“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2-3 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. His situation was far from favourable; he was awaiting possible execution or exoneration – both options loomed over him. He wanted to come to Rome as a preacher and instead was chained as a prisoner. His memories of Philippi may have haunted him because it was there, recounted in Acts 16 that he was unfairly imprisoned and severely flogged after he cast out a spirit of divination from a female slave, ruining her owner’s profits.
Years later, writing to the Philippian church under house arrest in Rome, he could have – some may argue, should have – been miserable. Yet his first words, after the customary greeting, give us great insight into the heart of Paul. In verse three Paul beings his letter by saying “I thank my God…”. This is just amazing and is a summary of Paul’s character “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV). In Acts 16, after being flogged, Paul and Silas sang hymns and Psalms while in prison – personally, I can get upset if the shower is cold.
Why is Paul thanking God? He goes on to say “…upon every remembrance of you.” Instead of lamenting his situation and saying “I need help” etc, he is thinking about his brothers and sisters in Philippi. Paul uses the word “you” seven times in the first ten verses! Paul’s joy was so others-centred that he made two amazing statements that can be absent from our human experience “For now, we live if you stand fast in the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 3:8 (NKJV), and “fulfil my joy by being like-minded.” Philippians 2:2 (NKJV)
But what specifically is he thanking God for about them? This is very important to notice; he says in verse five “For your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.” Paul is thankful that they have a fellowship in the experience of the Gospel in their day to day lives and of the furtherance of the Gospel. Genuine Christian fellowship is not that we like the same worship songs or even that we go to the same church; it is that we have a genuine love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to spread it.
Many brothers and sisters are killed daily for the Gospel. In Uganda, Ali Nakabale, 36, lost his son, daughter, mother and stepfather when they were burned alive inside their family home on 20 August. Why did this happen? They were burned alive because he and his mother accepted the Gospel (https://vom.com.au/uganda-relatives-of-christian-convert-burned-to-death/).
This month’s challenge: This month, let us renew our minds with things that are profitable and pertain to the Gospel. The devil would like to distract us with trifling things which have nothing to do with Jesus or His kingdom.
What is Persecution?
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” 2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV). In this chapter, Paul references his trip to Lystra recorded in Acts 14 where he was stoned – almost to death – for sharing the Gospel. His incredible love and courage is displayed by the fact that he revisited Lystra in Acts 16. We should certainly pay attention to his example.
You may ask a fair question however: “What if I do not experience persecution?” The assumption behind that question is usually that there is one type of persecution – physical persecution.
Non-physical persecution confers a blessing from Jesus himself as stated in Luke 6:22 (NKJV) “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and cast your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake!” This means that when people speak evil of you or exclude you in your workplace for being a Christian or sharing your faith, you are experiencing a form of persecution which has the great honour of being “on account of the Son of Man”.
According to 1 Peter 4:4, we can be spoken evil of for living our Christian lives in a way that is in distinction to the sensuality and debauchery which often characterises our society. This Scripture reminds us that there are various types of persecution beyond the physical. This Scripture highlights that it is not only preaching which causes persecution but also practising holiness.
In 1 Peter 1:6-7, Peter describes being maligned as a genuine trial “grieved by various trials” which will test our faith and results in “praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Christ Jesus.”
The question should not primarily be “Am I being persecuted physically?” Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Richard Wurmbrand stated “We will not be judged for how much we have suffered, but for how much we have loved.”
This month’s challenge:
In Australia, relative religious freedom means you will probably not be beaten for sharing your faith; in light of this, and of the fact that it still incurs a blessing, let us be intentional in sharing the Good News with our friends and family, making disciples and living our lives in purity.
The following statement is attributed to Stalin: “When one man dies it’s a tragedy. When a million die, it’s a statistic.” On 13 May 2018, 13 people were killed, dozens wounded, and the Pentekosta Church heavily damaged in targeted church bombing attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia. If you are like me, the scale of such a bombing can detract from the precious individual lives that are destroyed by it.
I met Fenny in May 2019, one year after the bombings. As a result of the bombing, Fenny incurred burns to 85% of her body; it would not be an exaggeration to say that her skin appeared reptilian. She recounted the horrific details of the event when her body was lit aflame and how she scurried to find a tap to douse the flames. Her daughter was also injured in the attack and her husband is trying to make sense of God’s purposes in it all. The atrocity of such a situation reminded me that, the gates of hell are attempting to prevail against the church.
Hebrews 13:3 (NKJV) states “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” This is a reminder that, whether we choose to accept it or not, we share the same spiritual body as Fenny and her family. Though we cannot feel her pain, we should try to imagine what such a life would feel like and pray accordingly. This conviction is from Mark 12:31 which says we should love believers like her as we would love ourselves.
