In Part 4--the final part of this message titled "Passing Through The Fire"--I encourage us all to endure the inevitable persecution of followers of Jesus to the end--because it's worth it! In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What persecution does for us is completely focus our eyes on the Lord as our strength and not ourselves. It forces us to remember that Jesus is the only source of any and all the strength that we have to live and minister. Persecution weakens us so that we may become even stronger. It weakens our reliance on ourselves--our own power, our own might--and forces us to see that it is first, last and always Jesus--and only Jesus--who can get us through the situations we face in life faithfully and obediently. Persecution reminds us of our own human weakness and frailty and God’s divine strength and power. It reminds us that apart from Christ, we truly can do nothing. It reminds us that it is not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord! Persecution reminds us finally that we really can do all things through Christ who strengthens us 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says…
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
Friends, I know that for many of you this verse recalls your own salvation. This verse reminds you that when you began serving Jesus, you also “welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering”; that almost as soon as you were saved, you began to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. Friends, the Bible reminds you today that you are not alone—you truly are not alone! Paul says that the early believers in Thessalonica experienced the very same thing. Many times it is easier to endure persecution when we know that others—countless others—have experienced the very same thing in their lives. Knowing that you are not alone in your suffering, affliction and persecution, but rather that you follow in a long, long line of saints down through the centuries who experienced the same, and came out victorious, entering eternal glory; knowing this blessed truth will help you win your daily battles with demonically-inspired persecution. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 says: “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.”
Another great truth that will help you endure your daily persecutions is knowing that your example—your testimony—of how you endure the persecutions you face will inspire and encourage other believers as they face their own persecutions! Never underestimate what your example does for other believers. Do you think that Paul—while facing his persecutors—ever thought that his example would be viewed centuries later by multitudes of us, and that his example would later give countless Christians strength to face their own trials? I think not! Do you think Peter ever believed as he was imprisoned, whipped and eventually crucified upside-down; do you think that he ever imagined his testimony during persecution could impact other believers the way it has? I don’t believe so. Yet their testimonies have! And your testimony has an impact greater than you can imagine today! It is so true, isn’t it, that every sin has greater impact, and more far-reaching effect, than one can imagine at the time. Since this is true of sin, how much more is it true of righteousness! When we righteously endure godless persecution, our example, among those both near and those far away, makes an impact on them for Jesus--both believers and unbelievers alike--that is greater than we can imagine now.
Friends, it will only be in Heaven when we finally realize the full impact of our testimony through persecution in the lives of others. But mark my words, in the meantime, the world is watching you, and God will use your faithful endurance to give others the strength to face their own trials, and even to win unbelievers to Christ. Your faithful endurance preaches a powerful sermon!
And the final word on this matter comes first from Paul, and then from Jesus Himself. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And then from Jesus’ very own lips, He speaks to us today in John 15:20: “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Friends, today we stand on the edge of a great Harvest of souls. The Holy Spirit is inviting your right now to take a giant step forward in being a godly leader; He is inviting you as an individual, along with your church or your Ministry, to grow and thrive and be used to bear more exceeding, abundant fruit than ever before! And with these great victories ahead of you, the Bible promises you that persecutions will come. Jesus says “If they persecuted Me, they’ll also persecute you.” Jesus’ greatest victory came after He endured His greatest persecution! Jesus could only be raised from the dead after He was crucified. The salvation of the world could only be won after the sacrifice had been paid. The ultimate victory of Easter Sunday could only happen after the ultimate tragedy of Good Friday!
Friends, not every one of us will lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel, but every one of us needs to be willing to endure the cross of Jesus if it came to that. And while martyrdom may not be in all our futures, the certainty of persecution in our lives is prophesied by Christ. Let us move forward boldly in confidence friends, that the great victories that the Holy Spirit has in store for you as an individual, your Ministry, your church, your city, may well be accompanied by persecutions. We need not look for them, but they will seek us out. Should they find us, let us stand strong, with our heads held high, faithfully enduring to the end, standing in that long line of witnesses who endured the same, starting with Jesus Himself! And as we do, the Author and Perfecter of our faith will use our endurance to bear more fruit for the Kingdom than we will ever know this side of Heaven...