27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:27-30 ESV
In Francis Chan’s sermon at Passion, he read from the verses above and I immediately thought of the book Foxe’s Christian Martyrs. It’s a book chronicling the history of persecution towards the church in general and individuals in particular. In it are harrowing stories of Christian saints being murdered for their faith, yet they almost seem to endure it joyfully. How can this be?!
Having a Biblical worldview turns natural human thinking on its head, doesn’t it? When someone is wronged, worldly thinking screams, “Have your revenge!” However, the Bible says, “Vengeance is the Lord’s.” Has someone hit you? The world says, “Hit them back!” The Bible says to turn the other cheek. Someone stole your shirt? “They have to pay!” The Bible says to give them your coat as well. The world says to gather as much stuff as we can – money, toys, etc. The Bible says, “What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul.”
What about in the case of the verses above? The world says that self preservation is of the utmost importance. It says not to take risks that could cost you things they perceive as valuable – things such as life, status, happiness, comfort, stability, etc. Where worldly thinking falters is that it creates truth that serves it own sinful desires, rather than submitting to the only real truth of the Bible. What seems safe to the world is actually a HUGE risk when seen in the light of the Bible and what seems risky to worldly thinking is actually the safest bet when seen through gospel lenses. You see, there are no risks with God. NONE! The Bible promises us that though we may suffer, and even be killed, not a hair on our head will perish (Luke 21:16-18). Would you agree that the most anyone in this world could ever take from you is your life? Yet the Bible says that to live is Christ and to die is gain. See how the Bible turns human thinking on its head?
This is why it’s so powerful to hear in Philippians that as we strive side by side for the sake of the gospel, we are not frightened in anything by our opponents. This is possible because we understand that we have nothing to lose. The world can’t take anything of actual (read: eternal) worth away from us! The martyrs in the book I mentioned didn’t stop proclaiming God’s truth even under the threat of death. It’s because they understood that if God be for them, who could stand against them? Even if it seemed hopeless, as if the enemy had won. Today, we are the spiritual fruit of these people who saw suffering for Christ as a “light and momentary affliction” compared to the eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). They did not look to things that are seen (worldly), but to things that are unseen (eternal). They flipped thinking on its head to the glory of Jesus Christ. Read a few of their stories and may your faith be strengthened (all taken from Martyrs).
Patrick Hamilton – burned alive for preaching the Gospel. On the scaffold, Hamilton gave his servant all his clothing, comforting him by saying, “What I am about to suffer, dear friend, appears fearful and bitter to the flesh. But remember, it is entrance to everlasting life, which none shall possess who deny their Lord.”
George Wishart – burned alive for preaching the Gospel. He told the assembled crowd not to let his death turn them from the Word of God. “I exhort you to love the Word of God and suffer patiently, with a comfortable heart, for the sake of the Word, which is your salvation and everlasting comfort. I don’t fear this grim fire. If any persecution comes to you for the Word’s sake, don’t fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Tonight I will dine with the Lord.”
Walter Milne – again, burned for preaching the Gospel. From the gallows, Milne addressed the crowd. “Dear friends, I suffer today for the defense of the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, set forth in the Old and New Testaments. I praise God that He has called me to seal up His truth with my life, which, as I have received it from Him, I willingly offer to His glory. If you would escape eternal death, do not be seduced by the lies of the priests, monks, friars, priors, abbots, bishops and the rest of the sect of the Antichrist. Depend only on Jesus Christ and His mercy to save you.”
Here is what the book has to say about the persecutions many Christians faced. “Death was not considered enough punishment for the Christians, who were subjected to the cruelest treatment possible. They were whipped, disemboweled, torn apart and stoned. Plates of hot iron were laid on them; they were strangled, eaten by wild animals, hung, tossed on the horns of bulls. After they were dead, their bodies were piled in heaps and left to rot without burial. Nevertheless, the church continued to grow, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and watered with the blood of the saints.”
“…and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”