The generosity of many believers made it possible for Voice of the Martyrs to respond to her immediate medical needs, which included several skin grafts and medications. In addition, the rebuilding of the church has started the slow and painful process of rebuilding the lives and families of the 1,000 believers who attend the church.
A year later, Fenny is still in chronic pain, though she recounts God’s faithfulness, saying that she did not feel the pain when she was alight. It was by the grace of God that the service finished 10 minutes later; had this not been the case, many more would have been killed as the bomber planned to detonate as people were walking out of the service.
This month’s challenge:
Saint Augustine said that “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us.” Please continue to faithfully pray for brothers and sisters like Fenny who you read about in this newsletter – each one is precious to Jesus who would happily leave the 99 to attend to the one.
Crucifixion was a method of execution so horrific that Roman citizens were spared from it. It is where we get the term ‘excruciating’ – two Latin words which mean ‘out of the cross’. Jesus’ whole ministry had the weight of the knowledge the cross threatening to crush Him, yet the psalmist wrote concerning the Messiah “…therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than your companions” Psalm 45:7 (NKJV).
Despite the devil’s relentless efforts, Jesus remained joyful; if He had felt self-pity about the cross or had an outburst of unrighteous anger once – only once – He would have been an inadequate sacrifice. Yet in His three years of ministry with the cross always before Him, He did not live a bitter life but was utterly victorious: He attended the menial proceedings of a wedding by turning water into wine; He forgave tax collectors and prostitutes; He patiently fed the thousands who harassed Him; He wept with Mary and Martha over Lazarus; He washed His disciples’ feet knowing they would leave Him to die alone; and as the devil spat in His face in a final attempt, He cried victoriously back “Father forgive them…” Luke 23:24 (NKJV). Christ knew He was secure in His Father’s love, His ministry beginning with comforting words “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
Richard Wurmbrand who was himself tortured over fourteen years, showed himself to be empowered in the love of Christ:
“My last deed before leaving was to go to the grave of the colonel who had given the order for my arrest and who had ordered my years of torture. I put a flower on his grave. By doing this I dedicated myself to bringing the joys of Christ that I have to the communists who are so empty spiritually. I hate the communist system, but I love the men. I hate the sin but I love the sinner. I love the communists with all my heart.”
Notice that Richard’s supernatural power to forgive sprung from “the joys of Christ” that he personally experienced. The greatest joy we have is the knowledge that we are perfectly loved and taken care of by our Father through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul commanded, not suggested: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” Philippians 3:1 (NKJV). Notice that for Paul, rejoicing is ‘safe’ or a ‘protection’ against fearing that our own needs will not be met; only once we have conquered this fear by the love of Christ can we recklessly proclaim the Gospel and make radical decisions for the persecuted church.
This month’s challenge: Would people describe you as joyful in Christ? Or is your fear preventing you from making bold decisions for your persecuted brothers and sisters? If Jesus could be so generous despite the looming cross, we have no excuse. This month rejoice in the real treasures of Christ so your earthly treasures can be used for the persecuted.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus told the Apostle Peter regarding the church “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18 (NKJV). Years later, we are still seeing the efforts made to prevail against in the church: On 13 May 2018, 13 people were killed, dozens wounded, and the Pentekosta Church heavily damaged in targeted church bombing attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia.
We all agree that hellish powers are fighting against the church “….against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV); but would we also agree that we ought to be on the offensive also? One of the great offensive weapons used by our brothers and sisters against these forces – and the reason they are persecuted – is the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ “…be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might …. feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:10;6:15 (NKJV)
Notice, the Gospel is “the power of His might” but it is also of “peace”. Everyone must hear the Gospel, even the worst of sinners, because we shared the same spiritual condition: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV). One local pastor summarised it well “Even though it is tough for me, we must forgive. That is God’s way!”
The generosity of many believers made it possible for VOM to respond to the immediate needs, which has made a profound impact in the lives of many brothers and sisters; the rebuilding of the church has started the slow and painful process of rebuilding the lives and families of the 1000 believers who attended the church. Seven months later, the rebuilding of many lives is still ongoing and the full impact of this attack is still uncertain.
This month’s challenge: Reflecting on what has happened, there is no doubt that the gates of hell are attempting to prevail against the church, yet in light of what we hear our family is experiencing, and in light of our present freedom, will you share the Gospel more fearlessly? Start simple, write out your testimony and share it with your friends.
“And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Philippians 1:14 (NKJV)