The Bible tells us that in the life to come true believers will experience unending joy and perfect peace. In our present life, however, we often experience tears and trials, sickness and sadness, suffering and sorrow. Sometimes we suffer simply because we are human beings who live on a sin-cursed earth. At other times our suffering comes because we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever happens to us, however, we have the confidence and assurance that Christ will never leave us or forsake us.
1. What does the Bible teach us about the suffering and trials which believers may experience?
Jesus told his followers that they would often face sufferings and trials if they faithfully sought to live for him and follow his example. Paul and other writers also emphasized that faithful believers would often suffer persecution because of their faith. Being a Christian in a hostile environment would not be easy. But persecution would also be an indication that the people being persecuted were faithful and true followers of Christ. And true followers of Jesus would never be forsaken by their Lord.
Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. . . . A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:19-20)
Jesus said: “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Paul said: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
2. Are there any examples of persecution in the New Testament?
Yes, there are many. Church leaders and ordinary church members were often persecuted. Some were killed, and many others were beaten or imprisoned. Paul suffered persecution in most of the places where he preached the Gospel, but he remained faithful. And, along with other believers, he continued to rejoice in the Lord and stayed strong in his faith in Jesus.
There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1)
As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance; in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . . as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5, 9, 10)
Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord . . . but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
3. Doesn’t God care that his children suffer persecution?
He certainly does. However, he promises that if we patiently endure suffering for Christ’s sake, we will receive special blessings in this life and will receive a great reward in heaven when this life is over. He also declares that he will punish unrepentant persecutors.
Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you. (2 Thessalonians 1:6)
4. What are some of the ways in which persecution and trials can be a source of blessing in our present lives?
Trials and suffering for Christ’s sake can help to strengthen our character, increase our joy, confirm our commitment to follow Jesus, increase our patience, prove the genuineness of our faith, teach us to depend on the Lord and not on our own resources, confirm our testimony and enable us to serve as an example to others. Persecution and trials may cause us sorrow, pain, and suffering, but they can also produce precious spiritual fruit in our lives.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. . . . Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:22-23,26)
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers . . . your faith in God has gone forth everywhere. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel . . . And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12, 14)
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced . . . We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God . . . On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
5. What encouragement does the Bible give to those who suffer persecution?
God will never leave or forsake those who suffer for Christ’s sake. He will ultimately work out all things for the benefit of those who love him. And those who persevere to the end will inherit a crown of glory.
God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Consider him [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3)
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Of this gospel I [Paul] was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:11- 2)
If we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12)
6. What should we do if we suffer trials or persecution because of our faith?
We should commit our lives to the Lord, continue to live a Christian life, and focus on the glory to come. Though present trials can be very severe, we should remember that they cannot compare with the glory that will someday be ours when we are with Christ.
Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
We do not lose heart. Though out outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
7. What attitude should we have toward those who persecute us?
We should not seek to get even with them, but leave revenge to God, trusting that he will do what is just and right. As difficult as it may be, we should love them in Christ, pray for them and seek to do them good. Jesus himself is our example of how we should live among people who oppose us, oppress us, or persecute us. This is something we cannot do in our own strength, but something we can do through the indwelling power of Christ. It is his love that wins a victory—even if we have to die for our faith.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;” . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps . . . When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21, 23)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
8. Does God promise that He will always keep believers from illness or injury or will heal them miraculously if they are sick, injured, suffering or persecuted?
No. Sometimes believers are miraculously healed when they are sick or injured, and sometimes they are spared from injury or sickness or accident through the special grace of God. But not always. Both believers and unbelievers often suffer and die from the same diseases and afflictions. And both believers and unbelievers often suffer and die from accidents or in floods or hurricanes or other natural disasters. In addition, believers in many parts of the world also face persecution because of their faith. God does love and protect and care for his children in very special ways, but he does not promise that they will escape all the suffering and trials that others experience.
