Friday, November 23, 2007

Response #8: Join Them

(The following is part of a series of "responses to the persecuted church" based on a sermon by Eric Schumacher at An Infant in a Cradle. As a preface to his sermon, Schumacher noted: "It is important that we hear these stories. However, hearing them is not enough. We are called to respond. So, I want to ask this question...: How do we respond to the persecuted church?" I'm breaking down his "ten responses to the persecuted church," listing his suggestions and adding my thoughts.)

8. Join them.

Are we called to seek out suffering? I don't think so. But the Bible promises that it will come nonetheless: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted..." (2 Timothy 3:12). And when it does, will we join the persecuted church in standing firm, in praising God no matter the trials we face?

Schumacher bridges this point on the previous one, saying, "Of course, if you visit the persecuted church there is a possibility that you will suffer. This should not hinder us." He continues:

Far from avoiding suffering, we should join the church in suffering. Hebrews 10:32-34 says that by ministering to the persecuted church, the believers became partners with those so treated.” We also read the example of Moses in Hebrews 11:24: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Instead of being ashamed of them, we are commanded to share in their suffering. "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8). "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3). "As for you… endure suffering" (2 Timothy 4:5).

I think that these primarily refer to sharing in suffering by living with the same boldness, preaching the same gospel and engaging in the same ministry that brought Paul suffering. But, we also can join them in suffering by denying ourselves certain comforts in order to help those who are suffering: "Contribute to the needs of the saints ... weep with those who weep. ...associate with the lowly" (Romans 12:13,15,16). This is what it means to be one body in Christ. "But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:24-27).

So you can join the persecuted church by living boldly as they do, clinging to the gospel as they do, ministering to those around you no matter what the cost. As the gospel and its claims become increasingly unpopular, you can continue to devote your life to its truth. And you can sacrificially give to meet the needs of the persecuted; you can practice the other suggestions in this series (see below) to relate to them and help bear their burden even from a distance. They are a part of our Body--join them!

Previously in this series:
Response #1: Do Not Be Surprised
Response #2: Remember Them
Response #3: Research Them
Response #4: Pray for Them
Response #5: Have Generous Compassion on Them
Response #6: Encourage Them
Response #7: Visit Them

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