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Today we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Over 100 million of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world suffer persecution on a routine basis. For them it is a part of their walk of faith – a part of life. How are we to respond to them as we live in America, as we sit here in the safety and comfort of C4?
In John 13:34-35 Jesus gave His disciples something new. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are to love with a specific kind of love. Jesus is clear that people who are followers of Him must love the way He loves. Jesus loves us so much that He was willing to die for us that we might live. That love knows no boundaries. It’s not dependent upon what you or I do – it is unconditional. We have been called to, challenged to, commanded to love one another the way Jesus loves us. This command though, is not limited to just the people here at C4, not just here in St. Marys, not just here in the United States. We are called to love one another – brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world because we are united by faith, united by the blood of Jesus Christ. What does that mean practically speaking? Is love just a feeling? Or does it mean action? How do we obey this command today? I’m glad you asked. Today we are going to look at 3 ways to obey this command as they relate to the persecuted church.
The battle is real. One of the best things you can do to love your brother or sister in Christ is to pray for them. I assume that most of the people in this room are in the regular habit of praying for each other. I want to challenge you with this question: how are you praying for your brothers and sisters? Do you pray for God to improve their circumstances, or do you pray for God to transform their hearts? We can and should pray for physical problems and circumstances, but the emphasis should always be on spiritual strength and transformation amidst the circumstances and trials of life. Are you thinking, “If I only had a pattern to go by, I could be more effective in my prayer life.” You’re in luck. Let’s see how Paul prayed. I encourage you to take a look at the great examples found in Eph.1:15-19, Phil. 1:9-11, Col. 1:9-14, and 2 Thes. 1:11-12. Now that’s how you pray with power! These are focused prayers – focused on Jesus providing what you need to walk and live in Him and for Him regardless of what’s happening around you, regardless of what’s happening to you. This is how we should be praying for one another – not a laundry list of what we want God to do for us, but how we can live in His power and glorify Him in our circumstances.
Here’s what I want you to do. Using one of the passages we just read, pray right now for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church.
They are not alone. Romans 15:1-2 says, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Paul is not talking about physical strength, but spiritual strength. Part of our responsibility as Christians is to use our spiritual gifts to help one another grow to be like Christ. Take a look at Eph. 4:11-16. This is a healthy church body. Everyone in the body is growing to serve the body. This is what a healthy church looks like. Each of us must be committed to helping others grow in Christ. But what about our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for simply believing that Jesus is the Christ? What can we do to help them? When I think of what has meant the most to me in my walk with Christ, what has helped me the most to grow more and more like Christ is my Bible. If we can get a copy of God’s Word into the hands of those people that are persecuted for their faith, they could reap the benefits of hope, of encouragement, of edification. Paul goes on in Rom. 15:3-4 to say, “For even Christ did not please Himself ; but as it is written, “the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” How are they going to be able to identify false prophets, false religions without their own Bible? Right now, God’s Spirit is moving and people are coming to know Jesus Christ in countries that are most oppressive, but so many of them don’t have their own Bible. If we could get the teaching of the prophets and the Apostles into their hands, imagine what could happen. Col. 1:28 says, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” This is how we grow baby Christians into mature Christians. Teach them the Word of God. We can put God’s Word into the hands or our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Col. 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” How can that happen if they don’t have a copy of the Bible? Read 2 Tim.3:10-17. These believers must be equipped. Equipped means furnished or supplied with whatever is necessary to live for Jesus. We need to give them the Word of God so that they can be strengthened by it to help them endure their suffering. Where would you and I be without the comfort and strength we find in the Bible? We can love them by giving them their own Bible.
Take a moment right now and pray that God would supply every persecuted Christian with their own copy of His Word.
We can love one another by meeting the physical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Gal. 6:10 says, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Do you know anyone in our church body that has a need? One way you can obey the great commandment of Jesus Christ is to meet that need. Think about your church family. Is there someone who has a need? Make it your goal to meet that need. There is a group of people in this world that are hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and in prison because they are followers of Christ. They are the persecuted church. We have a responsibility to take care of people who are in need because they follow Christ. They are needy because they are determined to hold on to Jesus and will not let go, no matter the consequences. In most cases, if they would deny Christ, their sufferings in this world would cease, they would be left alone, their problems would mostly disappear. We are their family. We have a duty to help them. What’s happening in the world today? In Somalia, a Christian convert from Islam was beheaded. In Egypt, a mob of 3000 hard line Muslims burned a church building then looted and burned nearby Christian homes. In Indonesia a suicide bomber detonated eight pipe bombs outside of a church during services. In the Philippines, a local pastor was shot six times and killed inside his own home. Days earlier he has shared the Gospel with Muslim parents at a school and asked for prayers for his protection. In Columbia, rebel groups ordered churches to stop holding Bible studies or evangelistic meetings. In Pakistan, a Christian mother of five was raped by two Muslim men and area Islamists threatened harm to her family if charges weren’t dropped. In Nigeria, Christian traders in a local market place were ordered to recite verses from the Koran. If unable to do so, they were shot and killed. These events occurred just during the month of September. Just last month, the State Department reported there is not a single church or Christian school in Afghanistan. 1 John 3:16-18 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” Loving one another is the most basic and fundamental command of Jesus Christ. This is what our life should be about. Heb. 13-1-3 says, “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”
I encourage you to include our brothers and sisters in Christ in your daily prayer time. Pray for their strength, their encouragement, their perseverance.
Would you take a moment right now and pray silently for them? Take a look at one final passage: Matt. 25:31-40.