Part A | Part B | Part C | Part D | Conclusion



Part A

Every human being must endure some suffering in his lifetime. It may be the physical suffering of sickness or injury. It may be the inner suffering caused by the death of a loved one, rejection by friends, or simply loneliness. Whatever the cause may be we all seek to avoid it as much as possible. That may be one main reason why Christians often avoid this subject, although it is clearly presented in the Bible. Some Christians seem to think that. since we belong to the Lord. He will protect us from suffering Actually the Scriptures make it very plain that Christians are subject to all the causes of suffering common to men, plus the added persecution that comes with taking a stand for Christ. The book of I Peter is especially valuable to study in this regard. We will refer to it often in this lesson, as well as to other passages.

Let’s consider the Christian’s place in this world. As we said in an earlier lesson, Satan is the prince of this world. We are strangers and refugees here looking forward to a better land (Hebrews 1 1:8-16). The idea of the Christian being a "refugee" is useful ( I Peter 2:1 1). There are millions of political refugees in the world today. They are scattered in "camps" in many places in the world. They cannot return to the places they have left and they are not yet to the places they hope to reach. Their present conditions are often "miserable" by the standards of the world, yet they have chosen it above what they had before. They live hoping for a better future.

The Christian’s situation is very similar. He has left the world of sin and set out as a pilgrim toward the heavenly kingdom. He has rejected his old life and should not be surprised that those still in that old life reject him. He lives in the hope of the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. Our Master warned us that the world would hate us (Jn. 15:17-21). Any Christian who has not faced this fact will be easily discouraged and rendered impotent by Satan when suffering comes. Consider II Timothy 3:12, " In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

There are several levels of persecution. In most places persecution is primarily psychological: peer pressure, humiliation , and discrimination. But in some places this persecution may reach the extent of threats, material suffering. and even physical violence.

In the oppressive societies of the world persecution may vary from psychological pressure to extreme physical violence. Since the imprisonments, isolation. beatings. and even death that Christians face in the most repressive societies are undoubtedly the most frightening to contemplate, this lesson will concentrate on dealing with these extreme forms of persecution. The reader can apply to his own life the principles that are relevant to the level of persecution that he may be expected to face.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Should Christians expect more suffering and difficulties than their unsaved neighbors, or less?

2. Any means the enemy uses to stop us from spreading of the gospel can be called persecution. Using this definition, what forms of persecution have you experienced?

* * * * *

Back to the top

Part B

As we begin this study on suffering and persecution. we must first point out several mistakes that are common in Christian thinking today:

