“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
– 2 Tim 3.12
Paul, in writing to Timothy instructions for the ministry, mad this terrifying and authoritative statement that all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This is a difficult concept to grasp in the western world today, were we flaunt our religious freedoms and guard each other’s rights to practice whatever religion we desire (provided it does not offend or hurt anyone else). Few have truly suffered religious persecution within the United States, especially when compared to other countries around the world where the Christian Church is forced to meet in secret.
It is good practice, however, to examine the Scriptures and understand God’s heart on situations and circumstances before we are caught up in the middle of them so that we can make level headed and godly decisions. This way we are not “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4.14). Are you thinking about getting married? Spend hours learning God’s precepts and designs for marriage. Learn that He hates divorce, and therefore never allow your relationship to entertain that as an option (Mal 2.16). Are you thinking of having children? Study what God says about discipline – remember that to spare the [spanking spoon] is to hate the child (Prov 13.24), and that to not provide for your family makes you worse than all sinners (1 Tim 5.8).
Paul and Peter both say that we must join in the sufferings of Christ, and by doing so we are united to Him (2 Cor 1.5, 1 Peter 4.13). But it is hard to know what exactly one should do in the face of persecution. Why? Because even though Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” and “go with him a second mile”, we also see Biblical examples of God providing a way of escape from persecution for many who ultimately died martyr deaths. John Bunyan, one of my favorite puritans, wrote this instruction on the topic:
“Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Ex. 2:15); Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam. 19:12); David stood (1 Sam. 24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer. 37:11-12); Jeremiah stood (Jer. 38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 19:10); Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor. 11:33); Paul stood (Act 20:22-23). . . . There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. . . Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word (Matt. 10:23).”
– John Bunyan, Advice to Sufferers
We will all suffer trials in this life. Hardships because of bad choices, discipline because of sin, and some of us – persecution because of faith. God promises to give us the strength to glorify Him through these situations. He does not promise to stop them from happening, nor does He promise to give us a way out or alleviate the suffering. He promises to glorify Himself and work it to our good if we love Him (Rom 8.28). He will give us the faith, the grace, the mental and Spiritual fortitude to maintain our hope and joy in Christ through these times. And if we seek Him and pursue His ways, we will have peace in staying to persevere through persecution or leaving the situation. But let us cling to God such that our flight or perseverance is not, as John Bunyan says, “out of slavish fear” or out of ascetic discipline, but to the glory and honor of God.
You may do whatever the Lord puts in your heart.
Anything, but a denial of Truth.