As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!