  1. Many believers assume that suffering is always punishment for sin. This idea ignores the fact that suffering is natural to all mankind, whether saint or sinner. It is true that the Bible teaches a man will reap what he has sown (Gal. 6:7 8), and trouble may come as a natural consequence of sin. God may allow suffering in a person’s life to draw them back to Himself (Heb. 12:3-12). But if a believer is honest with himself he knows whether his suffering is a result of sin, a result of "living godly in Christ Jesus," or simply a natural part of life in this world. And, of course, as long as the sufferer knows the difference it is not up to anyone else to judge. The book of Job gives us a classic example of a man who suffered in spite of his righteousness and his "friends" completely misjudged the situation. It is very encouraging to us when troubles come if we can have confidence that our lives have been acceptable to the Lord, and we are sure that this trouble is not God's punishment. I John 3:18-21 tells us, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God." Peter makes it very plain that we will be called upon to face undeserved suffering (I Peter 2: 19, 3:14).
  2. The idea that a believer should not be sad or sorrowful when suffering comes confuses many Christians. The misconception that a believer should radiate happiness in all circumstances is neither Biblical nor realistic. Jesus wept when His friend Lazarus died, although it was probably more for the sorrow of Mary and Martha, than for Lazarus himself (John 1 1:33-35). Paul specifically told us to "...mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12: 15 ) Peter recognized that suffering causes sadness ( I Peter 1:6), but encourages believers to rejoice in spite of their suffering because it is a blessed privilege to suffer for Christ (I Peter 3:12-19). We should not assume that this kind of inner rejoicing in the glory of God will take away the human pain we feel.
  3. Some believers assume that only the "holiest" Christians suffer for Jesus. This mistake opens the door to pride for those who are suffering, and spiritual defeat for those who have not yet been called upon to suffer. Note that James and Peter were both arrested by Herod. James was beheaded and Peter was not. Does that mean that James was more "spiritual" ? According to tradition John was the only apostle who died a natural death. Does that mean that he was the least "spiritual"? God’s will and plan for every believer is personal. He leads each one as it pleases Him. As we walk with Him by the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will see great variety among the brethren. Let’s just praise the Lord for His personal interest in each of us.
  4. Some Christians what to glamorize suffering. This mistake is closely related to the one mentioned in Point 3. Those with this mistaken attitude put a believer who has suffered "on a pedestal" and think that he is a special, holy person. Recently a missionary who had been held hostage and was released was amazed by the special attention he received. He was suddenly the most wanted speaker for missionary conferences! Such attention for this reason made him very uncomfortable. We are all laborers together with God. As each of us fulfills God's will for us, let us rejoice together and avoid "hero worship."
  5. There are Christians who have a morbid fear of persecution. This idea , fostered by Satan, does not mean we should take the prospect of persecution lightly, but we need to realize that God will not ask more of us than He gives us the strength to endure. Often Christians suffer more from the fear of coming persecution than from the persecution itself, if and when it comes! As we mentioned in an earlier lesson, Satan tries to make us worry about the past or the fixture. Christ provides grace for the present. A church leader in Vietnam had worked closely with foreign missionaries and it was assumed that he would leave before the Communist takeover. When the departure day came, however, he said. "I cannot leave now. My people need me." He and his family were included in another evacuation list a few days later but he said, "Take these. They are more fearful than my wife and I." A third and final opportunity came up the next day., but he said, "We cannot leave. God’s will be done." This man has suffered since that time, but he has stood faithful to his God.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. List and briefly define the common mistakes Christians might make in thinking about persecution.

2. Have you believed some of these common errors? Which ones?

* * * * *

Back to the top

Part C

Now that we have dealt with the mistaken ideas of suffering that are widely held by Christians, let's deal with some specific truths about suffering that are taught in the Bible.

1. The Bible makes it clear that Christians will suffer. Some preachers have the idea that teaching this fact will drive away new believers. But you should note that when Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor he told the new believers, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). He was preparing them for the future, as he knew it would really be! We should do the same.

2. Since we have been told that Christians will suffer, we should be prepared to accept it as the will of God. Peter made it very clear when he wrote, "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God." [that is, because He willed or permitted it. See Today’s English Version] (I Peter 2:19). I Peter 3:17 says, "It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." I Peter 4:19 sums up the matter, "So then those who suffer according to God‘s will should commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good." Paul showed us an example of this when he prayed three times for the removal of his "thorn in the flesh." Then he saw that it was God's will for him, and he accepted it (II Cor. 12:7-10). Many Christians are defeated at this point because they are not sure that they are in the will of God. So they are not sure if the suffering is really His will for them. Without going aside into a Bible study on knowing the will of God, we can just present this thought. Our great God works all things for good (Rom. 8:28). If we consciously submit to His will He will take over our lives at that point and be in control. Our suffering and persecution can be placed in His hands by a simple act of our will. No believer needs to suffer alone and in doubt. Commit it all to the Lord (Prov. 16:3).

3. Our suffering always has meaning and purpose when we suffer in the will of God. Often those who are enduring suffering cannot understand this at the time. They must simply accept this to be true by faith. A few of the reasons for suffering that are outlined in Scripture are: [a] to prove and purify our faith (I Peter 1:6-7; 5:10) [b] to burn away pride (as in Paul's case, II Cor. 12:7-10), [c] to make our lives more holy (Heb. 12:3-10) and [d] to contribute to the spiritual strength of others (Phil 1 :14).

