Persecution from Within
by Aneel Aranha
Note: These scenarios are not gender specific. Male and female roles can be switched, depending on your own experiences in the matter.
You are burning with zeal for the salvation of souls and engage yourself to the fullest of your capabilities to bring people back to God. But you find yourself persecuted from all quarters, even, strangely enough, from members of your own Church who malign you and slander you every opportunity they get. This persecution from "within", from people who should be supporting you rather than belittling you, hurts you the most. What do you do?
- You tell yourself you are wasting your time trying to bring people "home" to a Church that is so full of hatred and jealousy and quit your evangelical pursuits.
- You decide that there are other Churches that are more encouraging in spreading the word of God and quit your Church; or, worse, quit your faith altogether.
- You get on the war path with all those who persecute you, determined to cause as much damage to them as they are causing to you.
- You put up with all the persecution and continue with your work the best you can.
A friend of mine working in the Middle East was interviewed by a German magazine recently and one of the questions they asked him was whether he suffered persecution from Muslims given the fact that he lived in an Islamic country. He responded, quite honestly, that he hadn't experienced even a trace of persecution from the Muslims. Ironically, however, the persecution that he did face came mostly from Catholics within the very Church he was engaged in defending and growing. But, of course, he didn't tell them that.
This is not unique. Every single person who dares to live the faith, let alone try to share it with others, will meet with persecution. Jesus guarantees it. In John 15:20 he says, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you!" Most of the persecution that Jesus, himself, faced was from the people within his community—the Jews—and if he faced it, so will we. Consequently, we shouldn't be surprised when it comes our way, even when it comes from within the Church. Rather, we should rejoice that we stand in good company and look at ways of dealing with it.
One of the best ways of dealing with persecution is understanding that it serves as a sign of the authenticity of our relationship with Christ. In his letter to the Philippians (cf 1:27-30) Paul encourages us to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, in no way way intimidated by our opponents. "For them," he says, "this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well."
Paul in his very powerful letter to the Romans proclaims Jesus's message to love one's enemies: Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Paul wasn't talking off the top of his head. Right through his missionary life he found himself faced with continuous persecution: he was lashed, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned. Sometimes he faced such tribulation from people who practiced the faith, people he describes as "false brothers and sisters" (cf 2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
Most of us don't go through anything like this. The persecution is usually limited to rumor-mongering or slander. Though this is still hard to deal with, it is definitely nothing compared to being flogged or beaten for one's faith, and we can take consolation in the fact that we are getting off rather easy. But there are more reasons for consolation. Here is a message of hope:
'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 'Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
And, here is one more: "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
Another thing to understand is that the people who persecute us don't know what they are doing. Fuelled by fear, jealousy and resentment—which is directly proportional to your success in living a holy life and/or in your ministry—they slander you because that is the easiest way to destroy you, not realizing that in the process they destroy themselves. Slander is strongly condemned in Scripture as one of the sins that block entrance into the Kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:10). One doesn't need to exercise one's imagination too strongly to realize what will happen to those engaged in worse forms of persecution.
In our scenario above (with their numerous variations) responses (a) and (b) are very common, which is why we see a lot of evangelists (or wanna be evangelists) either giving up their mission in disgust and/or leaving the Church. The latter response is particularly dangerous because it could lead to apostasy, which the writer of of the letter to the Hebrews warns about (Hebrews 10:32-39).
A few engage in response (c), which serves to do nothing but bring pain and hurt to everyone and causes immense damage to the Church—the body of Christ—itself. There are times when we feel overburdened by the desire to retaliate. Please see the box above on some proper ways of doing so.
Response d) is, of course, the right response, and as can be seen from the Scriptural verses quoted above, brings great blessings. Also take encouragement from the fact that if you are on the side of God, He is on your side too and will not let you down. In fact, he promises you a great victory. "I will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies," he promises. (And he keeps his promise! See Psalm 23 Revisited, an article written nearly four years ago to see how!)
Additionally, remember that people are not fools. They may be taken in by the falsehoods your enemies spread about you initially, but when they see your life bearing witness to your faith, they will realize that something is wrong somewhere, but it isn't with you. So don't quit!
May the Spirit be with you.
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