A Lesson from the Persecuted Church: My Utmost for His Highest
Steve Ridgway was the Chief Executive Officer of Open Doors Ministries and traveled extensively, especially in the Middle East. As a result of experiencing many different cultures, Steve observes from the heart of a missionary that life is not to be lived having evil thoughts and being easily offended by others. Our exhortation is to walk in love as Jesus Christ himself is love. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” The message of the Gospel of Christ is the message of deliverance from the bondage of hatred and sin. Jesus’ mission was to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Unless we have an understanding of other cultures, we will never be able to love with empathy and compassion as Christ loved. We have been called to share the gospel in “unsafe” places and to “unsafe” people. Eighty percent of the Church of the Body of Christ lives under persecution. We Americans are part of the twenty percent of the Body of Christ where the church is not persecuted. However, the Christian church is exploding in places where persecution is the greatest. For example, sixty five percent of the population of Iran is under the age of 25. Contrary to what the media reports, these young Iranians love America and the freedom our country represents. Although unreported in the news media, the underground Christian church in Iran is growing exponentially. The media paints the Muslim world with a broad brush. However, only a small minority of Iran’s influential Muslim leaders vehemently oppose Christianity and these leaders violently oppress their own people.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “it is said ye shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy…BUT, I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute and despitefully use you.” Loving your enemy can be done only through the love of Christ. Many have seen the viral video where twenty one Christians were lined up on the shores of the Mediterranean by their Muslim captors. They were asked by their captors one one at a time, “do you love Jesus…are you Christian?” All but one answered, “yes I am a Christian.” Each of the twenty Egyptian Christians who professed “Jesus is my Lord” was gruesomely beheaded. When the executioner returned to the twenty first man and asked him again, “Are you a Christian,” he replied, “yes, the testimony and the witness of my brothers has convicted me to profess, yes, I am a Christian.” He too, was beheaded like his other faithful Christian brothers. As the scripture says, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake, for great is your reward in heaven.”
Islamic terrorists intended to use this viral video as a recruiting tool. However, many young men in the Muslim world have said that this video has compelled them to turn away from the stark evil hatred of these Muslim terrorists and toward Christ. The word of God says, be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good. The Apostle Paul would have been considered by the Christ followers of his day a member of a terrorist group like ISIS. However, what men meant for evil, the Lord meant for Good. Paul’s radical conversion illustrates that the best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend and to introduce him to your friend, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Muslim world, no one has ever denied Steve the opportunity to pray for Jesus to heal one of their loved ones. Muslims believe according to the Qur’an that Jesus is the Healer. If we don’t reach them they will rule us. However, the field of the Muslim world is ripe for the harvest. The darker the night the brighter the light shines. It’s not difficult to talk to Muslims. The average Muslim is not a radical extremist. They believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he is a great healer, and that he is coming back. They do not believe however, that Jesus is the son of God. The message is, “We have good news for you my Muslim friend…Jesus loves you.” We must win them according to God’s goodness or they will rule us. One compelling question to ask a Muslim is, “do you believe that God can speak to you in a vision?” Their answer will be “Yes” because their holy book says that the Lord reveals himself through visions. Our prayer is that they will meet Jesus in a vision and that he will lead them to the Truth.
Most Muslims don’t want to be Muslims, but they don’t know how not to be. What do the 80% of Christians in the persecuted church need from us? They need our presence and our prayer. Intercessory prayer is God’s force-multiplier. We can pray for them in the name of Jesus and that he will open the doors for salvation through Christ. How do you win Muslims? You win them by praying for them, by being a friend to them, and by valuing them. The goodness and love of God calls a man to repentance. We don’t need to go to the Middle East to witness to Muslims. Muslims within our midst are coming to Christ. We ourselves can choose to engage Muslims in our own neighborhoods. This may not be “politically correct.” However, we need to remember that we are citizens of heaven first and America second. Loving our enemies is politically correct in the Kingdom of heaven.
When we keep our witness to ourselves, the Christian church in the west will continue to decline. However, the persecuted church, 80% of the world’s Christians, is growing exponentially because they know what it means to stand in the front lines of the spiritual battle. They are proving the truth that Christ’s strength is made manifest in their own weakness. We may lament that in the United States we are losing our freedoms. However, in the Middle East, the persecuted Christians would gladly give up their physical freedom to serve their Lord and Savior. They understand what it means to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and to be not entangled with the yoke of spiritual bondage.
Steve recounts the testimony of one Christ-follower he met in an underground small Christian fellowship in the Middle East. This dear brother dropped his pants to show Steve where Islamic terrorists had mutilated his body by castrating him. He testified that his captors ordered him to renounce the name of Jesus. When he refused they brutally castrated him while his wife watched. Then while he was writhing in pain they forced him to watch as they put a bullet through her head at point blank range, murdering her. What has your faith cost you? This man knew first-hand the meaning of Romans 12:1, I beseech you therefore brethren, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy (and wholly) acceptable unto God which is your reasonable act of worship. Because of testimonies like this, the church is exploding in the Muslim world.
The persecuted church knows by experience the meaning of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:20: According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. The question is not whether we will live or die. According to the Word, “it is appointed for all men once to die.” The question is whether or not I will glorify Christ in both life and death. Regarding this verse Oswald Chambers said in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, “my eager desire is that I will continue to do honor to Christ by fearless courage whether I live or die. We will all be ashamed if we do not yield to him in all areas of our lives where he has asked us to yield to him. It’s as if Paul were saying that my determined purpose is my utmost for his highest… My best for his glory. To reach that level of devotion is a matter of the will, not of debate or reasoning. It is absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point. An undue and insidious thought for ourselves is what keeps us from making that decision. Therefore shut out every other thought and keep yourself before God in one thing only, my utmost for his highest…to live for him and him alone.”
This is our lesson from the persecuted church: pray for them that revile you, and persecute you, and despitefully use you. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
May God richly bless you,
Your brother in Christ,