4. Any suffering we might have to go through should be for "good deeds" never for doing evil. Peter repeats this in many of the verses we have already quoted from his letters. Jesus specifies that we are blessed if we suffer for righteousness and for His name's sake (Mt. 5:10-11). It should not be necessary to even mention this, but sometimes in our resistance to the authorities’ attempts to control our spiritual lives, we may react lawlessly. Then we can expect to suffer for it, for the ruler "does not bear the sword for nothing." (Rom. 13:4).

5. We are blessed for suffering for what is right. This blessing may take the form of inner peace and joy. This is the meaning of the word translated "blessed" [or "happy"] in Jesus’ teaching called the beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12). We already mentioned Peter’s references to this thought (I Peter 2:19-20; 3:14; 4:14). It should be noted that we should not seek persecution in order to have this blessing, but when persecution comes, we can expect this blessedness to accompany it.

6. Suffering and persecution turn our hearts and minds to the glory that will be our in heaven. Jesus promises a great reward in heaven to those who suffer (Mt. 5:12). Paul said that the sufferings of the present are not worthy to be compared with the glory of' the future (Rom. 8 17-18), and Peter agreed (I Peter 16:7; 4:13; 5:1-10). A modern Christian song says, "It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus." Those that are living today as spiritual "refugees" look longingly toward the eternal home.

7. The believer should not allow Satan to make him feel ashamed of his suffering. Often when the form of suffering is isolation from other believers, Satan will try to discourage and dishearten the one suffering. If the victim realizes that suffering for Jesus is not unusual, and that Christians all over the world are facing similar situations, he will he encouraged. Peter says, "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed but praise God that you bear that name." (I Peter 4:16).

8. The Christian who is suffering is following the example of Jesus. ( I Peter 2:21-25). His suffering was prophesied, as ours has been. He was rejected by the world, as we will be. He was insulted, suffered physical pain and physical death. Can we expect any better treatment from a lost world? One pastor who had escaped from China told an interviewer that he had been treated "all right" by the Red Guards, but his face was covered with scars. When the interviewer pressed with further questions, he responded, "They treated me as I expected--after all, they killed my Lord. "

9. We should respond as Christ responded when we suffer as Christ suffered. Our suffering may lose its value as a witness to a lost world if we respond in the flesh. Christ did not return insult for insult. He did not threaten. He did not ask for revenge against those who wronged Him. He loved them and prayed for them. We are told to bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who despitefully use us (Mt. 5:38-48). There are several cases known to us where the very men who led in persecution of Christians later became Christians themselves because of the way the Christians took the abuse.

10. We must be convinced that there can be victory in suffering. The key to this victory is faith. Consider the case of Job. He was convinced that his suffering was unjust. All of his questioning and debating with his friends offered no help. He finally placed his hope, by faith, in God (Job 19:23-27). He then went on to consider the whole question of the meaning of suffering in the world. Again he could find no answer except to submit by faith to an all-wise and all-powerful God (Job 42:1-6). Peter advised those who are suffering to "trust themselves completely" to God (l Peter 4:19). With this kind of faith, we will see victory. Jesus warned us of suffering and promised us victory at the same time (Jn.16:33). He also promised us a "comforter," the Holy Spirit. The testimony of those who have weathered severe persecution shows why Jesus called the Holy Spirit "the comforter." But remember that faith is built on the Word or God. We need to know the promises of God in His Word, if we are going to call on them in time of need. If our faith is strong we can expect to know victory in suffering.

As we look over these truths about suffering that are taught in the Bible, two of them seem to be most basic for the Christian to understand. First, let us he certain that suffering comes as God's will for us. If we are confident of this point, we can accept whatever may come to us. Second, even weak creatures like us can know victory over these circumstances. Encourage your heart on these two points. and nothing the enemy throws against you can conquer your faith!

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Of these ten things the Bible teaches about suffering, which have you never thought about before?

2. How does this teaching about suffering relate to the Bible teaching that God loves us and allows only what is good for us to come to our lives’?

