A friend recently asked me, “Do you feel persecuted?” He asked because he heard how people pester me about my views, send me hate mail, and threaten me. I didn’t think too long about my answer and just said, “No, not really.”
I suppose that, technically, I am persecuted. Because I follow Jesus and teach biblical views the culture opposes, many people get upset with me and make their feelings known. But because my experience pales in comparison to the persecution I’ve witnessed and read about, I hesitate to call it persecution.
For example, each year I teach Egyptian Christians in the Middle East. They face difficulty at every turn because they live in a country and culture that is dominated by Islam. They get mocked, insulted, and threatened. Their churches are attacked, burned, and blown up. They’re not free to build new churches or repair damaged ones (an exception being Egypt’s President al-Sisi, who pledged to repair churches after the August 2013 attacks on over 40 Christian churches and institutions). There’s no ACLU equivalent ready to jump to the defense of Christian minorities.
The apostle Paul described his own sufferings, many at the hands of his enemies.
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor. 11:23–27)
The author of Hebrews, while recounting the tales of the heroes of the faith, also tells of some of their difficulties. He writes:
[O]thers experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:36–38)
Sawn in two? Yeah, that’s persecution.
I don’t want to place myself in the same category as these “heroes” of the faith. They’ve experienced a level of difficulty that I, as an American Christian, have not faced. And this is to say nothing of the violent persecution that believers will endure during the end times, described in the book of Revelation.
Whatever the case, persecution is considered a badge of honor. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). Being persecuted because of Christ is an honor because we identify with Him in His sufferings.
To be clear, not all hardship is persecution in the biblical sense (1 Peter 4:15). It’s only if we’re communicating Christ’s message with His manner. If we’re a jerk for Jesus, then it doesn’t count. If people mistreat you when you’re crass and condescending, that’s not persecution. That’s punishment. You’re getting what you deserve.
If you desire to live a godly life, though, then you will be persecuted. That’s what Scripture promises (2 Tim. 3:12). So rather than complain that I’m being persecuted, I’ll consider it pure joy whenever I face any trial (James 1:2–3). That’s because I’m sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).