There’s been something brewing inside me for awhile now, but I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve known for a long time I need to write it, to get it out, but I’ve been avoiding it because it’s heavy. I hate that, but it’s the ugly truth. I’ve been avoiding the unpleasant for the sake of my own comfort. How many of us do that every single day? I’m so guilty. In our world today, there are people all over the world who are being oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, raped, and even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself predicted this, and it is being fulfilled today. As you and I sit and sip our Starbucks lattes, people are fearing for their children and their lives because they have chosen to follow Jesus. As we discuss whether our air conditioned church services should incorporate louder music or a different style of preaching, someone is being brutally and unfairly interrogated because of their brave choice to believe Jesus of Nazareth.
I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m stating facts. Facts that make me squirm, that raise my heart rate and make me sweat, as they should. MY sisters and MY brothers are being persecuted. And I often wonder, is my life honoring of their sacrifice?
As I sit here in my leather-like chair reading my leather-like Bible in a home chalk-full of theology books and Scripture commentaries in plain sight, with no fear that they will be found by unfriendly authorities, I wonder: is the way I’m living my life honoring of those hidden and huddled around a few scraps and pages of Scripture, reverently memorizing every word so as not to lose them? Is my life honoring of those who are braving possible arrest to meet and worship in a home half a world away?
I’m so thankful to have grown up with parents who lived with an awareness of this very thing. We have family friends whose grandmother suffered the loss of children for the sake of Jesus. As a child I remember praying fervently in our home for Christians in China who were in the midst of persecution. I was lucky to have a wonderful example set for me of living in a way that considers our family, the family of God, around the world.
I’ve been thinking over the past few months of ways that our lives can show respect and care for those, who we may not even know, who are in the midst of excruciating pain as a direct result of their faith. One thing that has convicted and challenged me, but also greatly encouraged me, is reading Paul’s prison letters. I would encourage you to take the time to read them, and to chew on them for awhile. I believe they can serve as a helpful guide to living in a way that honors the persecuted. And I believe if we will hold up our lives in light of these texts and allow God to speak, we will become more and more Christlike.
As I read Paul’s words, here are few things that jump off the page and straight to my heart:
Be united in love.
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
Can you not just hear the pleading in Paul’s voice? He “begs” us. He reminds the church that he is writing as a prisoner. And what does he ask of us? To be united. To love one another. To be forgiving of each other’s faults. I have a feeling a lot of the grievances we have against one another would fade into the background if we were locked in a filthy, dark cell. The words he uses here are powerful. He commands the church to BIND themselves together in peace. That’s a strong word. It evokes images of commitment, of permanency, of a forcefulness of effort. He didn’t say “can’t you guys get along?” No. Because it has nothing to do with whether or not if feels natural to “get along” or to “be nice to each other”. We are bonded together because of our unity in Christ, and we have to fight tooth and nail to live united, truly as one body. We must throw ourselves all in to loving one another. Paul begs us from prison, because it’s that important.
Follow Christ’s example in laying down our rights in obedience to God.
“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
How many times a day do I look out for my own interests above someone else’s? Above my daughters’? Above my husband’s? Above those with whom I come into contact? How many times do I start to fight for my own rights instead of laying them down? Jesus, the model we all claim to follow, laid down his rights and didn’t take them up again, even though it led all the way to his death. In order to live as Jesus did, and to live a life worthy of our calling in him, we must stop fighting. It’s time we waved the white flag. We have to stop campaigning for our rights and personal freedoms and focus all our attention on submission and obedience. We have to walk in humility and put others first. We must make obedience to God our first and only mission, no matter where it leads us.
Stop claiming to be the persecuted and carry those in true persecution in prayer instead.
“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.”
“Remember my chains.”
Are you in prison for preaching the gospel today? Are you being interrogated or beaten or denied food or water because you’ve chosen to follow Jesus? If you’re not, pray for those that are. I don’t want to start a political debate—trust me, I’d lose because politics are NOT my thing. But I’ve been hearing a lot of “persecution talk” lately from people who live in a FREE country, where we have everything we need and where we can worship freely at a Christian gathering with no fear of repercussion. We’re free to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in public places. Athletes and presidents reference God in public speeches here because believing in Jesus is not a crime in this country. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t really sound like persecution to me. I’ll tell you what does. Churches being looted, burned and destroyed with no recourse or support from government authorities. Men being beheaded. Girls being taken and sold into sex slavery at age 9. Babies dying of thirst because their families are fleeing for their lives. Friends, we in America are not facing persecution. We have the grave responsibility to pray for our brothers and sisters who are, and to live in a way that honors their sacrifice.
If instead of preaching this Sunday, your pastor got up and read a letter from a friend who was in prison for the sake of Jesus, and it ended with Paul’s words—“remember my chains”—how differently would you live this week? How would that affect your prayers? I’m asking myself those questions because I think the difference it would make in my life is exactly what God wants to change in me.
*As you read Paul’s prison letters, I’d love it if you’d comment and let me know what stands out to you. What is God impressing on your heart? What is God asking you to change in your life?