So much has been in the news lately concerning the terror group ISIS/ISIL or as the group would want to be recognized as, the Islamic Caliphate. What if any encouragement can we gain from seeing the atrocities of the Middle East with yet another beheading in the news this week, this time British humanitarian worker David Haines. British Prime Minister tweeted that the act was “pure evil.” Without question that is precisely what ISIS is all about, “pure evil”, but what should we think in response? Biblically, what truth should we bring to bear in light of these horrific developments in the Middle East especially in light of Christian persecution?
The apostle Paul would not hesitate to point us in a very encouraging and sobering direction.
Philippians 1.27-28 is a passage spoken out of Paul’s own experience with persecution and his own desire to encourage the church of his day who apparently where likewise facing persecution. These are Paul’s words:
Philippians 1:27–28 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.
This passage is crucial to the whole letter and is an integral part of how Paul sought to ground the church in gospel-centered living. After Paul has exhorted the church to live a gospel centered life, a life worthy of the gospel; he proceeds to give us the reason for this exhortation by identifying the Philippians’ opponents who were causing them a similar conflict which they had seen and now hear in Paul’s present circumstances. As the Philippians stand and strive together in the gospel, they will be better able to persevere in the face of any hostility they may face just as Paul has persevered in the face of His persecutors in Rome. That is one of the reason this encouragement is so meaningful, it comes to the Philippians from one who has been there himself (Acts 20.22-23). Paul knows that if the church is united to him, listens to his counsel, like him, they will survive with an eternal perspective. Thus, the unity of the church will create the necessary courage which they will need in order for the Philippians to stand unflinching before their opponents. As hard as it is for our brethren in the Middle East, the more united they are the stronger they will be. This courageous display of faith in the face of persecution will signal two very significant things simultaneously; the destruction of the wicked and the salvation of the righteous.
This is a staggering promise for the church and a dreadful warning for the world. As we see the turmoil in which the Mid East church finds itself, we are assured of salvation. In one sense, we could have no greater sign given to us of our salvation than that we share in Christ’s suffering:
Colossians 1:24 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
Matthew 10:24–25 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!
John 15:20–21 20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
Conversely, there could be no greater sign of ISIS’s defeat than that they kill Christians. Many of these jihadists have already fallen by the sword and thus have undergone God’s certain judgment. But every group of persecutors that comes on the scene are assured total destruction and judgment for standing against the Church. This is a reality that will never ends as long as persecution exists in this post-Genesis 3 world. Paul places what the Philippians where dealing with under the banner of God’s sovereignty which is another point of comfort for His Church (Acts 4.25-28).
God is sovereign over the destruction of the wicked
Proverbs 16:4 4 “The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” (NKJV)
Romans 9:18 18 “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
Romans 9:21 21 “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”
1 Peter 2:8 8 “and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”
Paul provides this powerful parallel passage in 2 Thessalonians:
2 Thessalonians 1:4–10 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
God is sovereign over the salvation of His people
Salvation is a work of God not man (John 1.13; Jonah 2.9). This being the case it is God’s job to save us from first to last to keep us protect us, to save us from our enemies and punish our enemies for His glory. He is both the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12.2). God will complete the work He has begun in us even if it means preserving us through grave persecution. However, more than keeping us safe, God is out to keep us saved (1 Pet. 1.5). We should not fail to pray for the persecuted Church under Islamic persecution.
Soli Deo Gloria
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.