Summary: The time is coming when Christians will be persecuted right here. How do I know it? I have already traveled that road before. How will you deal with it? Let us not try to run and find a way to escape persecution but face it like Jesus did.
Opening illustration: Video clip of persecuted Christians worldwide.
Let us turn to 1 Peter 4 and check out what to expect while being persecuted for Christ.
Introduction: In the nature of things persecution must have been a much more daunting experience for Gentiles than it was for the Jews. The average Gentile had little experience of it; but the Jews have always been the most persecuted people upon earth; persecution has been part of their heritage. Peter was writing to Christians who were Gentiles, and he had to try to help them by showing them persecution in its true terms. It is never easy to be a Christian. The Christian life can still bring its own loneliness, its own unpopularity, its own problems, its own sacrifices, and its own persecutions. It is; therefore, well to have certain great principles in our minds.
First Peter was probably written just after that persecution began, toward the end of A.D 64. The believers were experiencing a "fiery ordeal" indeed (1 Peter 4: 12). So the apostle Peter told them how to respond to suffering. In a way it sums up all his previous instruction about that subject.
Expectations during persecution ~
1. Suffering is Inevitable (v. 12)
Throughout his letter Peter says that persecution is inevitable. In fact, the surprise would be if it didn’t come: the apostle John said, "Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you" (1 John 3: 13), Jesus said to His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15: 18), and the apostle Paul said, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3: 12).
Suffering can tempt us to doubt God’s love. If someone like Nero rolled our children in pitch and used them as human torches, we might wonder about God’s love. In the midst of such persecution the enemy might echo in our ears these vile words once uttered by Job’s wife: "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). So Peter wrote to assure the believers of his day --and ours--of God’s unfailing love.
It shouldn’t shock us that life is difficult. When someone takes issue with our testimony, when employees at work are hostile toward us, or when our neighbors have a vendetta against us, it’s no surprise since suffering is corollary to the Christian faith. That’s because following Christ promises suffering, not immunity from it. Instead of saying Jesus wants us all to be happy, healthy, and wealthy, and will solve all our worldly problems, we need to say truthfully to the ungodly, "You’re in desperate need of Jesus Christ because you’re on your way to an eternal hell. You have the choice of suffering in hell forever or suffering here for a while as a Christian."
Yet some want to live under the illusion that being a Christian and serving the church eliminates every difficulty. Rather, when God effectively uses us as we’re faithful to His Word, we will arouse animosity. In the words of the apostle Paul, "We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life" (2 Cor. 2: 15-16).
Believers are willing to endure adversity because they know it proves the genuineness of their faith, which will be rewarded at Christ’s appearing. So the fiery trial doesn’t refer to just any trouble but to persecution for living the Christian faith. The message of our trial getting really heated up in coming times is apparent and can’t be ruled out.
Suffering for righteousness’ sake reveals who’s really a true believer. Christ illustrated that point in the parable of the soils: A sower scattered some seed on stony ground, and a plant grew quickly but its roots didn’t grow deeply since the soil was shallow. Consequently, under the punishing rays of the sun, the plant died without ever bearing fruit (Matthew 13:5-6).
Our Lord was describing a shallow response to the gospel--not allowing the Word to penetrate the depths of one’s heart. Persecution revealed it to be nothing but a superficial profession (vv. 20-21). That’s why the persecuted church is the pure church. Through tribulation our Lord purges and cleanses the church of its chaff.
Illustration: Graham Stuart Staines (1941-January 1999) was an Australian missionary who was burnt to death along with his two sons Philip (aged 9) and Timothy (aged 7) while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa, India in January 1999. On the night of 22 January 1999, Graham Staines had attended a jungle camp, an annual gathering of Christians of the area to strengthen fellowship and for teaching. In the night he was sleeping in his station wagon when it was set afire by a mob. Graham and his two minor sons were burnt alive. In 2003, the Hindu activist Dara Singh was convicted of leading the gang. Graham was survived by his wife and daughter who forgave the killers during their first court hearing. Instead of a death sentence they were given life imprisonment.