Question: "How should a Christian respond to persecution?"
Answer: There is no doubt that persecution is a stark reality of living the Christian life. Christian persecution is to be expected: the apostle Paul warned that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus said that, if they persecuted Him, they will also persecute His followers (John 15:20). Jesus made it clear that those of the world will hate Christians because the world hates Christ. If Christians were like the world—vain, earthly, sensual, and given to pleasure, wealth, and ambition—the world would not oppose us. But Christians do not belong to the world, which is why the world engages in Christian persecution (see John 15:18–19). Christians are influenced by different principles from those of the world. We are motivated by the love of God and holiness, while the world is driven by the love of sin. It is our very separation from the world that arouses the world’s animosity (1 Peter 4:3–4).
Christians must learn to recognize the value of persecution and even to rejoice in it, not in an ostentatious way but quietly and humbly because persecution has great spiritual value. First, the persecution of Christians allows them to share in a unique fellowship with the Lord. Paul outlined a number of things he had surrendered for the cause of Christ. Such losses, however, he viewed as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8) or “dung” (KJV) that he might share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The noble apostle even counted his chains as a grace (favor) that God had bestowed upon him (Philippians 1:7).
Second, in all truth, Christian persecution is good for believers. James argues that trials test the Christian’s faith, develop endurance in his life, and help develop maturity (James 1:2–4). As steel is tempered in the forge, trials and persecution serve to strengthen the character of believers. A Christian yielding graciously to persecution demonstrates that he is of superior quality as compared to his adversaries (see Hebrews 11:38). It’s easy to be hateful, but Christlikeness produces kindness and blessing in the face of evil opposition. Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Third, Christian persecution enables believers to better value the support of true friends. Conflict can bring faithful children of God together in an encouraging and supportive way they might not have known otherwise. Hardship can stimulate the Lord’s people toward a greater resolve to love and comfort one another and lift one another to the throne of grace in prayer. There’s nothing like an unpleasant incident to help us reach a greater level of brotherly love.
Even in the face of Christian persecution, we can press on. We can thank God for His grace and patience with us. We can express gratitude for those whom we love in the Lord and who stand with us in times of distress. And we can pray for those who would accuse, misuse, or abuse us (2 Corinthians 11:24; Romans 10:1).