Reading Time: 8 Minutes
As we read further into the Gospel of Matthew, we see increasing conflict between the religious authorities and Jesus. We learn in today’s passage that conflict will also happen to Jesus’ followers.
If we lived in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Libya, I would write this article from a different point of view. According to the Open Doors ministry these are the four most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. Christians in these countries live daily under conditions that Jesus told his disciples about.
Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10.16-23).
What Can We Do?
Jesus knew that his followers would suffer. Like the countries listed above, Israel was in a turmoil. There were various factions within society. The zealots, who were like modern day terrorists, used every means possible to throw off Roman oppression. The Sadducees cooperated with Rome and became wealthy in the process. In between these two extremes were the Essenes and Pharisees who each in their own tried to serve God. Most of the people were like those we find in the pages of Matthew. They were ordinary people, who attempted to make the best out of difficult times in their country.
Followers of Jesus were caught in the swirl of national conflict. Because of their affiliation with Jesus, they were seen as outsiders and suffered the consequences.
Rather than providing a history lesson about first century Israel, I want to turn our attention to what we can do for Christians who are suffering around the world in 2020.
When Paul was in prison, he knew how effective the prayers of God’s people were. He wrote, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1.19).
Here is a list of the top ten countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian.
The top ten countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian are: (1) North Korea, (2) Afghanistan, (3) Somalia, (4) Libya, (5) Pakistan, (6) Eritrea, (7) Sudan, (8) Yemen, (9) Iran, and (10) India.
One thing we can do for them is to pray for God to help them, based on how Jesus counseled his followers.
— May they be wise as serpents, so they can avoid persecution.
— May they be led by the Holy Spirit, when they are called upon to speak.
— May they endure and remain full of faith under the load of persecution.
— May God protect them during this time of tremendous persecution.
Handling Conflict with Jesus
People in the United States don’t suffer the kind of persecution that is prevalent in countries like the top ten places of persecution. Usually, our so-called persecution involves ridicule for our Christian beliefs from co-workers, old friends, and family members.
Let’s consider Jesus’ words and apply what he said to the kind of persecution we customarily experience.
(1) “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (verse 16). How we handle ridicule or criticism will either open the door for a chance to help the offender get closer to Jesus, or it will slam the door shut.
To be able to laugh at ourselves in the midst of ridicule, will help deflect the offense. I personally give people plenty of ammunition to criticize me. If they are ridiculing me for something I have done or for some off-the-wall crazy church happening, I can laugh with them, lessen the tension, and open the door for a genuine witness at another time.
A disrespectful or “slick” statement looks for a response that a person can use against you. If you don’t respond in a defensive manner, it will lessen the impact of the ridicule. Once again, a smile and a laugh works wonders.
These words are a simple suggestion of what has worked for me. The best thing to do is to ask Jesus how he wants you to be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” He will guide you and help you.
(2) “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10.19-20).
If you want to know what is inside a tube, squeeze it and see. It may be toothpaste or glue, but when it is squeezed you will know for sure. Squeeze a child of God and you will find out what is inside of that person.
Most of the persecution, if we can call it that, comes during spontaneous moments. We are squeezed by someone and what is inside of us will come out. If the Holy Spirit is directing our lives, the squeeze-er will experience the Holy Spirit. If I am on the throne of my heart, that person will come face-to-face with me in all my ugly self.
When I was a new Christian, I tried to witness to my brother. He was polite, but didn’t respond to my encouragement to discover what I had received. Not too long after that, we were playing basketball. He elbowed me and I hit him. (Note, he was 6’7″ tall and weighed 300 pounds. Bad decision on my part!) I was squeezed and my brother got what was inside of me – self-centered, self-pleasing Bob.
When we cooled down, I apologized to him, but it was years before I was able to talk to him about Jesus. I literally had to live my faith before I could ever talk about it.
It is extremely important to be activated, captivated and motivated by the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. That is the only way we can be effective in the midst of ridicule, conflict and criticism.
(3) “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (verse 22). The person who endures is willing to stay under the load of pressure, during a time of conflict.
In countries where there is intense persecution of Christians, the temptation is to renounce the faith. These people endure as they continue to follow Jesus in the face of torture, prison or worse.
For us, endurance may mean continuing to live with the tension of a spouse or friend who resents our faith. Our nagging and complaining will not help the situation, but prayer can and will change things.
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has taught one of my friends to pray for people with whom he has conflict. He thinks about what he wants in life and then prays for the other person to experience the blessing he desires. He has found that God makes his prayer effective, first by changing his inside condition. Second, the troubled relationship often gets better.
From negative political advertising to violence in the streets, we seem to be saturated in conflict. There is no better way to handle conflict, ridicule, criticism or other painful aspects of life than to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Each day, let’s seek to connect with the Holy Spirit and follow his direction. Let’s pray for God to accomplish his purposes and his will at this time in our world. Let’s join Jesus in what he is doing in the world.
Dear Jesus, we pray for your children who live in the ten countries where persecution is so real and painful. We pray that you change the hearts of the persecutors and strengthen the hearts of the persecuted. We ask you to give us wisdom to live properly in the midst of ridicule and criticism. May your Spirit lead us in every way.