When we read the Bible we usually read only those passages that we think relate to our personal situation. We are often not aware that there are themes that run through the Bible that reflect its most basic and most essential teachings. The theme of ‘deliverance,’ for example, is an important theme that is very prominent in the book of Exodus as Israel is delivered from the bondage of Egypt. It shows up again when Jews in captivity are allowed to go back to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. It has a spiritual dimension when we are taught that we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
There is a theme that is very prominent but mostly neglected and unrecognised by the Western church, primarily because it does not appear to relate to our present situation. But it relates well to many Christians around the world who are experiencing persecution and martyrdom. The theme is ‘suffering for righteousness’ sake.’ In the New Testament and beyond it becomes suffering for Christ’s sake. This theme is first introduced in Genesis 4 in the story of Cain and Abel. Abel is killed for doing the right thing. He suffers for being obedient to God and for offering sacrifices pleasing to Him. It is an unjust murder, which is the case for all suffering for righteousness’ sake.
The theme continues throughout the Old Testament in the stories of Job, Joseph, the three Hebrew young men (the fiery furnace), and with Daniel. All of them suffered for being righteous and for doing good. But it is not just an Old Testament theme. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, his inaugural sermon that would explain the kingdom of God and what it meant to be a genuine follower of Christ, says that those who are persecuted and who are slandered for His sake are blessed. We are not to be surprised if we suffer for the sake of Christ.
We discover as we read through the Bible that suffering is the method God uses to reach the world. It is through Christ’s suffering and death that we have salvation to proclaim. As we see in the book of Acts, the proclamation of the Gospel and witness in Christ’s name often lead to beatings and imprisonment. The apostle Paul, as well as other disciples, experienced the full force of persecution and eventually martyrdom because of their faithful ministry. It continues into the present time.
We don’t consider this when we become a Christian or as we work in ministry. It is far from our minds; yet in most areas of the world to be a Christian and to serve Christ is very costly. Our monthly reports story after story of persons who have suffered for their faith in Christ. It is a very real part of our world. It is also a significant biblical theme. More and more Christians are becoming aware of this fact. It is only then that we can confront the world realistically and pray realistically. We pray for those who are in fact living out this biblical theme and are suffering for righteousness’ sake.
Becoming aware of this theme and the stories of suffering for righteousness’ sake changes the way we think and pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. If we have a loved one who is serving in a hostile area of the world, we feel very much a part of their lives. In the same way, if we know that there are Christians suffering in a particular area of the world, we should have the same feeling toward them that we have toward our family members, because, in reality, these Christians are a part of our families. In fact, we are a part of the same body. If one part suffers, all parts suffer.
Do we feel their pain?