the government. These persecutions include beatings, attacks on church services, rape of women and girls, imprisonment and worse. They are taking place in every state and territory of India.

Christians are forced to flee their homes and their livelihoods just to keep from getting killed. They lose their property and savings, and are forced to begin their lives all over again in places where their language is not spoken. The government gives them no aid, and pretends that nothing has happened. The police join the persecutors in beating and burning and killing.

In recent months, a systematic persecution of Christians has taken place in the state of Manipur which Prayer and Praise reported last month.

Like David, the people of Manipur are saying, “The enemy has persecuted my soul, he has crushed my life to the ground, he has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. Therefore, my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me.” (Psalm 143:3-4.)

Husband and wife evangelistic team spent seven months in prison for “luring and converting new people.” They were finally released on bail.

Wherever persecution takes place, acts of brutality and hatred become so intense, sickening and graphic, they cannot be described. Since 2014, these persecutions have become dramatically more intense as an ideologically driven government tries to wipe out those who disagree with them.

The persecution also includes many other forms of economic and educational discrimination against millions of Christian Dalits that we do not have the space to describe here now.

What kind of perspective should we as believers have on these things?

First of all, Jesus Himself, in many passages, tells His disciples to expect persecution that at times will become intense. In Matthew 10:22, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my Name.” In Matthew 24:9, He tells them, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”

Why does this happen? For the same reason they crucified Jesus. His life revealed the bankruptcy of His enemies’ lives. His good deeds, done with genuine love, showed up their hypocrisy and cold hearts. His humility and gentleness revealed their arrogance. They couldn’t stand it and put Him to death. They didn’t count on His rising from the grave.

In his earlier days, Saul of Tarsus hated and persecuted the church. Later, as the apostle Paul, he experienced more suffering and persecutions than just about anyone else.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul describes his own forms of persecution. He tells us he was whipped five times (195 stripes altogether), beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked three times, stoned once, imprisoned, accused many times by both religious Jews and Gentiles, confronted death on many occasions, treachery from false brethren.

This list does not include the last eleven years of his life which also included a two-year imprisonment in Jerusalem, another shipwreck, a snakebite, his first Roman imprisonment in Caesarea, house arrest in Rome, and a second Roman imprisonment that led to his execution. It is said that Paul’s final imprisonment was in Rome’s Mamertime Prison. Roman historians called it a place of “neglect, darkness and stench.” Clearly, Paul suffered greatly for his faith.

Yet near the end of his ministry, Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). He writes to the Philippians, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (4:11). To the Thessalonians, he writes, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

To the Corinthians, he describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). He also tells them, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

To Timothy, as he realizes his earthly life is almost over, he confides, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

How do we count it all joy? Trials lead to growth and dependence upon God. While we don’t seek it, it will bring good when it comes. Joseph suffered needlessly at the hands of his brothers who meant to bring evil upon him, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). In Joseph’s trials, God revealed Himself to Joseph in unusual ways that strengthened him in times of weakness.

With his many trials, Paul could not rejoice in his own strength but only in Holy Spirit power. As we open ourselves fully to Him, He also gives us joy and peace in the midst of our trials and uses them in ways that not only bring glory to Him but turns our tribulation into paths of blessing for us and others as only He alone can.

Graduates at India Bible College and Seminary are told they may face persecution for their faith, even death, but they are still ready to go.

At all IGO training centers, future evangelists are prepared to expect the likelihood of persecution, even to pay the ultimate price. Persecution is a biblical promise and will come in many forms. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted in one way or another (2 Timothy 3:12).

IGO evangelists are not required to seek out persecution. Even Jesus prayed to be delivered from the cross if it were possible (Luke 22:39-46). But when it came to Him, He endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-2). He trusted His Father to bring good from the cross, and His Father was faithful to do it. That power continues to this
present day.

When we are “in” Him, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the ultimate example of what we can expect to happen when we experience our own trials and persecution. In His own wisdom, God allows the devil and the forces of evil to accomplish His purposes, not only in His Son, but also in and through us who are His children who suffer as His Son suffered.

Not only are we His children, He has also made us His kings and priests (Revelation 5), delegating His authority to us to destroy the works of Satan and to serve as mediators of God’s grace to the world. He uses even the worst things and most evil people as His unwitting agents to grow our trust in Him that in His power, we might accomplish the greatest possible good, demonstrating that He truly is sovereign in even in the worst circumstances.

Stephen, the first martyr (depicted by Rembrandt), prayed for his killers, one of whom was Saul of Tarsus, later Paul. Augustine said, “Had Stephen not prayed, Paul would not have preached.”

Therefore, it is no wonder that Satan fears us and works desperately through his willing human agents to fill our minds with lies to render us ineffective, and to destroy us.

In the first three centuries of church history, Roman persecution of Christians was fairly localized. Then in 249, as the Christian faith continued to spread over the Roman Empire, the emperor, Decius, ordered the first empire-wide persecution. In 303, Diocletian stripped Christians of all civil rights and required everyone to sacrifice to the emperor. Scriptures and churches were systematically destroyed.

At that time, the persecution became so intense and terrifying, many Christians actually lapsed in their faith, but even still, heavy persecution failed to destroy the church. Later, the lapsed believers, in repentance like Peter after his denial of Christ, returned to their faith and became stronger in spite of their failure.

Persecution is not working, not even in India, not even though the days right now seem very bleak. Even as James says, persecution is building faith and endurance, producing believers shorn of the nonessentials, so only the essential remains. After intense persecution in Odisha in 2008, IBC admitted, not less, but more students from Odisha than ever before.

Despite the seeming unrelenting persecutions, the scriptures also tell us, “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6). We do not necessarily have to wait for justice in the “sweet bye and bye.” Where is the pagan Roman empire today? Where is the corrupt temple establishment of Jerusalem that seemed so indestructible? In a similar way, today’s persecutors will one day occupy history’s rubbish bin.

Heavy persecution of Christians has failed to stop people from trusting in Jesus.

History demonstrates that persecutions have utterly failed to stop the spread of the gospel. The church began with 120 people in just one place. From its earliest days, even as Jesus promised, his followers experienced prison, beatings and death at the hands of authorities far richer and more powerful. By all odds, the church should have become an obscure footnote of history.

Yet today, more than 2.5 billion people claim allegiance in some form to Jesus Christ in every continent. More often than not, persecution has grown the church. God continues to raise up Indian missionaries, and it is difficult to keep up with the harvest.

As one Christian leader has said, “God will always find a way to bring salvation to His people.” Another Christian leader has said, “India’s reputation as a missionary graveyard is now as outdated as colonialism.” Persecution is really a sign of the
devil’s desperation.

Pray that God will sustain all the true followers of Jesus Christ in India who are undergoing different forms of persecution, with specific prayers for evangelists and pastors trained and sent through IGO’s ministry.

Pray for Damascus-road kinds of experiences for persecutors that they might repent and become transformed to become the apostle Pauls of this generation.

Pray for vindication of God’s people in India and judgment upon all those who refuse to bow the knee to King Jesus.

Pray for the day in India when all of Indian life and culture in every people group will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

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