Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
It has been called The Second Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics: “The greater the heat, the greater the expansion.” In other words, the greater the heat of persecution against the Church, the greater the expansion. Various Roman emperors discovered that the more they tried to stamp out the Church, the more it grew. Tertullian, a theologian from the early third century, observed, “The blood of Christians is the seed of the Church.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church)
Jesus forewarned His followers to expect persecution: “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Matthew 24:9). Presently, we suffer little persecution in North America, although it could come. But we do have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who suffer at this moment. George Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Policy Center, writes concerning the persecution of fellow Christians:
We have been living, and we’re living now, in the greatest era of persecution in Christian history. More Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined…The assault on the Christian faithful today is ongoing, extensive and heart-rending. Solidarity with the persecuted Church is an obligation of Christian faith. (“Rediscovering the Martyrology”, First Things, Feb. 26, 2014)
Today’s Scripture commands us to stand in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters. Specifically, we are told to “remember” them. In various New Testament letters we see repeated instances of “remembering” people by praying for them (Ephesians 1:16; Philemon 1:4; Colossians 4:18). We may not always be able to assist them with provision and protection, but we must pray for them. Note the emphasis on how we are to pray for them: “as though we were in prison with them” and, “as though we ourselves were being tortured”! We do well to also think of how our Lord Jesus suffers as His Body on earth suffers.
Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus to take Christians prisoner, was confronted by the ascended Christ asking: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4a). Christ’s question to him speaks to our oneness with Christ and our oneness with other Christians. Perhaps it was Saul’s realization that Jesus suffers with His followers that later prompted him to write: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
As the Body of Christ suffers today, so Christ suffers, and we suffer too! Therefore we remember the persecuted Christians and we pray.
- How do we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters? The Book of Acts gives a good way to begin. In Acts 4 we see Peter and John arrested and ordered, “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Here is how they and their fellow Christians responded in prayer:
And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness…When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29, 31).
- Take a few moments to be still in God’s presence and feel “as though you were in prison with them…as though you were being tortured.”
- Pray for persecuted Christians, asking especially for boldness for them.
- Consider starting a scrapbook of news clippings about persecuted Christians.
- Check out the website of The Voice of the Martyrs. Simply go on your search engine and enter: “Voice of the Martyrs”.
Grace and Peace,