I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. 2 Cor. 11:23-27
The Bible doesn’t say when or how Paul died, but in his letter to the Corinthians, he describes a tough life. He wasn’t the only one. The Bible tells us that Christians were persecuted and put in prison for what they stood for. Peter and John were arrested and whipped, Stephen was stoned to death, James was executed, and Peter was imprisoned. Paul and his companions were repeatedly chased out of town, and those were the easy days. They were also stoned, beaten, whipped, and repeatedly imprisoned. Acts 14:19-20 says Paul nearly died from one attack.
Christian tradition holds that Peter and Paul were both executed in Rome. Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded.
People must have been scared, right? Think about it. It was a big deal to make a statement that you were a Christian, because it could lead to beatings, prison and even death. People were fearful of Christians. Ugly rumors about weird Christian rituals and practices spread around the territories of the Roman empire.
Christians were scared, and rightfully so. I’d be afraid too, if persecution was rampant in my country.
It is rampant in other countries right now. China is officially atheist, so Christians are only allowed to worship at state-authorized churches. A lot of Christians worship in hiding. Chinese Catholics have a particularly hard time, because the government believes that their loyalty to the Vatican leads to disloyalty to the state.
According to the US State Department, ISIS executes Christians in areas under its control, and forces Christian women and girls into sex slavery.
Less than a week ago, the New York Times reported that Egyptian Christians feel they are at a breaking point. Violence against them has been surging, and while their non-Christian neighbors stand with them, the government is not protecting Christian homes, churches, or people.
Christians are facing a lot of tough scenarios right now.
In America, I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. I realize what a privilege that is. It’s another reason why the tattoo on my back says, “To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain.” As long as I’m here, I want to do Jesus. I want to make an impact for the kingdom.
And I can. For me, it’s so easy. I won’t have to go through what Paul went through, or the early Christians. I won’t have to go through what Christians in places like Libya and Mosul have to go through.
These are powerful reasons to take up my cross. Compared to the burdens my brothers and sisters have carried, there’s no burden in being a Christian, not for me.
More on this next time. See you Tuesday.