The old saying by the herald of a message that is unpopular is, “Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.” But shooting the messenger seldom stops the message from getting through, and persecuting the preacher of the gospel has never has stopped the Good News from advancing. In fact, it often has had the opposite effect, as seen by the explosion of the church in the most oppressive places like China and Iran.
Paul, writing from prison, had seen in his own experiences under the forced “hospitality” of the Roman government that the gospel message could go forward in spite of his chains. In Philippians, Paul wrote joyfully of his confinement by saying …
1:12 – Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
This first imprisonment finds Paul with a rather positive expectation of pending release, which does happen. But in writing to Timothy, the situation is much more serious, and in fact Paul would not be released. As a prisoner due to preaching an illegal religion, he was in chains in a time (under the Emperor Nero) when Christians were being blamed for most anything that went wrong … you know, like the city of Rome burning down.
But while encouraging Timothy to be bold in standing for the gospel, Paul is able to say that the message of the cross is not chained and is not limited by what man might do to wipe it out.
2 Tim. 2:8 – Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
What follows is another early hymn, or perhaps a baptismal creed that was a statement of the obligation of followers of Christ to be identified with him here and now, knowing that such leads to life with him eternally then and there …
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
This persecution stuff … it’s really rare now, right? That happened in the past primarily and isn’t so common in our modern world, correct? Not at all! The current era has seen as much or more persecution of Christians than any other time in the past 2,000 years. Yet at the same time the gospel is spreading worldwide in unprecedented ways as well.
But right now, as you read this, remember that there are our brothers and sisters in Christ in varied corners of the world who are imprisoned and suffering in innumerable ways because they believe in Jesus and preach the gospel message. You can read some stories about these saints in the publication of a ministry called Voice of the Martyrs. HERE is a link.
A story there talks about a pastor from Uzbekistan. I was much touched by this account, having been there and attended church in that country in 1999. We were in a service that had about 75-100 people. The host missionary “whispered down the line” to us American pastors sitting there that we should simply observe and make no public statements, etc. Pointing to a group of men standing against the back wall, he commented that they were government officials who were there to observe and report about everything that happened and who were in attendance. Yes, that was creepy; but that is life in many such contexts. On the same trip, in Istanbul, we attended a meeting of Christian leaders in the basement of a business, the attendees arriving one at a time so as not to draw any attention to look like such a meeting was taking place. Among topics was what to do if the police break into a service and begin to arrest people.
We should pray for the persecuted church around the world, while thankful that the gospel continues to expand and draw so many to be followers of Jesus Christ and thereby heirs of life eternal.