“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.”  Hebrews 13:3

Lately I’ve read books and articles about the persecuted church.  I’m always shocked when I read these things, because Christianity in America is so easy.  It’s difficult to conceive of our brothers and sisters being treated so cruelly in other places in the world.  The concept is foreign to our existence.  For now anyway.

Everytime I read of someone persecuted for faith in Christ, it grips my heart, because I know that I have not remembered the persecuted church faithfully in prayer as I should.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I just don’t remember.

But what if I was imprisoned with them?  What if I was tortured with them?  Then this issue of the persecuted church would be in the very forefront of my mind at all times, because of my involvement in it.

The reality is, that because I am part of the body of Christ, I am involved in the persecuted church.  They are my brothers and sisters, beloved ones of God.  So I am asking God to help me remember them, as if chained with them, that I may offer prayers to God on their behalf.

Progress and joy

As Paul shares with the Philippian church the reason he feels that it is necessary for him to continue living, he gives two reasons: for your progress and joy of faith. (Phil 1:25)

One of the things that is heartbreaking to see is the number of believers who seem to have a shallow faith. They remind me of the hearer who received the seed sown on stony places who has no root and stumbles when tribulation or persecution arises (Matthew 13:20-21).

In prosperous countries such as America, there seems to be little willingness to endure hardship for Christ. But as the apostle Paul talks about their advancing and progressing in the faith, he goes on to talk about suffering. What a tremendous thing he says about suffering in verse 29 – that it has been granted to us for Christ’s sake. To get the full impact of the verse, you must know that the word granted means to show ones’ self gracious, kind and benevolent. Hear this – it is a gift of grace directly from the hand of God to suffer for Christ. These are hard words, not likely to be embraced by those with a shallow faith. But Paul wants to help the Philippians as they begin to experience persecution for the name of Jesus, and assure them that they need not be ashamed of the suffering they are undergoing.

Another critical component of faith that Paul wanted to help the Philippians with was joy. What a strange combination – suffering and joy. But the apostle Paul’s experience was that these two seemingly contradictory things are perfectly suited to dwell together. Remember when he was in the Philippian jail after having been beaten? His heart was so full of joy that he was singing!! Those who live in nations where it is dangerous to be a Christian and where the church is underground can probably attest to this fact. There is a special grace during persecution and suffering, and Paul wants the Philippians to experience this as well.

In America we have been spared the persecution that Christians in many other parts of the world endure on a daily basis. For now. But if the day should come when it will really cost us something to stand for Christ, are our hearts prepared? Let us meditate on these words of the Saviour:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

May the Lord so strengthen our hearts that we are prepared to joyfully endure all things for the glory of Christ.