“By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3b-4 (ESV)
Forgiveness isn’t a natural response. When someone hurts me or I witness wrongdoing, my initial reaction is anger. I want the injurer to realise the pain he has caused. Wouldn’t that be just? An eye for an eye, a life for a life — justice. But because our lives belong to Christ, because we are His children, we are not the ones attacked. When Christians are persecuted, Christ is the target.
Pain we feel is real, sometimes unbearable, but we only experience traces of the actual hurt. Christ Jesus receives the full impact, for in sin His precious creation acts against Him. As a man, Jesus sacrificed everything for mankind’s sin. In the midst of physical pain, He also endured the emotional and spiritual weight of His Father’s apparent absence. He was the innocent Lamb slaughtered not for His own salvation. He, of all people, had a right to demand justice.
Jesus satisfied the wrath of God, which was directed toward sinful man, by completing justice’s demands. But His action also displayed the most magnificent array of mercy as He took our deserved punishment. His sacrifice established a foundation for forgiveness, a policy of mercy for those who would accept His offer of life.
What astounds me when I read about persecuted believers is that through them God works to spread news of His forgiveness. He has paid the price to justify us and made forgiveness possible. He also enables us to be like Him, vessels of God’s mercy to share the light of His goodness with those in darkness.
J G Spires
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” – Matthew 25:23 (ESV)
When the man of Matthew 25 left, he did not promise his servants a reward for increasing the talents he entrusted to them. He gave according to ability, then allowed them to respond through their care of those talents. Today we often use this passage to exhort Christians to devote their abilities to the One who gave them. “Use your talents for God,” I’ve heard many times. My response: why?
What gain is in forfeiting the opportunity to show others my abilities and knowledge? In the worldly sense, nothing. Living for Christ means surrendering the chance to be a person the world admires. If I truly follow Jesus, like He was, so I will be: mocked and disregarded, for obedience to Christ makes us the refuse of the world, not its victors. The lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters demonstrate the fact that the world hates us because of the One whom we obey. Their school records are destroyed, houses blown up, and families torn apart because they live faithfully for the King of kings, rather than cave under pressure from the world.
I do not want to feel the world’s pressure. I want to be accepted, appreciated, and loved. If I could use my talents to gain these things, why surrender them to Christ? Unlike the faithful servants in Matthew 25, I have His Word that promises good things will follow my surrender to Christ; however, I do not give only because of those promises. Not just because the things of Christ are better. Not just because He will grant me a place in heaven. Not just because He will give me what I so desire.
The greater reward of surrender to the Lord is knowing the Person of God, who owns our talents, which He has entrusted to us, and who deserves our devotion. As we come to know Him and wonder at His gracious, powerful, holy nature, we can come to full surrender. What could be greater than a relationship with the God who is perfect and loves so much that He give His everything for us?
When I meet persecuted Christians they often say, “Don’t forget us”! How could I? Each one of the people I meet leaves an imprint in my mind. Their testimonies strengthen, challenge and encourage my faith in the Lord, and years after meeting them I continue to remember them.
However, I think we can do more. We can pray and, where possible, we can write to them. Although praying for them is the best thing we can do, writing letters to persecuted Christians is a huge encouragement to the recipients because then they know that they are not forgotten.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting Toongabbie Anglican youth group. One of the activities they did was write letters to the Bible college students in the Philippines. I find it encouraging seeing youth think about what to write to a persecuted Christian whom they have never met before and who has faced difficulties they have never experienced. It is a challenging task to think what to write to a group of Christians who face tremendous challenges that we cannot easily relate to.
My encouragement is that whatever you write, whether it’s your favourite Bible verse, a small prayer, or a simple word of encouragement, is that these words, however simple we may find them, are an enormous encouragement to our persecuted brother and sisters. Imagine receiving one of these letters from a Christian whom you have never met saying they are praying and thinking about you. This would bring a smile to any Christian, especially when you feel alone, isolated and persecuted.
I thank the youth at Toongabbie Anglican Church for these letters and for the encouragement they will bring to our brave Bible college students who risk their lives every day for Jesus.