The Freedom of Persecution
I’m currently reading through the book of Acts, and I just recently finished Chapter 14, which addresses Barnabas and Paul’s missions to Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and finally their return to Antioch. In Lystra Paul was stoned to near-death by Jews from Antioch and Iconium, having been dragged outside the city. “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (verse 20, NIV).
There are two things that really stood out to me from this entire passage. Firstly, Paul was thought to be dead—the Jews dragged him outside of the city gates only after they thought he was dead. But he later GOT UP and walked back into the city, not with his own strength but with that of God. God was with Paul, even when he was near death, seemingly abandoned and disposed of. This stands as a reminder of God’s constant, everlasting presence in our lives, whether we feel Him or not.
Secondly, God revealed something to me immediately as I read this passage. Today we often find ourselves fearful of the reactions we will receive from our attempts at ministry, whether it’s telling someone that we are believers or asking someone about their own beliefs. It’s scary, I know, and a lot of times I don’t want to do it. Sometimes God asks us to pray for a stranger or to talk to someone we don’t know, and it can be absolutely terrifying. I know—He’s asked me to do some of these things. Sometimes I do them, sometimes I make excuses and avoid them. We get scared of looking “stupid,” or getting teased because we believe in Jesus.
This passage, however, gave me a new source of encouragement. After his stoning, Paul later RETURNS to the three cities, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith” (verse 21, NIV). How crazy is that?! Paul returns to the place at which he was nearly killed because he had not completed the work that they were called there to do. Yet we cannot always bring ourselves to invite someone to Bible study or ask fellow classmates about their faith.
If Paul could bear to return to the place that he almost died, we can stand to look stupid for Jesus.
This was the conviction God laid on my heart earlier this week. So I’ve tried to make the most of this week, inquiring about people’s beliefs and inviting people to Bible study. On one occasion, I was laughed at, but it resulted in a feeling of contentment. I’ve been mocked for the faith, and it’s kinda cool to not be bothered by it, I thought. This scenario didn’t bother me because I knew that I had at least tried. I think God used this specific situation as a test of my faith because the next day the person asked about time and location of Bible study.
From this, I encourage all of you to continue strong in the faith, complying more with the things God calls you to. Your faithfulness will result in a greater happiness and in a strengthening of your own beliefs, for it is much more freeing to live in the persecution of the faith than in the bondage of the world.
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1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."