The Joy of Persecution

Philippians 3:8-9

The phrase “Joy of Persecution” is an “oxymoron”.   Which is a word or phrase that contradicts itself.   Like “jumbo shrimp”, “pretty ugly” or like asking, “Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?”  It’s a phrase that contradicts itself…like the “Joy of Persecution.”

You see, persecution is usually ‘awful’ and joy is ‘wonderful’.  Yet, persecution can give us joy…when we ‘suffer’ for the ‘right reason’.   Now most everyone doesn’t like to talk about ‘suffering for our faith.’  Why would I want to suffer?   I want life to be easy… stress-free.  But honestly, the Bible says…Christians are going to suffer!   Jesus told us, “In this world you will have tribulations…” (John 16:33)    Let us stand as we read this morning’s text – Philippians 3:8-9:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”

We live in a hostile world.  Just this week, I read how investigators have interview nearly 5,000 children who are victims of sexual abuse or assault in the past 10 years…here in the Longview area.   That’s about 500 children a year and at least 1 child per day who is getting abused.

Across America, we have a movement called “#MeToo” that allows people to speak out about sexual harassment or abuse they have suffered.  That movement has given birth to the “#ChurchToo” movement…where those who have been sexually abused or harassed in churches now have a voice.  I believe abuse and harassment in any form is wrong and if these movements can help expose those who are hurting others, especially in God’s house…then I support them.

But we must be cautious as sin is becoming the focus.   As thousands of abuse stories regarding church leaders are shared…Satan is using this to destroy the credibility of true believers and the Gospel of Christ.   Through this, sin is magnified, and “Christians” are being betrayed as ‘worse than the world.’   In this time of persecution, the body of believers, must be the light of the world.   We must show God’s mercy, use His understanding, and pray for His guidance.

Jesus said, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you….” (John 15:20)   When faced with opposition, today many Christians tend to keep Jesus in their Bibles at home.  It seems that if we speak about Jesus and someone gets offended, then we’re supposed to shut up, so we don’t offend them even more.   But if we do that, then doesn’t that say that we care more about the offended person than we do for Jesus?    More and more Christians today are choosing to silently blend into world…rather than stand up for what they believe.

We read that Paul said, “…for whom I have suffered the loss of all things”.  When Paul was known as Saul, he was a leader in the religious world.  When he talked…people listened.  They invited him to parties and wanted to be his friend.   Now that’s all gone.  The old friends don’t want him around and you can forget the parties…because now he’s a Christian.

Beloved, when you are ‘seriously’ dedicated to Christ, people don’t want you around.   They know you won’t partake in their activities or indulge in their sinful lifestyle.   That’s why Peter wrote: “So they (non-Christians) are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living–and they slander you. (I Peter 4:4)    In other words: when Christ enters your heart, you begin to change, and others are shocked and will talk bad about you.

Now Paul continues by saying…that all of the things he has lost from his ‘past life’ as Saul, he “counts them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…”   In other words, Paul is saying: “I don’t care…if you like me or not!   I’d rather have Jesus love me…than you like me.   I’d rather have Jesus than anything else!” 

So, the question this morning is this: “Would you rather have Jesus than anything else?”  Do you love Jesus that much?   Do you love Him more than your job…more than your hobbies?  More than your family or friends?    Do you love Him enough to “lift Him up” in your life?

Beloved, here’s the truth.   Jesus has many followers…who love His heavenly Kingdom…but few who will bear His Cross.  Jesus has many followers…who desire His comfort…but few who would accept the tribulations.   Many followers love Jesus…until something bad happens.

A true believer knows…that out of tribulation…comes spiritual growth.   It’s been said that, “Today’s Difficulties are Tomorrow’s Testimonies.”   Those who have walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” …knows that in times of tribulation…in times of hardships …that God draws us closer to Him.

Beloved, it’s through difficulties…through hardships, that our faith grows stronger.   Once you have given your heart to Christ…He’ll never leave you…no matter how bad it gets.

In the 1880’s, a revival broke out in Northern India…a part of the country that was very violent.    Despite over 20 missionaries being killed, one missionary from Great Britain finally saw his 1st converts…when a husband and wife and their two children accepted Christ and were baptized.

But soon the tribal leaders decided to make an example of the husband.   So, they took his family and demanded that he deny Christ to set them free.  When he refused, his two children were executed.  Again, he was told to free his wife, he must deny Christ.   But again, he refused.   So, they killed her.  And when he still refused to deny Christ, they killed him.

Witnesses later told the missionary that when asked to deny Christ or see his children murdered, the father said: “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” After his children’s deaths, he said, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” And after seeing his wife killed, he said, “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus.”   And they took his life.

The missionary said that in time…a revival broke out in the village.   Those that had murdered the family had since come to Christ.  The death of that family, their willingness to die for Christ was so astonishing that it has been passed down from generation to generation.  One day an Indian evangelist took the father’s last words and put them to music.

Eventually, American missionaries brought the song back to the states.   It finally ended up with a Canadian song writer by the name of George Beverley Shea, and he made that song the centerpiece of the Billy Graham crusades. We know the song as: “I have decided to follow Jesus.”   And the lyrics say, “I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back. No turning back.”

Begin your journey to peace. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Would you like to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? It begins with a simple prayer:

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Did you pray this prayer?