The Other Persecution
In the past year, I’ve had opportunity to ask several different Christian audiences whether they felt they were currently being persecuted. To this point, only one person has raised his hand (he works in the scientific field where faith is frowned upon and sometimes punished). Everyone else didn’t feel persecution had started yet, but expressed an expectation for it to begin before too long. Maybe they are right, or maybe we are failing to recognize one type of persecution—one that has already begun.
There are different levels of persecution. The Hebrew author points out that his audience had “endured a great conflict of sufferings” (Heb. 10:32-34). Some of them had been thrown in prison. Others had their property snatched away. Truly, this is persecution, but they were about to face something worse. The Hebrew author later urges them to focus on faith and endurance because they had “not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4). This would be a whole new level of persecution.
In my experience, Christians limit their thoughts of persecution to the same levels as the Hebrews: government sponsored theft of property, loss of jobs, imprisonment, physical abuse or murder. And, since most of us haven’t experienced anything like that, Christians today don’t raise their hands when asked if they are being persecuted. But what is the other type of persecution? It isn’t physical; it’s verbal.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).
“It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of the household” (Matthew 10:25).
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)
Peter adds in his first epistle that we should not be surprised if we are slandered or reviled as evil doers even while actually doing good things (I Pet. 2:12; 3:16). When we don’t live like the world, the world will often malign us (I Pet. 4:4) which means that we will be blasphemed or spoken against. Peter finishes the subject with the encouraging words, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (I Peter 4:14).
Do you see that not all persecution involves physical pain or loss of property? Verbal attacks are a form of persecution too. Insults. Accusations. Slander. These are the type of persecution Christians tend to forget about. Perhaps it was because we were taught, “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” But if we didn’t overlook such things, I wonder how many Christians would reconsider whether they should raise their hands or not. It seems to me that the world around us is quick to say evil things about Christians. This type of persecution already exists.
We are accused of being hateful because we do not embrace sinful behavior. We are accused of being close-minded and arrogant because we do not think everyone is saved. Sometimes the accusations are thrown at us as a group. Sometimes they are pointed at individuals. Regardless, this other form of persecution has already begun.
We aren’t alone in facing verbal persecution. John the Baptist was accused of having a demon and Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and glutton (Lk. 7:33-34). At the cross, Jesus endured tremendous amounts of pain and physical persecution, but this verbal type of persecution was also there (Mt. 27:38-44). Fortunately, Jesus showed us how to respond to this other type of persecution. “While being reviled, He did not revile in return” (I Pet. 2:23). And so, each one of us must be careful not to return “insult for insult,” but give “a blessing instead” (I Pet. 3:9).