Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:35-37
I can imagine, not long into the future, a born-again believer reading this scripture and on realizing what its implications are, scrambling frantically on the phone and calling the police, the FBI (for the Americans), the fire brigade and every other unit involved with national security because, on reading these words he or she suddenly realizes they are facing what appears to be a life-threatening situation. All it takes for you to realize that what I am writing is not ‘gospel fiction’ is to listen to the gospel messages being preached in a majority of churches today. People are fed on such a soft diet they are unprepared to receive the “strong meat” of the gospel when it finally arrives at their doorstep.
When I read the Bible, I can’t help thinking that not long into the future we might be tempted to throw the Holy Book into the lake. With the kind of gospels we are hearing today, there are some things written there which we will in the end decide not to agree with.
But let us get on with our lesson…
I always read my English-language Bible with the Swahili Bible nearby. The latter makes some things clearer to me. For example, distress is translated ‘problems’; famine is ‘hunger’; and peril is ‘danger’. The sword remains the sword.
None of the above is an appealing experiences for anyone to undergo. They are painful to the flesh.
But notice what verse 36 says: “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Let us stop and consider those words, “It is written”. For whom were these words written? It was for us! It was for all those who would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
More important, however, is that when the Bible says “It is written”, that means it is a given. It means that that scripture will have to be fulfilled exactly the way it is written. There is no skirting around it, dodging it or ignoring it. In this particular case, the scripture is saying when we get saved we automatically enter that suffering life. It is thus written!
In Philippians 1:29-30 the Apostle Paul writes, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”
Now, we know the Apostle Paul suffered much for the gospel. He writes the Corinthians a partial list of the afflictions he went through for the gospel’s sake: “… in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
That was quite some suffering!
But notice what he tells the Philippians in verse 30, “… having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” In other words, he was telling them to prepare to suffer exactly as they saw him suffering for the gospel’s sake. If possible – or, if God wished it – they could also suffer the very same sufferings that Paul was undergoing.
That must have been tough!
But it happened just as Paul told the Philippians. Many of the early Apostles were beheaded; many other early believers were beheaded also and many more have been beheaded since in the defense of the gospel.
Many early Christians were persecuted in various ways and they persevered. In the same way many more have undergone the same experiences.