In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)
Just before I sat down to write about these verses and what they mean to me, I read an email from Pakistan that included a news article. Apparently the Taliban around the city of Sargodha sent a letter to several Christian pastors and Christian schools in the city. The letter said that Christians should convert to Islam, pay an Islamic tax imposed on religious minorities, known as 'Jizya tax', or leave the country. If Christians refuse to accept these choices, Christians “will be killed, their property and homes will be burnt to ashes and their women treated as sex slaves,” said the letter. The Christians “themselves would be responsible for this,” the letter added.
If I were in Sargodha, would I be rejoicing that my faith was being tested? What would I do? Would I remain and take my chances that the government would protect my family and me? Would I take everything I could carry and flee? It is hard for me to understand what I would do, however, I have made up my mind that I would rejoice.
I’ve been through some personal trials in my past, family, health and other things, but nothing that threatened my life. I have felt God’s presence in those trials. I know He will sustain me in trials. I have resolved that I would listen for God’s direction if this were to happen to me. He may lead me to flee as many of the early Christian had to when persecution broke out against the Church in Jerusalem. (Acts 8) Most fled to other parts of Israel and even beyond. The amazing thing is that when this occurred, the Word of God spread faster than it would have in a time of peace. Perhaps I would flee and thereby take the Gospel to some area that needed to hear it.
If I had to stay in place and the threatened to renounce Christ or die, my verse would be: Mark 8:36-37 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (NASB) At this time in my life I have made up my mind that I would not renounce Jesus for any reason. If it cost me my life then I would be in a better place. Why do I so confidently say this? It is because I know that if don’t make the choice now, when not threatened, I will have a harder time when faced with it later. This same principle applies to most critical decisions. If I am faced with an easy way to cheat and get away with it (on my job, taxes, wife, you name it) then what makes me think I will not do that if I haven’t already made up my mind to be honest even when no one is watching.
Matt 5:9-12 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." (RSV)
Jesus’ words are hard to swallow sometimes. In the US there are many churches that teach that a Christian should be healthy and wealthy or they are living in a state of unfaithfulness. I can’t help to wonder why they ignore the clear teaching of Jesus that some will be persecuted. There are many other verses that also state that this is the norm for Christians. 1 Peter opened to those who had already been scattered to other countries because of the persecution that occurred. I certainly don’t think that I should be exempt just because I live in the 21st century.
Jesus’ words bring out the truth that I’m not living for this world. My reward will be in heaven. If I fix my eyes on this world and its rewards then my decisions and my goals will be oriented toward the temporary things of this world. When I eventually die, then all those temporary things will be gone and the eternal things that I should have worked for will not have been achieved. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
For my brothers and sisters in Pakistan, I pray daily for you. I pray that you would remain strong in your faith and not surrender. I pray that you would have wisdom to flee or stay. I pray that plans to aid you in some way will occur. I pray that you will not show fear for that is Satan’s tool to keep others from becoming Christians. I pray that you will be able to rejoice in all circumstances. (1 Thess 5:16) And I pray for peace for you.