Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Various authorities have attested to the fact that, worldwide, between 200,400 million people have suffered persecution through discrimination when applying for jobs and promotions, being restricted in their freedom of movement and worship, having property and savings confiscated by intolerant authorities and losing their families and friendships upon conversion to Christianity. Some have suffered martyrdom – often raped and tortured before being killed – for faithfulness to Christ.
In this country we have difficulty relating to persecution suffered by others throughout the world when often the worst we experience is a curious stare when we pray over meals at a restaurant. Let me quickly point out that I realize some have suffered more than that here and we do need to be vigilant in protecting our rights as Americans to worship where, when and how we see fit; but as Paul wrote to some early believers, “In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Hebrews 12:4 But it has often not been that way, the church’s history is full of persecution; from the very beginning enduring opposition, discrimination and bloodshed. In fact, Jesus himself cautioned his disciples that, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20 (See also Matthew 5:10-12 & 10:17-22) Likewise Paul, from experience, assures us that, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 (See also 2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
In truth, our present circumstance of relative physical and financial ease accompanied by a freedom of movement and worship unparalleled in most other countries of the world is an aberration; not the norm for most of church history nor for many presently throughout the world. And if history teaches us anything, it’s that the church doesn’t often exhibit its greatest strength nor display its real potential for growth in times of ease. It is rather in response to hardship that it tends to be purified, strengthened and enabled to function as it should. (There being a decided lack of “fence- straddlers”, celebrity imposters and undecided’s in the pews when the risk is high of losing one’s livelihood or life if caught there.) The reality of the situation being that it may not be to our advantage when things go so well, although I’m not really complaining about our lack of troubles.
In fact, Paul and the early church seemed to think suffering for the faith was not just to be expected but accepted as a prerequisite for faith; expressing an eagerness to share in all things with Christ, thus becoming “like” him. Causing Paul to proclaim, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, being like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10,11Likewise declaring, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Corinthians 4:10,11They acknowledged reasons for rejoicing and opportunities for growth in shared suffering. “In this you (should) greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (Yet) These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold,… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6,7
So, “…do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (Instead) rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12,13None of this, however, should be misconstrued as a call for us to be inconsiderate in our dealings with others who are suffering nor intentionally create a hostile environment to witness in. We are, none-the-less, to be “radically” different by closely following the example of Jesus, which will – if done right – set us apart as either worthy of emulation or set us up for resentment and discrimination. Paul summing up his theology on this subject by quoting an early Christian hymn. “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful…” 2 Timothy 2:10-13
For, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” 1 Corinthians 1:9 Faithful to assist us during temptation and trials ( 1 Corinthians 10:13), keeping us blameless before God ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23), forgiving our sin in response to our repentance from it and belief in his Son’s saving power and the grace extended through the cross ( 1 John 1:8,9), enabling us to live life in obedience to his will in service to his cause. ( John 14:15 – 15:10) Remembering that, “…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… (And) if we are children then we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ; if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:14 & 17
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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