The Chinese underground house church is no stranger to persecution. They have had to endure several decades of suffering for their faith. Chinese underground house church pastor, Zhang Rongliang, for example, as described in Back to Jerusalem’s 30 Day Devotional (available by clicking here), shared in detail the persecution that he went through when he began sharing about Jesus in his village.
As we witness the suffering of Christians in modern day China, the Bible offers comfort and hope for the persecuted church.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, two different types of suffering are discussed back-to-back. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
Paul’s expectation was that those who had publicly identified themselves with Christ would share in Christ’s sufferings, as Paul had, and would also receive the comfort of the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort. The affliction and suffering Paul spoke of related to their rejection and persecution as believers. This suffering is a result of the will of unbelievers toward followers of Christ, and God does not usually force those made in His image and likeness to change their will.
As such, today there is always some cost to following Jesus. In certain parts of the world, Christ followers tend to experience much more persecution, in ways similar to that experienced by Christians in Paul’s time. In any case, Jesus called believers to rejoice in the persecution they receive (Matthew 5:9-12). God comforts us in this suffering, drawing us near to Him. Stimulated by our faith, God may also deliver us and shield us from some effects of persecution (Isaiah 54:19, Luke 10:19, Ephesians 6:16).
“…For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself…” (2 Cor. 1:8-11)
The affliction that Paul spoke of next was different: Paul and some of his traveling companions became sick while traveling in Asia, despairing of life and feeling as if they received a death sentence that was beyond their strength to endure. This infirmity caused them to depend upon God, the One who raises the dead. Paul, in particular, had consecrated himself to God in a threefold manner: spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). He had encouraged other believers to do the same.
Trusting in God as their healer (Exodus 15:26), Jehovah Rapha delivered them from their deadly sickness. Paul suggested here that believers are to set their hope on Him and expect such deliverance. The believers prayed for them at the time of their sickness, also expecting God to deliver them. The result of God’s mercy and faithfulness in answering prayers to heal is to be in thanksgiving. We depend upon God, and He is faithful.
While God does not necessarily deliver believers from all suffering or affliction related to persecution from their obedience as followers of Jesus Christ, it is His will to deliver believers from suffering and affliction due to sickness or disease. Trusting in Jesus as our deliverer and our healer, we can expect to recover. We can know it is not finished until what is written has come to pass: “by His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Rejoicing in suffering. As a whole, the Bible’s discussion of suffering suggests that God’s will in this life is not that we remain in suffering except for the suffering we may endure as a cost for our obedience to the Great Commission. In this type of suffering, we are to rejoice. Today, the persecuted church continues to undergo much suffering in its obedience to God’s call. The missionaries of Back to Jerusalem are an example of rejoicing in suffering, starting with the example of Brother Yun, as recorded in the book The Heavenly Man.