Throughout history, persecution has been a fact of life for millions of Christians. And given the current political and cultural climate here in North America, the church may be facing new waves, as sinful humanity seeks to suppress God’s truth.
The Apostle Peter tells us how the church should respond when we are scorned for our faith in Christ.
First, Peter says we must maintain our Christian witness. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,” he wrote in 1 Peter 2:12, “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Peter is telling us to live above reproach. Matthew 5 reminds us that we are to be salt and light to a dying world. That we are not to stray from God’s Law. We are not to murder, lust or commit adultery. But Peter’s instruction in his first epistle is more than a call to avoid lying and cheating and adultery. It’s a call to do good deeds. Serve in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Take food or clothing to a family in need, so that even as the world slanders you and speaks evil of you, they can see your good deeds. And as you live this way, the Holy Spirit will work in people’s hearts, and some will begin to see their need for Christ and will turn to Him in repentance. Others won’t realize their need until Christ’s return, but those who repent will bring great glory to God.
Second, Peter urges us to maintain a clean conscience: “Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:16). The New Living Translation says it like this: “Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.”
To have a clean conscience means we are the same person in private that we are in public. Our conscience is our internal monitor that establishes our standards for good behavior. If we violate our conscience, the monitor lights up; we grieve the Holy Spirit. As theologian Albert Barnes once said, a carnal Christian will not bear suitable testimony to the wonder of Christ. “We discount what we say with how we live,” he said.
Third, Peter taught us to not only expect persecution—but to rejoice in it. He wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The church has been slandered and reproached since its founding. Mere days after the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop preaching. Faced with imprisonment and flogging, the apostles declared, “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20, NLT).
The rage of the religious officials reached a murderous pitch when the deacon Stephen preached the Gospel to them. They dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death, making him the first Christian martyr. Despite these threats, the early Christians continued to boldly proclaim the Good News.
In the first through third centuries, the Roman government killed Christians for refusing to worship Roman emperors who claimed to be gods. In A.D. 64, after a fire destroyed much of Rome, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire, arrested many of them, and burned them to death as torches in his garden. Nero’s successors, Decius and Valerian, continued slaughtering Christians.
From the eighth through the 11th centuries, militant Islam conquered half of Christendom by force. Muslim armies subjugated cities that had cradled the early church, including Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Hippo and Alexandria. They destroyed thousands of churches and forced countless Christians to deny Jesus or die.
And yet, Jesus tells us that persecution is a blessing in the Christian life: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
In these troubled times, we must not be silent. Now is the time to rise up and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, defend the sanctity of human life, and reach out to the poor and oppressed with generosity and words of peace. In conversations and on social media, proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life—the only way to God the Father.
When you are scorned, respond with grace and humility. Those who attack you are watching to see how you respond. Your Christlike response may be the most powerful demonstration of “good deeds” (1 Peter 2:12) they will ever see. Above all, remember that if you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are truly blessed, and God’s Spirit rests upon you. ©2020 Michael Youssef
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The Scripture verses marked NLT are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation.
Michael Youssef, Ph.D., is the founder and president of Leading The Way and the founding pastor of The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta. His latest book is “Saving Christianity? The Danger in Undermining Our Faith—and What You Can Do about It.”
Above: Franklin Graham, Anne Graham Lotz and Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church joined with tens of thousands who refuse to be silent about the Good News. They came together on Sept. 26 to pray on the National Mall during the Washington, D.C. Prayer March.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2020 BGEA