I've preached this message in Asia, Africa and the Middle East at our Christian Leader's Conferences for years, but I've only recently been preaching it and sharing it in the Western World. It's a long message, so I'll split it up into several parts. This is part 1. I believe that now is the time to share...It's called "Passing Through The Fire".
The Bible teaches that persecution because of our love for Jesus will be a part of the Christian life. When you are persecuted because you love Jesus, you should not be upset, but should understand that this is what every true disciple of Christ has endured from the beginning. Persecution takes many forms. It can be mild, where people who know that you are a Christian will mock you and ridicule you for your faith. The persecution can be more severe, where people close to you--your family and close friends--may mock and ridicule you for your faith. Your husband or wife may leave you because you love Jesus. Your parents and family may avoid you and even deny you are a part of their family. You may lose your rightful inheritance from your family for the sake of Christ. Your employer at work may fire you, and other employers may not want to hire you because you are a Christian. The people closest to you may lie about you publicly and slander your name.
And yes, this persecution may take an even more severe form. Jesus teaches that those closest to us--our immediate family--may betray us to hostile authorities, and we may be put in prison. We may be tortured while in prison, emotionally and physically. We may be beaten up, and some of us may even experience the most severe persecution the Devil is able to give us--we may be killed because we love Jesus.
Friends, why do I share these serious words with you today? Only because the Lord has told me that He wants me to encourage you today in your sincere walk of faith. Some of us, many of us--I believe all of us--have experienced the mild form of persecution. Many of you have experienced more severe persecution. And some of you have experienced severe persecution, involving your emotions and your bodies, and you are here because the Lord has preserved you for something better. I believe each of us here today knows someone--perhaps many people--who have lost their lives--becoming martyrs--for the cause of Christ. In fact, there have been more Christian martyrs worldwide in the last 100 years than in all the 19 centuries before that combined.
Friends, brothers and sisters, persecution is a way of life for the true servant of Christ. Just as the rainy season brings the certainty of rain, and the dry season the certainty of heat and sun, so the committed Christian life brings the certainty of persecution. For those of you living in the midst of persecution today--or who will experience persecution in the days to come--let the Word of God encourage you, strengthen you, and get you through this today. Jesus says these words about you who are persecuted today in Matthew 5:10-12:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
What blessed words, my friends, from the very mouth of our Savior! A special blessing awaits us in Heaven as a result of enduring suffering and persecution on this Earth! Now look at Jesus' words in Mark 10:29-30:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life."
Do you see this, friends? Jesus promises us multiplied return--in fact, 100-fold return--on whatever we give up to Him for the sake of the Gospel, whether it be property or possessions, finances or human relationships. He promises that for every one of these seeds which we plant in the soil of Christ's Kingdom, we can look forward with joyful anticipation that in this life--yes, Jesus says "in this life"--we will experience and receive back the 100-fold multiplication of these seeds planted by faith back to us--Hallelujah! What blessed words of promise! But there is more. Jesus also promises that with these manifold blessings of abundance, we will also just as surely experience persecutions in this life. Surely there is a tension here--a tension between abundance of blessing and the reality of persecution. And friends, in this life, we will be required, because of our devotion to Christ, to live within this ongoing tension. This is what the Apostle Paul was referring to while he was imprisoned for the cause of Christ in Philippians 4:11-12:
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."
The challenge for each of us as believers is to have Paul's same attitude of contentment in all circumstances. Paul knew the blessings of abundance and prosperity. But he also knew the abundance of persecutions, and was living in the midst of them as he wrote this letter from prison. Yet Paul was able to have perfect contentment in Jesus throughout all these experiences. The Holy Spirit blessed him with contentment at all these times, through the prosperity and the persecution, and He will bless you with the same when you ask Him for it. Truly He will give us all the same contentment Paul had, as the Lord is no respecter of persons; what He released so abundantly in Paul, He will release in just as great abundance in us when we ask Him for it!
*This is the end of Part 1. Watch for Part 2 to be posted soon!