An urgent phone call late Friday night from the security office had my wife, Buse, and me scared. They were requesting that I go immediately to the police station. When I arrived the next morning, I was directed to wait in a small, cool room. Two police officers began to ask strange questions in an unfriendly tone. Names, cities, telephone numbers—each question unrelated to the one before it. I was confused and told them I didn’t want to answer more questions if they weren’t going to explain what was going on. In the corridor, I called my lawyer and explained the situation. Finally, the police commander came and called me into his office and ordered tea for us. “Kerem,” he said, “we have received news from one of our informants of an assassination plot against you, and as a result we have begun to take some precautions.” I had been threatened a number of times before, as had other regional pastors. Moreover, a pastor friend, together with his other church leaders, had only a few years previously been tortured and killed. Still, the idea that someone was preparing to kill me for preaching the Word of God was quite a shock.
The idea of suffering persecution for the sake of Christ is not a distant thought for us. Though some around the world promise worldly wealth, health, and a carefree life in the name of Christianity, true believers in Christ know that those who live lives faithful to God’s Word will encounter trouble and suffering. Church history is full of shining examples of courageous, godly men and women who have lost their lives. What we are going through is neither new nor different, neither more serious nor more frightening, than what has happened throughout church history.
The Scriptures tell us to expect persecution, and a number of examples of persecution are detailed in the Bible. The disciples who suffered difficulty while working to spread Christ’s gospel are an especially valuable example for our day. Stephen, while preaching God’s Word, gave his life for the sake of Christ. Paul, who witnessed Stephen’s death, soon became a follower of Christ and himself became intimately acquainted with suffering (2 Cor. 11:16–33). Jesus, by saying to us, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20), made known to us ahead of time what would happen. We know that the cruelty that Christ suffered reached its peak at the cross. If our sinless Lord Jesus saw persecution, is it not certain that we also will experience pain and difficulty?
Therefore, we must consider not whether persecution will come, but how we will act when it does. Although the church in the West has yet to experience what believers in the East are experiencing, the Western world is gradually becoming more aggressively secular, and so we can see a day of suffering slowly approaching. Christians are beginning to face enormous social and legal pressure. Issues that only a hundred years ago would not even have been up for discussion have now become a part of normal life. If we want to preach God’s Word without watering it down, we must embrace a proper perspective on persecution. But we live in an impatient and rebellious age, and sadly, even the church does not often have a healthy view of this subject. How, then, are we to find encouragement to preach faithfully in the midst of persecution?
We must first of all remind ourselves that as believers in Christ, we are comprehensively under the Lord’s superintendence in all our suffering and difficulties. In these hardships, we must completely trust God’s sovereign will and live in the knowledge that He has commissioned the church in a special way to declare His glory. This is a difficult assignment, but the fact that God is using us to save many gives great joy. As a result, whether in season or out of season, we must continue to declare God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:1–2).
Truthfully, more often than not we consider the time and place not convenient for proclaiming God’s Word. When it comes to explaining our beliefs to those around us, we are hesitant because our hearts are fearful of being mocked and we are afraid of making enemies. Those who wish to live out Christ’s gospel and proclaim it must confront these fears, because they will certainly be made fun of and mocked and will face persecution (3:12). However, God is using this suffering to spread His Word, instruct His people in holiness, increase their perseverance, and purify His church. Our struggle together in a single spirit for the sake of the faith made known in the gospel is evidence to the world of our salvation (Phil. 1:27–28). If we are insulted and persecuted for Christ’s name, we are blessed. We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Matt. 5:10; 1 Peter 4:14). As a result, we ought to be glad as we participate in Christ’s suffering and view the hardships we endure not as an obstacle but as a privilege. These are not empty words; Paul, encouraging the Philippian church concerning the difficulties they have suffered for Christ’s sake, explains, “It has been granted to you that . . . you should . . . also suffer” (Phil. 1:29). Believers who persevere in faith will see in the end that these sufferings will result in praise, glory, and honor (1 Peter 1:7).
It must be kept in mind that the church that proclaims God’s Word may have to pay a great price. It is not easy to remain calm in the face of persecution, but God’s Word must be fearlessly proclaimed and defended whatever the cost. For while we pass through the dark valley of death, our heavenly Shepherd’s staff is at our side to reassure us.