How should we react to persecution?

October 15, 2014.

There has been a recent conflict in Houston between evangelists and the city that is beginning to go viral amongst Christians who are outraged at the implications that it draws. If you have not heard about it yet, the conflict has arisen over a subpoena that was issued to about 400 pastors demanding that they turn over any writings or sermons that they have prepared that have to do with homosexuality or Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of Houston, in response to a resistance against the newly instated Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) by a number of people in Houston. There is more to the story, but I will let you research that on your own. The question that I want to discuss today is how should Christians react as our society becomes more and more unfriendly to Christianity. I would like to note first, however, that I do not have a “one-size-fits-all” answer as it is indeed a complex situation that can vary from case to case. But I do think I have a general idea of how we are admonished biblically to deal with persecution. Let’s start with a case study.

In the book of Daniel, we reach a point in Jewish history where their kingdom has fallen into captivity because they had turned their backs on God. Israel, the ten tribes of the divided kingdom, had already been taken into Assyrian captivity because they fell away from God even quicker than Judah, the remaining two tribes of the divided kingdom, did. Daniel opens with Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon besieging Jerusalem, overtaking it and bringing back some of the nobility who were wise with understanding to be trained in the language and culture of the Chaldeans with the plan of setting them back over the kingdoms that were in captivity so that Babylon would have influence over the people. Daniel was one of these wise youths, along with some notable others, and the first few chapters of the book convey very interesting and exciting stories about their experiences.

When we arrive at chapter six, the story continues to prove no less than extraordinary. Most people imagine Daniel as a young man when he is thrown into the lion’s den, but in reality he was probably quite old, which I think makes this story even more intriguing. We see that Daniel has made some enemies over the course his lifetime as a leader, not because he had done anything malicious towards them, but more so because they were jealous that the Lord had blessed him so in the kingdom. His enemies come up with a plan to trap Daniel by his daily routine. They knew that Daniel prayed to God with his window open towards Jerusalem (as a fun endeavor, I challenge you to find out why he prayed this way), three times a day. Since they could find no other complaint against Daniel to make before the king, they set up this trap:

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.”
(Daniel 6:6-9)

They had changed the law to make it where Daniel was no longer allowed, at least for thirty days, to pray to God. How did Daniel react to this situation?

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
(Daniel 6:10)

He just kept on doing what he was doing in the first place. The story continues with his enemies exposing what Daniel did to the King, and the King, though reluctantly because he thought highly of Daniel, staying true to his word and throwing him into the lion’s den. God stopped the mouths of the lions and after a day, Daniel was pulled out unharmed and his accusers were thrown in in his place ending the story on a spiritual victory. What I want to focus on, however, is Daniel’s reaction as I believe it can have practical implications of how we are to react when the world persecutes us. There are three lessons that I think we can learn from Daniel’s reaction.

1. Daniel continued to do what he always did.

The first thing that you might notice in this story is that when Daniel learns about the decree, he immediately goes home and prays just like he has always done. There was no change in behavior. He didn’t yield to the decree, even though it was only temporary. He didn’t worship the King as God, nor did he petition him as he would God. He simply went home and continued to do what he always had done, praying three times a day with his window open towards Jerusalem. To make application to us today, if we are pressured by the world to stop teaching or worshiping God in the way we are, I would encourage each of us to disregard the teaching of the world and simply do what we have been doing. God stopped the mouth of the lions, and He can so protect us. That’s not to say that it is His will that we live through persecution, but only to say that it is well within His power to protect us if it is His will (see chapter three of Daniel for more insight on this).

2. Daniel did not throw a fit or put up resistance.

The second thing we might notice about this story is very similar to the first. Daniel does not change his behavior after reading the decree. He simply does what he as always done. He doesn’t go before the King to make known to him that his enemies had just gotten him to sign the decree as a trap for Daniel. He doesn’t argue with his enemies who are setting the trap. He doesn’t become more outwardly righteous than he had before. He just follows his daily practice. Often, especially in this country, when we are met with opposition, our first step is to lash back. We call upon rights and fairness and we try to expose the weakness of the other side. Sometimes we do religious things simply out of spite, daring someone to say something to us about it. If they say something, we can get into an argument and expose the flaws in their stance. Daniel doesn’t do any of this.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t protect our first amendment rights, so don’t write me off as a push over, but I don’t think we should act in any way that is not becoming of Christ. In the end, if our rights get taken away, so what? We should still continue to do what we are doing. We should continue to preach and teach the good news of Christ regardless of whether we have the constitutional right to or not. The constitution has no bearing on the law of Christ. Yes, I am very thankful to live in a country that protects the freedom of speech, but if that is taken away, we should not fight viciously about it. We should show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. We are the light of the world. We should act like it. The only resistance that Daniel put up was to continue to do what he had done in respect to God.

3. Daniel did not hide what he did.

Though I don’t believe we should show “how religious we are” out of spite or because there is opposition, I also do not think we should hide our spirituality. Daniel could have easily just closed his window when he prayed (though there was a reason he did not) to hide from the law. But he didn’t. He prayed openly in his home as his enemies knew he would, and he accepted the consequences. This goes back to us being the light of the world. We cannot be the light by hiding. There is a fine line between living out our Christianity and doing it for show, but we need to find that balance through humility and the glory of Christ.

As we go through this life, we should expect persecution. In fact, the bible tells us that we are surely going to have to endure persecution. If the world hated Christ when he came, then the world will certainly hate His followers as well (see John 15). This should be no surprise. We are to act accordingly. This is not the first time Christians have been persecuted, and it certainly isn’t near the worst persecution that the church has seen. The word of God has always, and will always, stand in the face of persecution. When Peter makes the good confession that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus replies:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
(Matthew 16:18)

This is such a solid verse to me. When Jesus established His church on the foundation of Him being the Son of God, he made it so even the gates of hell could not prevail against it. The church will survive, regardless of stringent persecution. In fact, the church often thrives most in the face of persecution. In the early days, the church came under heavy persecution from the Romans. What did they do? Banded together and keep on doing what they were doing. The church grew immensely, eventually getting to the point where they had influence over emperor Constantine who made Christianity the official religion of Rome. We could talk about how I think this was a bad thing for the church, but I’ll save that for another day. The point is, in the face of avid persecution, the church thrived. Not from spite, but from the word of God.

So what does all this have to do with the case in Texas? I guess it’s simply a word of encouragement to those who come under persecution. Just keep on preaching and teaching the word of God as it is laid out in Scripture. I would say not to make that big of a deal out of it because that is precisely what the city wants them to do. This is simply scare tactics that are being leveraged by the city. They don’t have the constitutional power to back up what they are doing (as I am sure they are well aware). They are just trying to get a reaction from the evangelists to give them bad PR, thus furthering their agenda. I say we don’t give that to them, yet show them the love of Christ. Christ died for these people too, and they deserve to hear the message just as anyone else does. Don’t give in. Don’t stop practicing. Don’t fight back with the same tactics. You can read more about religion and politics here.

We are the light of the world. We have a higher calling. Let us learn from the example of Daniel and face persecution in the way that Christ would have us do so.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
(Acts 5:27-32)

Suggested Daily Reading: Daniel 1, 3, 6, John 15, Acts 4-5.

Grace and peace.

-Walter

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