Reading: Romans 8:28-39
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Rom 8:37
The history of persecution against Christians can be traced through centuries. In today’s reading, Paul argues that persecution can never be Satan’s successful weapon to steal the loyalty of a true Christian to his Master.
Persecution never was, nor is, a pleasant experience. It is painful! “The church in Jerusalem began to suffer cruel persecution. All believers, except the apostles, were scattered.” Acts 8:1
We love to hear stories of the “heroes of faith” who stood boldly during times of persecutions, but, never forget the fact that there are many who gave up their faith during times of afflictions. Who are those who left the Lord at times of trouble? Those who failed to love their master more than comforts, positions, relatives and, above all, their own life! Therefore, when they leave, it is not a wreck, but refinement, to the church!
To separate fine flour from flakes, we use a fine wire screen. The fine flour passes through, while the fleck remains stuck in the mesh. Only those who have made themselves fine by renouncing all their love for self and world will pass through the wire screen of persecution. Therefore, even when the church decreases numerically during times of persecution, it is, in fact, advancing in quality. Even in the case of the first church at Jerusalem, “when the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected.” (Acts 6:1) However, when they were scattered, “they were preaching the gospel!” (Acts 8:4) How true the saying, “the blood of the martyr is the seed for church growth!”
Paul is describing a genuine account of what is happening and what might happen to a true Christian at the hands of this hostile world. “Tribulation, anguish, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword… (v.35).” With these calamities in life, the enemy seeks to separate us from the love of Christ.
Tribulation is affliction arising from external causes. Many a times, Christians are beaten, imprisoned and even killed because they proclaim Jesus. In 1999, in the Indian state of Orissa, fanatics burnt alive, the Australian missionary Graham Stains and his two children. Recently, more than a hundred Christians were killed in the same State! Distress refers to anxiety “of mind,” due to uncertainty. Where propagating gospel is unlawful, the lives of witnessing Christians are under continuous threat. Persecution is a mild word, compared to tribulation (Matt. 5: 11). Converts to Christianity from heathen religions face famine and nakedness many a times, as they are driven out of their houses and excommunicated from their society. Peril is danger of any kind. When enemies ramble with guns and rapier, the lives of Christians are exposed to the tip of the sword! They are “in danger of death at all times; they are treated like sheep to be slaughtered.”(v.36 cf. Ps 44:22)
In many places today, killing a Christian is no more than the slaughter of a sheep. “Sheep are killed, not because they are hurtful while they live, but because they are useful when they are dead. They kill Christians to please themselves, to be food to their malice” (Henry). “They eat up my people as they eat bread” (Psalms. 14:4.)
If you are a “silent Christian,” you are safe. When you are a “professing Christian,” trials are certain! Some day, somewhere, you need to articulate your faith. There are persons who are called “summer friends” because they desert us in the winter of adversity.
However, can these tribulations alienate a true Christian from his Master’s love? Never! The love of Jesus to us is more when we are in trouble and our love towards Him abound too! It is because “we know that to them that love God all things (including our tribulation) work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose.” (v.28) We are called by God with a purpose… “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29). Therefore, Paul says; “in all these things (tribulations), we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (v.37)
Look at the phrase “more than conquerors!” Alexander was a “Conqueror!” He gained worldly kingdom that perishes. Tribulation gives a Christian not something that perishes, but a glorious life in eternity! (Romans. 8: 18) Therefore, if Alexander was a “conqueror”, persecuted Christians are “more than conquerors!” However, remember that our victory is “through Him.” In His mercy, He allows us to partake in His victory, and His victory becomes our victory! We have nothing to boast of!
The world may not understand the victory of a Christian who suffers. It is through the experience of the cross that Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers of darkness. (Colossians 2:15). We too, need to follow the path of our Master. “If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together; for we are joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8: 17)
Tribulation takes away our pride and self-reliance, and places humility and dependence. Therefore, trials are a means to gain the character of Jesus. Gold does not lose anything in fire, except the blemish… but it gains purity. We lose nothing in tribulation, but it makes us closer to the image of Jesus!
I have seen persecuted Christians keeping a closer relationship with Jesus. Once, for being disobedient, my daughter was beaten by her mother. The child wept bitterly. My sister-in-law, jokingly, asked her to leave her mother and go with her… The child answered in the negative and, turning to the mother who beat her, asked; “Can I sleep with you tonight Mamma?” That’s the love of an understanding child!
Prayer: Lord, when I am persecuted, I cling to you more closely. Nothing will separate me from your love. Amen!
Further reading: 1 Peter 4:12- 19, 1Thessalonians 2: 2-4