Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Beyond the affairs of this world, Paul added another certainty. "In fact," said the Apostle, "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12). If we do any Christian pushing, in other words, this present evil world is going to push back.
As a measure of our faithfulness, the certain pushback of persecution measures the push of our faith (I Pet. 4:12). But what forms does the pushback of persecution take? The Bible's tragic, triumphant stories of Stephen being stoned (Acts 7:58) and of James, the brother of John being put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2) are far more dramatic than anything we will likely face. Still, we will face something. But what?
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
Jesus predicted persecution in John 15:19-21.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world...therefore the world hates you...‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
Jesus death on the Cross highlights a fundamental fact: the bad guys hate the good guys. "Because you are not of the world...therefore the world hates you." That hate is the core of persecutions and, often, the substance of persecution.
"Outside the Gate"
Borrowing the imagery of lawless offenders being physically forced outside of the Israelite community (Lev. 24:14), Paul described the sentence of death imposed on Christ and the sentence of persecution imposed on Christians: "Jesus also suffered outside the gate... Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured" (Heb. 13:12-13). Reaffirming the certainty of persecution, this passage affirms that the general outline of all persecution is the social distance that Christians are required to keep from the world. We are, and must be prepared to be, strangers in a strange land.
Even In The Beatitudes
Jesus concluded His Beatitudes with preparation for persecution.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile (insult) you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Mt. 5:10-11).
David and Solomon worded many Psalms and Proverbs as prayers of deliverance from "enemies" and "adversaries." They are those who "accuse (us) because (we) follow after good" (Ps. 38:20) and "whose teeth are like swords and (whose) jaw teeth (are) like knives" (Prov. 30:14). Cutting, mean-spirited, backstabbing words are a form of persecution. "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed" (I Pet. 4:14).
They Are Surprised
Peter also wrote of those who "are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you" (I Pet. 4:3-4). These are our old running buddies. When we no longer run with them, they run away from us. The loss of friends and the loss of prestige is another form of persecution. These losses are the price we pay for "com(ing) out from among them" (II Cor. 6:17).
Paul's Extensive List
Paul the Apostle was closely familiar with persecution and listed several kinds in II Corinthians 11:24-28.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Included in Paul's list are the standard, dramatic, physical persecutions that have, at times, tormented the brethren, and that might again, someday, torment the brethren. Also included are lesser-known push-backs. For example, push back from "false brethren" is another form of persecution.