However, as believers we have the assurance that nothing can happen to us outside the will of God. We also have the promise and assurance that everything that takes place in our lives will ultimately, in some way, turn out for our good. So we pray in faith that God will keep us from injury, accident and sickness in the confidence that such prayers are often answered. But if we are not spared from these things or if we are not immediately healed, we have the confidence that God can use unpleasant or painful situations to help us become the kind of persons he wants us to be. And if our sickness or accident or injury ends in death, we know that we will be taken into the glorious presence of our Savior where we will forever be free from sickness, suffering or pain.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes . . . I know, O LORD . . . that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Psalm 119:71, 75)
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
To keep me [Paul] from becoming conceited . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me . . . Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
1. According to 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Is this true for every believer?
In some parts of the world most Christians would immediately answer this question with a strong YES. In other parts of the world, many Christians would probably say NO. In their own lives they experience little or no obvious persecution and may even be “rewarded” in some ways because of their honesty, faithfulness to their spouses, friendliness, and hard work. In general, however, living openly and consistently for Christ will eventually arouse enmity or opposition of one kind or another. Christians may be mocked on occasion because they do not participate in certain activities or attend certain places of entertainment. They may also be ridiculed for their refusal to go along with the crowd in some of the group activities at school or at work. They may also be considered “Bible fanatics” if they talk to other people about the Bible or read the Bible during their lunch hour or free time. They may be called derogatory names because of their clean language, refusal to drink alcoholic beverages or gamble. They may be considered radicals because they attend church faithfully, observe a special day of the week as a day that is holy unto the Lord, give generously to their church or mission organizations, and participate in marches to promote pro-life activities or other Christian causes. Christians who never face any kind of obvious persecution or opposition may simply be living in a strong Christian environment. However, there may also be many situations where a Christian is not persecuted in any way because he or she is not pursuing a distinctively Christian lifestyle and therefore does not stand out in the crowd of unbelievers.
2. Can you give any personal examples of being persecuted because you are a Christian?
If you are a Christian, think about times when you experienced trouble because of your faith. What was hardest for you? What blessings did you experience? If you seldom or never face difficulties for being a Christian, consider whether your lifestyle might not be much different from unbelievers and whether you might not be sharing your faith or standing up for what is right. If you do not experience persecution because you live in a strong Christian environment, God might call you to step beyond that safe environment and get closer to the front lines of bringing God’s kingdom into hostile territory.
3. Wouldn’t it be much better for us (believers) if we never experienced any suffering or trials or persecution in our lives?
It might indeed be easier for us in some ways, but it would not necessarily be better. Persecution often strengthens our faith, helps us to examine our lives to see what is really most important in life, blesses us to know that others look upon us as sincere followers of Jesus, challenges others to examine their own lives, increases our boldness to witness, brings glory and praise to God, creates joy in our hearts, and causes us to trust in the Lord rather than in our own abilities for provision, protection, and the things we need for daily living. See, for example, Acts 4:29-32; Acts 5:41-42; Philippians 3:10; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 5:10.
4. Why would anyone think he is offering a service to God if he killed Christians? (See John 16:2.)
Many non-Christians believe that Christians are deceiving people, teaching false things about God, dishonoring God by teaching that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and leading people into all kinds of heretical and false teachings that lead them away from God rather than to God. Remember that the apostle Paul himself felt that way at one time and therefore hounded and persecuted believers (Acts 7:55-8:1; Acts 9:1; and Acts 22:19-20). Even Jesus himself was crucified because the Jewish leaders accused him of blasphemy, a great sin against God, when he taught that he was the Son of God (Matthew 26:63-66). Today, non- Christians in some countries believe that Christians are insulting God and spreading false teachings concerning him, so they put Christians to death. In their own minds and hearts, they sincerely believe that they are pleasing and serving God when they kill Christians.
5. Will those who suffer persecution in this life for Christ’s sake receive greater glory and greater reward in heaven? If so, what will this glory or reward will be like?
The Bible does seem to teach that those who suffer persecution for Christ’s sake will receive some kind of special reward in their future life. Read, for example, Matthew 5:11 and Luke 6:22-23. However, the Bible does not explain specifically what this glory or crown or reward will be like. All believers will share in the glory and joy of being with Jesus for eternity, and this joy and glory will be far greater than anything any of us have ever experienced on earth. It’s difficult to explain, therefore, how one person might have greater joy or blessing than another. There may well be some persons in heaven who will have special authority of one kind or another, but there will be no jealousy, pride, or envy of any kind. It’s sufficient for us to know that the Bible has promised that the reward will be there, even if we cannot fully understand what it will be like. Our greatest joy will not be our personal position or honor but the blessing and privilege of spending eternity with Jesus in a world of perfect peace and delight. Read some of the following passages and think about what they mean: Revelation 14:13; Revelation 20:4, 22:12; Hebrews 10:34, 11:26; 2 John 8; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:8.
