The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26, NET)
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)
It's easy to forget how closely connected we are to the persecuted church - how we are all part of the same body. A few years back when I injured my neck, God gave me a vivid illustration of how persecution affects the larger body of Christ. When my was neck hurt, I hurt all over! Honestly, I took my neck for granted before this episode. I didn't realize that my neck muscles play a role in typing, or opening the bathroom door, or tying my shoelaces. But when I was in severe pain, all those things hurt. I could feel my neck muscles in literally every movement.
But no matter how distant persecuted believers seem sometimes, the verses above are true. The body of Christ is hurting when the church in the Middle East is nearing extinction ... when some believers recant their testimony rather than watch their children starved or their wives be raped ... when we exalt the persecuted church rather than identify with them. When my neck was at its worst, I didn't glorify the pain for the lessons it was teaching me; instead, my whole body threw itself into compensating for the pain and helping me get through it.
As we've looked this week at five things worse than persecution, it might be easy to think that perscution isn't all that bad. Not so. As I have learned more about persecution I have seen that the church either tends to ignore it or glorify it - both of which are unbiblical responses. (See this earlier post on myths related to persecution).
Persecution is bad. It can throw the church into a survival mode. It can tear churches apart when people give in to pressure and recant their faith and then repent and want restoration. At its worst it can destroy all the believers in a specific area (it's happened in places before and some feel is happening again in the Middle East as believers are either killed, recant, or flee to the West).
The persecuted church needs our prayers. Sometimes they need our tangible support - letters to officials, financial support for family members, Bibles. And we need them too. We need them to remind us of the importance of worship, prayer, and Scripture reading - those elements of our daily quiet times that can seem routine are their lifeline. We need them to remind us that this world is not our home, and that no matter what happens we always can have hope. We need them to demonstrate vividly that as bad as persecution is, there are things worse - things like apathy, lovelessness, denial, idolatry, and the absence of God's word.