* * * * *

Back to the top

Part D

Some of the most repressive societies in the world today are strongly anti-Christian. What can the Christian expect to suffer in such a society? If the authorities become aware that a person is a Christian and is having some influence with others, he will be considered an enemy of the state. This means that he will he isolated from society, at the very least. The authorities will attempt to change his thinking, but physical force, if necessary. Pressure is brought to bear in an attempt to break the person’s will and destroy their value system. If the Christian is able to resist this pressure he can expect to be sent some type of prison, or detention. During this time beatings and physical abuse are a common part of life. After years of such punishment, the Christian may be released but refused an opportunity to work, or participate in society. Only the "generosity" of the authorities may prevent starvation. Or perhaps the person’s family will try to provide for the Christian, and their pressure upon the Christian is added to that of the authorities. Sometimes the Christian will be exiled to a distant community where the authorities feel his Christian influence will be isolated and harmless. If his stand for Christ has survived this kind of treatment the state may then decide to eliminate the problem and have the Christian executed.

Sometimes Communist authorities take a more moderate approach and simply take away all of the Christian’s possessions and declare him a "non-person." In this way, the daily struggle to live is a stern warning to anyone that may have been influenced by his teaching. One of the psychological weapons that Communists often use against Christians is the public criticism meeting. At such a meeting the Christian may be attacked by his neighbors and former friends. He may find members of his own family witnessing against him. Only a very strong commitment to the Lord can resist this kind of attack. Notice that in the book of Job his own wife advised him to "Curse God and die." Remember that none of this treatment catches God by surprise. Look again at Hebrews chapter 11 to review what believers have faced in the past. Pay special attention to verses 35-38 to be reminded that while some were delivered (verses 33-34), others were not.

We cannot begin to detail all the types of suffering Christians are enduring around the world today. It is clear, however, that there have been more Christians killed for their faith in the twentieth century, that in all of church history up to this point! It would be impossible to set a pattern for Christians to use to meet each kind of persecution they may encounter, apart from the guidelines the Bible gives us. Even if we could provide such a patterned response, it would be futile, for we are no match for the enemy in our own strength. Our preparation must be in knowing God's Word, in developing an abiding faith in Him, and in daily submission to the Holy Spirit. It is no accident that the verses from Hebrews regarding persecution mentioned earlier are found in the great "faith" chapter. The expressions "by faith" and "through faith" are found 24 times in this chapter. Faith opens to us the resources that Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. If you had a choice, would you rather face physical abuse or the public condemnation of your neighbors? Why?

2. What promises from Scripture have you memorized that you can call to mind to strengthen you in a difficult situation'?

* * * * *

Back to the top


Our victorious survival in the midst of persecution depends completely on the strength of Christ. The victory is totally His. When the believer is faced with persecution, he is tempted to fall into one of the following errors: [a] he may renounce his faith and join hands with the enemy; [b] he may totally hide his faith and withdraw into isolation; or [c] he may, in his despair, strike out in open rebellion. All of these are carnal reactions, rather than spiritual reactions. All are possible in our own strength with out any reliance on the Lord.

The error of denial is obvious, but it is one into which unprepared Christians often fall. In fact, all of us have probably been guilty of this sin to varying degrees at different times. Remember that even this sin can be forgiven .

The error of the second approach is more subtle. The believer can retain an inner pride that he has not denied the Lord. But if in fear he totally cuts himself off from other Christians, the enemy will have accomplished the isolation we discussed in lesson Seven, and his spiritual life will wither away. Many Christians have taken this approach when initially faced with persecution and later realized their error. Then they reach out. make contact with other Christians and are restored to Christian fellowship.

The third error mentioned above may have the most long-range negative effects. To openly rebel may seem courageous and stimulates our pride, but such action inevitably provokes a violent response from the authorities and will certainly remove the Christian from society, either by death or imprisonment. The Lord may lead some Christians to this kind of stand, so other believers should never judge someone who turns the wrath of the authorities upon himself in this manner. But it may be that Satan has simply used this approach to remove one who could have been used to assist others.

All three of these errors are most common among those who have not been spiritually prepared for persecution. When the church and each believer in the local fellowship has considered the inevitability of suffering and the Biblical responses to it, victorious survival is not only possible, it is assured.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. A study like this might leave one feeling depressed. What should your reaction be as a Christian?

2. Do you know how to respond to strong opposition in a Christ-like manner?

* * * * *

Back to the top | Back to the content page