6. Believers often experience trials or suffering that are not directly related to persecution. Do you think these trials and suffering will result in spiritual growth? Will they possibly also result in greater rewards in heaven? If so, do you think the reward will depend on how we respond to our trials in this life?
The Bible may not give a specific answer to the question about future rewards in heaven, but it does clearly indicate that earthly afflictions often result in spiritual growth. In general, anything we do or any suffering we endure in a way that honors Christ will bring praise to him and may possibly also result in some kind of special reward in heaven. However, our primary emphasis in all of this should not be on ourselves and our possible future rewards but on Christ, who is the author and source of everything good in our lives. To him belong the glory and honor and praise both now and forever. Read some of the following passages: Psalm 116:10; Psalm 119:67, 71, 75; Job 5:17; Malachi 3:3; John 15:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16- 17; Hebrews 12:5 and 11; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 7:14.
7. Can you think of any examples in your own life or in the life of someone you know in which trials and persecution resulted in spiritual blessings already in this life?
Hardship is meant for our good. That’s not just theory but reality. Reflect on your own experience and recall testimonies from others, paying close attention to ways that God has brought blessings through troubles.
8. How should we respond to persons who treat us unfairly simply because we are Christians?
We should definitely not return evil for evil! Nor should we immediately try to find weaknesses or failures in another person’s life and focus on those in order to take the pressure off ourselves. If it is possible for you to discuss your faith openly and calmly with someone who is treating you unfairly, prayerfully take advantage of that opportunity. Most often, however, that will probably not be possible. Depending on your situation and circumstances, it might be possible to discuss your situation with a person of authority who can help you find an amicable solution to your situation. If, so, prayerfully take advantage of that opportunity if you can do so without doing unnecessary harm to yourself or to others who may be involved.
Also, in the spirit of Christ, you should seek to return good for evil and pray for the person or persons involved. You may possibly be able to quietly do something helpful and positive for someone who is treating you poorly. (See Proverbs 20:22; 24:29; 25:21; Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27, 35; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9, 17.)
It’s important to remember, however, that you, like Jesus himself, will not necessarily be well-received by others, no matter what you do. In that situation, simply commend the entire matter to the Lord, and patiently and prayerfully wait for His leading and guidance.
9. How is your prayer life affected when you pray for healing or freedom from trials and persecution but God does not heal you or keep you from being persecuted?
This is a very challenging question that each of us must deal with personally. Throughout history many believers who prayed sincerely were not healed, and many Christians who prayed sincerely were not spared from persecution or death. Both the Bible itself and the history of the church demonstrate that. Believers should also recognize, however, that God promises that he will never leave or forsake his people (Hebrews 13:6-7; Psalm 118:5-7; Deuteronomy 31:6,8) and he will bring to glory those who die either from sickness or from persecution or in any other way (Hebrews 11:13-16; Revelation 14:13). His purposes are sometimes accomplished most powerfully by those who remain faithful even when they are not healed or delivered. And since the ultimate goal in our lives is that God may be glorified through us, we should continue to trust in the Lord while also continuing to pray. See Hebrews 11:13-17 and 32-40, which record many victories while also referring to many people who suffered greatly but did not receive a victory in this present life. See also Hebrews 10:36. Also, remember that Jesus himself prayed very earnestly for a way to avoid his death on the cross, but God conquered sin through Jesus’ death rather than sparing him from death (Matthew 26:39 and 42; Hebrews 2:10). God’s ultimate purposes will surely be accomplished, though faithful followers of Jesus may have to suffer much from sickness, trials, poverty, or persecution. But through it all God will be glorified and in one way or another all those who trust in him will also ultimately share in his glory (Hebrews 13:13-14).
10. In what way(s) would you be different if you were never sick or injured or in pain? Do you think you would be more fruitful, more joyful, and a better witness if everything in life went the way you wanted? Give the reasons for your answer.
This is a question that only you can answer. Most of us, though, have to admit that we can be quite grumpy and discontented even when we’re healthy and things are going well for us. On the other hand, most of us recognize that our minds were most focused on God and our faith was exercised most strongly when we faced difficulties that we could not handle in our own strength. A great many Christians testify that their greatest spiritual growth occurred when they went through hard times.