In 2020, almost 5,000 Christians worldwide were killed for their faith. Persecution of Christians for their faith in Jesus has been going on since the beginning of the Church. Having a biblical view of persecution, what the Bible has to say and what Jesus said about it is important to having a biblical worldview and an accurate expectation of being a Christian. While an uncomfortable conversation with your children, for sure, it is something that every believer should be aware of.
Jesus told us to expect persecution as His followers. It was mentioned in His first sermon in Matthew 5. He brings it up again in His last conversation with His disciples in John 15 and 16. He mentions it in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). When Jesus sent out His disciples to do His work, He warns the of coming persecution:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…You will be hated by all because of My name…” (Matthew 10:16-18, 22a)
But God uses everything for His purposes.
Throughout history, persecution was used by God to expand His Church into new areas, like in the book of Acts. Prior to Acts 8, the new Christians were mostly in Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus’ last command was to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Acts 8:1 it says, “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” God’s plan always prevails. Even if He must use persecution to push His followers into new areas where the Gospel has not yet reached.
Sometimes God uses it to refine His Church, His bride, His beloved, for His glory: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Peter said that “your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is test by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor [to] Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
Nobody likes it when they are in the middle of it – not you, not me, not our brothers and sisters around the world. But the Bible says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and so, we can join them in a few important ways:
- Pray for persecuted Christian brothers and sisters
- Give toward ministries that encourage believers living in persecution
- Share information with your church and other Christians to multiply the above
I’ve created this simple PDF or jpeg Prayer Card to use during your family devotional time, to guide you in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid to talk to your children about hard things. If you need some pointers or guidelines, refer back to a previous article, Help Your Children Respond to Difficult Events.
As a family, read Matthew 5:10-12 within the Sermon on the Mount and discuss what Jesus meant by “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10). What does “righteousness” mean? Why would Jesus call those who are persecuted “blessed”? Why might a Christian be persecuted? Have you ever experienced persecution?
Remind your children that persecution happened in the Bible by reading Acts 7:54-60 and 8:1-3 about the stoning of Stephen and Saul persecuting the church. Ask your children: what purpose(s) did God have in the persecution of the early church? Point them to the later conversion of Saul in Acts 9:1-19 and remind the how much of the New Testament was written by a man who was part of this early persecution. How important is it to pray for the persecutors and those who are doing wrong?
Depending on the age(s) of your children, you could read one of the following stories about modern day Christian persecution. Find these places on a map. And discuss how these stories are similar and different from the biblical account of persecution in Acts. How may God be using current day persecution to grow and refine His church?
No doubt about it, no way to say it, persecution is hard. In our human nature, it is not what we want for our lives. But God can use it for His glory and His purposes. We can take great hope that God promised that in the new heaven and the new earth, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, we can choose to turn our eyes to Jesus and trust that He is sovereign and, no matter what, is always with us, just as He is with believers in persecution today.
Check out other ways to join in prayer and practical ways to learn about the persecuted church in our Facebook Community.