Suffering sanctifies the church and separates the true believers from the false. Facing suffering, people with wrong intentions and motives will often run away. In the emerging Afghan church when persecution and hardship came, many thieves, spies, and liars left. Under persecution and hardship, some people stopped coming to the church.
But it is encouraging to see that true believers continue to grow in their faith and number to bring glory to Jesus and advance his kingdom. Believers will be afraid, but they will not abandon Christ.
As an Afghan Christian, I have been imprisoned and exiled for following Christ and preaching his gospel. Sometimes, I questioned God’s purposes in my hardship and in being tortured in prison, but God’s grace strengthened me. The world will hate us because we follow Jesus. We need to be ready to respond to persecution.
The world will hate us because we follow Jesus. We need to be ready to respond to persecution.
Three Responses to Suffering
Christians respond to suffering in three God-honoring ways.
First, Christians respond by trusting God as they submit to suffering. The life of Joseph is an example of righteous suffering. Joseph wrongfully suffered when his brothers sold him into slavery, and he was accused of a sin in Potiphar’s house. Joseph trusted God’s good purposes in his hardship (Gen. 50:20).
Second, Christians respond by proclaiming the gospel. If we are to flee our hometown or country as result of persecution, we need to remember that our purpose in life is Jesus and we are to serve him and preach his good news wherever we land. We learn from the lives of early believers that when under persecution they fled from Jerusalem. As a result, the gospel spread to many other places. For example, the church in Antioch—one of the first churches outside of Jerusalem—became the sending church of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles (Acts 14:26).
Third, Christians persevere in suffering. In Acts 4:17–22 we see the boldness and courage of Peter and John in front of the Jewish council. Faced with the threat of further suffering, they testified about Jesus. By the help of the Spirit, we too can testify about Jesus and stand firm for the glory of God. We also have confidence that God will bring justice and punish the wrongdoers. Jesus is the victorious God.
What We Learn from Scripture
Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). We learn from the Bible that Christ is our example in suffering.
Christian persecution in the first few centuries after Christ was very common. The Bible itself, especially the book of Acts, shows what kind of suffering the church would go through until Christ’s return.
The consequences of worshiping Christ are also addressed by Peter in his first epistle. In this epistle, Peter writes to the persecuted church and telling them to rejoice and be glad for suffering, for the sake of their savior. He assures them that hardship is fleeting and glory is waiting for them in the presence of their Lord: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–7).
God allows Christians to endure persecution as part of his plan for salvation and reconciliation. God’s purpose in persecution is for his glory, to build the church, and to sanctify the church. God teaches believers how to endure persecution by following the example of Jesus, trusting the promises of the Bible, and looking forward to the day when we will meet Jesus on his throne. And in every circumstance, we are not to deny our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ but to proclaim the gospel to the world.