For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews. (NIV)
Christians don’t usually go around looking for someone to persecute them. Certainly whole churches don’t usually do that. However, persecution is at the very heart of following Christ. Jesus made it clear that people who follow Him will not necessarily have a glorious stress-free life. He said that His followers must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23). We hear a lot about God wanting the very best for us, and that is true. However, God’s best for us is not necessarily glamour, riches, fame, popularity, or power.
The first part of following Jesus is denial of what we want and seeking His kingdom before our own (Matt 6:33). The second part is taking up our crosses. When Jesus said this, it must have been a total shock to His listeners. They lived at a time when the Romans used the cross as the most torturous means of execution possible. Some people would survive several days before dying. Every day, we must have the attitude that we are on the same path as a condemned criminal. We should have nothing in this world that keeps us from giving our lives to follow Jesus.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10 NASU)
While Jesus explained the cost of discipleship, He also explained the results of self-denial. There is stress and seemingly, inglorious lives when denying self, but Jesus called it a blessing. The blessing is being part of the kingdom of heaven. Being part of the kingdom of heaven is so important that it is worth the troubles brought on by persecution. We Westerners don’t really understand what persecution really is so we must rely on what the Bible says about it, what history has shown us, and what our brothers and sisters in other countries are undergoing. We trust that Peter provided reliable information about persecution when he said the scattered church rejoiced in their trials because they knew that it would bring glory to God when His kingdom would be revealed in Jesus (1 Peter 1:6-7). James urges us to consider these trials as pure joy (James 1:2). Persecution may come, but we are blessed when we understand the bigger picture that this life isn’t all there is and eternity will make the troubles worth it (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Suffering from Countrymen
We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. (1 John 3:12 NLT)
Why do people persecute Christians within their own cultures? It started with Cain and Abel. Paul said that the events in the Old Testament are an example to be used for our instruction (1 Cor 10:6). Cain and Abel serve as a vivid example of why Christians are persecuted. The principle that they demonstrate is that when people live righteous lives, those who do not get really upset. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ … among those who are perishing. … we are the aroma of death leading to death” (2 Cor 2:15-16 NKJV). They don’t want to have the constant reminder (aroma) that their lives are filled with evil and that their ultimate destination in eternity is hell, so they do what they can to eliminate the source of their irritation. For Cain it was simple, he killed his brother. For other people in our lives, it is more complex. We have laws and cultures that make it more difficult. So they work hard to change the laws. Like Hitler, they eventually get to the point where they can declare those who are living righteously enemies of the state.
More recently, Russian passed a new anti-terrorism law that prevents Christians from evangelizing in any location other than in an authorized church or religious site. “The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20 .” The really sad part of this law is that it is part of Putin’s overall plan to strengthen Russian nationalism by supporting the Russian Orthodox Church in opposition to all other denominations. The frightening part is that he is suppressing Protestant Christianity in name of anti-terrorism. The logic is that anything that undermines nationalism is terrorism. When people want to oppose the Gospel they will find any reason to persecute their own countrymen.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. (Acts 9:23-24 RSV)
Paul is often call anti-Semitic because he often refers to “the Jews” who tried to kill him, persecuted the church in Judea (1 thess 2:14), and opposed the Gospel during much of Paul’s ministry (Acts 13:50, 17:5, 18:12, 20:3). Many gentiles who call themselves Christians since then have mounted persecution against anyone of Jewish heritage based on a few verses like this and verses like John 19:12 where “the Jews” intimidated Pilate into having Jesus crucified. They also use Peter’s first sermon to his fellow Jews as he blamed them for killing “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15 ), Jesus. These fanatics call Jews “Christ killers.”
Regardless of how Paul was treated, whenever he went to a city, his first stop was at a Jewish Synagogue (Acts 17:1-2). While he recognized the persecution from the Jews, his heart’s desire was for them to turn to Jesus for salvation (Rom 10:1-4). He said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom 9:2-3 ESV). Rather than blaming them, he wants them to embrace Jesus.
When Paul speaks of being persecuted by Jews and the churches being imitators of the churches in Judea, he is not inciting revenge, instead, he wants us to have a heart that yearns to see our persecutors saved. Anyone who calls himself a Christian and participates in any kind of persecution, whether it is anti-Semitism or homophobia, is in direct disobedience to God’s Word. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:44-45 NIV). A clear implication of His command is that those who become persecutors are not sons of God and their salvation is in question.
 Kate Shellnutt, Gleanings, “Russia's Newest Law: No Evangelizing Outside of Church”, Christianity Today, July 8, 2016, 1, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/june/no-evangelizing-outside-of-church-russia-proposes.html