In Acts 5 persecution left the early Christians with even more determination to preach so that in Acts 8 when persecution scattered them, the church spread over all the known world. And why should we emulate these people? In Romans 8 we found that we will be glorified if we suffer and in 2 Cor 4 we manifest the life of Christ when we are persecuted. Philippians 1 tells us we have a token of our salvation when we suffer, and 2 Thessalonians says that our faith grows, our love abounds and we are counted worthy of the kingdom. Peter tells us in various chapters of his first epistle that persecution proves our faith, gives us a blessing, and that the Spirit will rest on us when we endure it. Then in Revelation, the brethren are promised that if they endure their coming trials they will wear white robes, they are washed and cleansed, they will live with Christ in His kingdom and have rest (chapter 6,7,20).
So how should we feel about persecution? The class decided it might just be necessary, even desirable. Those first century brothers and sisters rejoiced in it (Acts 5:40-42), took pleasure in it (2 Cor 12:10), and considered it a privilege (Phil 1 :27-30). Maybe we should be rethinking our attitudes about persecution.
I asked what they thought would happen if we were really persecuted today. At first the women said, “The church would shrink a whole lot.” Then, remembering what we had discovered about the early church, we decided it wouldn’t. We would just see who was really part of the Lord’s body, not who showed up and sat in the pews. And if history is any indicator, when the world saw how we stood for the Lord, even in the face of pain or death, they might understand that this is something worthwhile, something they might need in their lives as well, something worth any sacrifice called for. Isn’t that what happened in the first century?
So should we be thanking God that we can worship “without fear of molestation?” As big a coward as I am, I might still do so, but frankly, I am not so certain I should any more.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men shall reproach you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you, Matt 5:10-12.