Christians in the Western Hemisphere have experienced very little in the way of suffering for an unnaturally long period of time. (Unless you count being stared at when praying over a meal in public or being made fun of on TV.) Which is not the case in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East and Pacific Islands. (And was not the case for the church for generations after its inception.)
In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20 Paul, years later, confirming that by assuring new Christians, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 Echoing Jesus warning that, “In this world you will have trouble.” Followed by the encouragement of, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Rather than being fearful or discouraged, though, we can take heart by the examples left to us by countless Christians (past and present) of perseverance through trouble, heartache and even death. (See Romans 5:3) For even though we are promised, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13; we are nowhere promised a long life, ease of living, or a “successful” one – especially as defined by us. What we are guaranteed is, “…he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13 Again, Jesus setting the tone for discipleship when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross (daily Luke 9:23) and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Which could allude to “losing” or giving up our preferences in life but he often literally meant losing one’s life.) Jesus then asking, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:34-37 Paul again echoing these thoughts with a rhetorical question – and answer, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword?” Romans 8:35 (Not denying the possibility of any of these things in a Christian’s life, but insisting that even if they should occur, they still can’t separate us from God’s love and final provision in heaven.) Emphatically answering, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37 He being convinced that neither life nor death, angels or demons, the present or future, height nor depth, nor any powers in all creation can separate us from God’s love expressed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)
For, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,…”; and more than that, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6 & 8 Not because we deserved it but because “God so loved the world…”; he made a way for us to be reunited with him. (John 3:16) All because he doesn’t want, “...anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Jesus declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (Referencing the real life of heaven.) John 11:25,26 As, “…our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,…” Therefore, “…if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Romans 6:6 & 8.
This idea of suffering for Christ was made more immediate for me by Nabeel Qureshi’s book, “No God But One – Allah or Jesus,” subtitled, “A former Muslim investigates the evidence for Islam and Christianity.” 1In it he chronicles his journey from belief in the Quran as God’s revealed word to Muhammad to faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. A journey that started with his attempts to prove the Christian scripture and faith wrong, his study of the Quran alongside the Bible ultimately convincing him of the inerrancy of Christian scripture and the supremacy of Christ. (Aided by his patient, loving Christian friends who never-the-less were, “Always …prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (Doing so) with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
Risking the loss of home, family, friends and quite possibly his life, he today debates Muslim apologists concerning the One true God, attempting to lead as many of his confused, deceived brothers and sisters to Christ as he can. In the process, purposefully embracing the ideal of, “…to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20 (See also Romans 14:8) Firmly believing that, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 (See also 1 Peter 4:16) Following in the footsteps of Paul, he affirms his desire, “…to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10,11
The title scripture for this article infers that we’ve been granted a privilege to not only “...believe on him, but also to suffer for him,…” Philippians 1:29 That only being possible when we thoroughly believe that by doing so, we become “…heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory. Rom.8:17
In the final chapter of his book, Nabeel poses the question: Is the truth worth dying for? A more immediate question for converting Muslims than most of the rest of us in the established church – at least for now. The answer depending on the reality of your faith. Do you really believe that without Christ you will suffer an eternity in hell? Do you believe him to be the answer to all your questions, the purpose in your life, the very reason you live – and maybe die. The story of Sara Fatima al-Mutairi graphically depicts her answer to these questions. Nabeel describing how Sara’s brother – a “devout” Muslim in Saudi Arabia – discovered his sister’s conversion to Christ and then proceeded to lock her in her room, where he had burned her body in numerous places in an attempt to persuade her to recant her profession of faith in Christ. Failing to accomplish that, he cut out her tongue to keep her from committing any more “blasphemy” and stormed out of the room to devise a final solution.
With only minutes to live, Sara used the time before he brother returned to kill her to compose a prayerful poem on her computer to share with the world. It was a message of grief, not for herself but for her unbelieving brother and her other Muslim friends, a testimony of love and forgiveness modeled on the life and words of her new Lord, Jesus Christ.2 (See Matthew 5:10-12)
In her final hours, Sara exemplified the resolve, courage and faithfulness of those James characterized as “Blessed” because of their perseverance “...under trial, because when (they have) stood the test, (they) will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
2Related in the final chapter of No God But One, titled, Is The Truth Worth Dying For?
Mr. Qureshi’s first book, the New York Times best-seller, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and one titled Answering Jihad: A Better Way, were likewise published by Zondervan Publishing.
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