“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (I-Timothy 1:12-13).
One of the most violent and aggressive persecutors of the early Christian church was Saul of Tarsus, a man with an overwhelming zeal for his work. That is until one day while traveling on the road to Damascus he is confronted by Jesus in a vision. Although Saul had not met Jesus personally, he spoke to him from heaven, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus is the Son of God; the church is His bride and he who harms the church harms Christ. We are his bride, his chosen one, the delight of his life. When we see ourselves as Jesus sees us, it become much easier to live as we should.
Jesus reveal many important things to Saul and he is converted and become a devoted follower of the founder of the very Gospel he had so violently persecuted. Just as Paul did, we must strive to gain God’s perspective of who we are and what we are doing to the Church Body of Christ. From God’s perspective, the relationship between Christ and the Church is a very close and dear one and He has done many extraordinary things to protect it. For example, Saul adopts a Christian name, Paul, and travels to Galatia with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Our Christ.
In the Acts of the Apostles—Chapter 13 a remarkable fulfillment of prophecy that is easily missed is recorded. Jesus commissions the disciples in Chapter 1 to be witnesses for Him and proclaims that they will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Then in Chapter 13 the Holy Spirit sets Paul and Barnabas apart to begin their travels to the ends of the earth, taking the good news (Gospel) of Jesus with them. Every Christian has an opportunity to extend that prophetic fulfillment, when we accept “the Great Commission” as a personal commission and help to take the message of salvation to the ends of the world.
Christianity and the Christian way of life are subject to many dangers and the pains of persecution as it does great harm to the spirit, body and soul. The persecutor is even more dangerous; a persecutor is anyone or body who persistently or systematically oppresses, harass or punish an individual or group in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically, to cause to suffer because of one’s belief, religion, race or gender. Today as in Paul’s time persecution takes on many forms, moreover, with the aid of technology it is widespread, violent and happening all too often. Contrary to popular belief you cannot be a persecutor and not injure someone or something.
The Book of Genesis Chapter 4 begins with an account of the persecution of the righteous by the unrighteous: “And Cain talked with Abel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:8). Persecution is not new it has been around a long time. Acceptance of the high cost of righteousness was inherited by Christians and Christianity. As devoted followers of Jesus Our Christ and faithful believers in the faithfulness of Jehovah our God we cannot and will not be deterred. However, we must be mindful of the world we live in, cautious yet conscious of who we are and whose we are.
Jesus repeatedly warned of persecution, even within households, and urged “armed” preparation for it, promising the Spirit’s assistance at judicial examinations. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Far greater men and women than you and I have been persecuted because of their beliefs, why should we expect better treatment than they from an equally evil, sinful and confrontational world?
The conversion of the arch-persecutor Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, marked a resounding victory over oppression. Paul’s attitude to persecution was one of “regretful remembrance” of his own persecuting days and ways. He (Paul) deliberately accepted the risks in obedience to Christ; continuously warned that tribulation is inseparable from discipleship, and gave assurance that in every form of tribulation Christians are more than conquerors. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).
Regretful remembrance is repentance, Jesus commands that we repent and be forgiven, allowing a change of direction on a path of personal spiritual-destruction and separation from the mercy, grace and love of God. Ironically, the Bible ends, much the same as it began, with the theme of the persecution of the people of God. “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (Revelation 6:9-11).
The dear souls cried with a loud voice, asking how long before they were to be avenged. “And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” The end of their little season of rest is near the prophecies of God are being fulfilled; many shall regret what God remembers.
Grady Norman Greene, Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Our Christ
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