A couple of Sunday evenings ago our Bible class began a new study on 1 Peter. As we were discussing the general circumstances and purpose of this letter, we naturally started talking about the terrible persecution of Peter’s day under the Roman emperor Nero. We compared those times with the much much milder persecution we face today; and that led us to wonder how we might fare under the kind of pressure (including martyrdom) that early Christians faced, and what it would do to the church.
Of course, how we each might fare in the fire (sometimes literal) of serious persecution would be an individual answer in each case. However, one thing for sure, it would certainly cause us to “count the cost” and get “black and white”, “hot or cold”, “all in or all out” about faith in a hurry. Gone would be the deceptive “gray areas” in which so many modern Christians live. Priorities in life would be sharpened in stark relief; spiritual things would come first or not at all. Worship of the Savior, because it could cost you your life, would not be taken lightly. Fellowship would be stronger and more dear. Scriptures would be highly valued, devotedly read or not owned at all, because owning a copy could be a capital crime. The confession of Christ would be courageously made, or not made at all — no maybes about it. Which way do you think you’d fall?
Most of the “fringe” folks in the church, who now tend to be sporadic in attendance, would disappear overnight from any assembly (Matthew 13:20, 21). Some might even betray the church’s meeting places and the identity of members. The average Christian would have to make some life-changing decisions about confession or denial, commitment or abandonment, loyalty or betrayal. Some would leave, some would try to compromise, and others would try to be “secret disciples”; but others would gather courage, “step across the line”, and become much stronger spiritually. Even those in the core of the church (its leadership and most involved members) would be tempted to shrink back (for example, Peter); concerns about their family’s safety would test them (1 Cor. 7:26-35) as they quickly became prime targets for persecution. Most of the church’s core would stand strong, but even some of these might leave. The folks who would be left would be the “real deal”. Which would you be, if serious persecution broke out?
What would be left of such a “whittled down” form of the church? It would be the “true believers”, the committed, the determined, the courageous, and the pious (in the good sense of the word). The fire of persecution, you see, burns away the dross and refines the gold (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Persecution boils away that which waters down the potency of the church, leaving only the virile, distilled essence of real Christian faith. Can you imagine such a church? What would the songs and prayers of their worship be like? How likely would they be to boldly step out on faith, no matter the earthly penalty, no matter the impossibility, no matter the size of the giant? How earnest and convicted would they be about the truth of the Bible? How close and genuine would their fellowship be? How much would they be emphasizing the hope of eternal life? How loving, active, evangelistic, courageous, and focused on the Lord would they be? And paradoxically, how great would their joy be, even as they suffered for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41; James 1:2; Matthew 5:12). No wonder the church grew so quickly in the early centuries — even under persecution! The certainty of their faith combined with the persecution they endured produced world changers!!
But you know, we needn’t wait for persecution to have a world changing church. We can personally stop straddling the fence now, get serious about our faith now, move from lukewarm to hot now — and urgently encourage others to do the same. Starting now, we can all swear-off ever getting seduced again by “good enough”, when it comes to the Lord’s business; we can set our eyes on the things above and never look back. Consider what it will do for the Lord’s church! Even more, consider what it will do for your eternity!