Difficulty of the persecuted Body of Christ
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem…
And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Writing to introduce us to Christian experience in the early centuries of the common era (Early Christian Martyr Stories, Baker, 2014), Bryan Litfin remembers attending a November 2002 Moody Bible Institute chapel at which it was announced that American missionary Bonnie Witherall had been gunned down by a Muslim extremist. “She had moved to Sidon, Lebanon, to minister to the poor, [working] in a prenatal clinic providing health care to local Muslim women. After the shooting,” Litfin continues, “Gary (her husband) came to speak at Moody. His message of Bonnie’s profound faithfulness to Jesus Christ brought a flood of students to the front of the chapel as they renewed their commitment to God.”
When we believe the gospel, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Immediately, we are members of a unit subject to the hostilities of God’s enemies. Hebrews 12:3 reminds us that Jesus regularly faced the hostility of sinners. When Saul threatened, arrested, and beat followers of the Way, Jesus himself felt the afflicting persecution. Later, changed by God’s grace, Paul understood his sufferings for the sake of “the body” as “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Simply put, as the body of Christ, we members may encounter the tough stuff of persecution directed at Jesus.
Nonetheless, those willing to suffer persecution with Him are promised greater glory with Him. “[We are] heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him” (Rom.8:17). Though persecution may be tough, even profoundly tragic, and the wait for final glory long, we know beyond a doubt the prize ahead will more than eclipse the cost (8:18).