How Persecution Grows The Church

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Most of us try to avoid being persecuted, but the truth is, persecution can actually grow the church and grow us. Here’s how.

A Normal Thing

No Christian should ever be surprised when they are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. The real surprise is if they’ve never been persecuted. If that’s the case, something is very wrong. The Apostle Paul says that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), and in the Greek, all means, all, so all believers will face persecution; at least if they “desire to live a godly life.” That’s not easy in this world, but persecution also removes some of the tares from the church. Many who were never genuinely saved fall away on account of persecution. Jesus said they endure “for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt 13:21). Even in the Apostle Paul’s day, “the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50). Even though Paul’s suffered “with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor 12:10), he still managed to live with contentment. He said that “my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (2 Tim 3:11). He had no fear of those who could kill the body. He knew the Lord was with him, even in the worst of persecutions.

Growth from Persecution

Years ago, I remember hearing about a Chinese effort to extinguish Christianity in China. Not by killing them and making the martyrs. They knew better than that, so they decided to spread them out all across China, and as far away from one another as possible. They reasoned that they wouldn’t be able to associate with other Christians, and it would eventually die out, but this backfired. By sending these believers across all of China, they had seeded the gospel of Jesus Christ by means of those who had been sent away. By trying to stamp out the church, they spread it across the entire continent. That’s what persecution does. One good example is when “Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 9:1). In the previous chapter, Saul (later, Paul) condoned the stoning to death of Stephen, the deacon. Saul was on a mission to destroy the church, but what was the result? He spread it! As we read, the Christians “were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 9:1), and they brought the gospel of Jesus Christ with them! Because of the fleeing, persecuted Christians, the entire region of Judea and Samaria heard about Christ. After the Apostle Paul’s conversion from Saul to Paul, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). All because of persecution.

Spreading the Gospel

Here’s how we need to look at persecution; both as an individual and as a church. Persecution leads to a wider exposure of the gospel. A wider exposure of the gospel leads to more witnessing of the gospel, and a wider swath of witnessing for Christ, leads to more people being saved by Christ. In the Antioch Church, Christians “were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19). Now not only had the gospel went into all of Judea and Samaria, now it had gone even further; “to Phoenicia and Cyrprus and Antioch,” so now the Greeks and much of the Roman Empire had opportunity to hear about Christ. Of course, this doesn’t mean we go out and seek persecution on purpose in order to grow the church because God gives the increase (Acts 2:41-47, 4:4, 5:13, 5:14, 11:21-24; Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18). We should never intentionally seek out persecution. That won’t grow the church, but actually hurt the church. We should never be obnoxious about our faith and try to cram our beliefs down other people’s throats. Jesus never forced Himself on anyone. It was always His invitation to, “Come to Me” and believe, and you will be saved (Matt 11:28-30; John 3:16-17). Being overzealous can turn people off on Christ and make them avoid it like the plague. It is by our love for one another that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35). People won’t believe in Christ because of our slick presentation or oratory skills or biblical knowledge. People will be saved by the Word of God when the Spirit of God comes, to create a child of God. Salvation is fully of the Lord (Psalm 3:8, 62:1; Acts 4:12), although He will use us as a means to bring people to Christ.

Blessed by Persecution

I know it doesn’t feel like it, but when you’re being persecuted for your faith, you’re being blessed by God. Here’s how I know that. The Apostle Peter said that “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14). Wouldn’t you want that? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10), so we must keep our eyes on the coming kingdom of heaven when we are persecuted for His name’s sake. He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). Persecution will bring rewards in the kingdom, but it will bring blessings today! And you’re in great company if you’re persecuted; the prophets, the apostles, and the martyrs of old all faced the same thing, so don’t try to avoid persecution, but don’t instigate it either.  We grow spiritually as we’re persecuted.

Conclusion

Persecution is growing worse and worse, and will continue to do so up until Jesus Christ returns. We not only should expect it, but receive it for what it is; a blessing from God (Matt 5:10-12). Persecution can bring growth by bringing attention to the gospel, but only if you’re living a godly life. Those who are not ever persecuted, might want to examine themselves to see if they’re really in the faith (2 Cor 12:5), or they might hear the most dreadful words in their entire lives: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). Jesus’ point is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Make that election and calling of yours sure! Do it before you pillow your head tonight (2 Cor 6:2).

Here is some related reading for you: Why Persecution is Actually a Good Thing

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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