I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
The Persecuted Church
There is an organization by the name of Open Doors U.S.A. that is an international non-profit organization working in the world's most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these dark places.
During their 2020 annual report of the top 50 countries persecuted for their faith, Open Doors has reported some staggering statistics. They say that:
Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.
Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.
And every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.
There are 260 million believers being persecuted for their faith worldwide. And another 50 million could be added from the nations that are just outside of the top 50. They are places like Mexico, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
If you add it all together, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide are being persecuted for their belief in Jesus Christ. And it isn't getting any better. We indeed need to pray and help those brothers and sister in the Lord in any way we can.
Persecution isn't anything new. Jesus told those earlier followers of His:
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18).
And, the Apostle Paul was no stranger to persecution. As I've said in the other messages based upon the book of II Timothy, he was writing this letter to his friend and beloved son in the faith, Timothy just before Paul's own execution for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to Timothy because he was concerned for his friend and wanted him to remain strong in his faith and ministry to the people of Ephesus despite persecution. He encourages Timothy tp use his spiritual gifts. And the apostle wanted him to pass along his faith to others who would be able to do the same.
He desired that Timothy be aware of the perilous times in which we are living and the people who would subvert the faith of some with a form of godliness that isn't based upon true belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul asked Timothy to preach the Word of God, in season and out of season, remembering that it is given by divine inspiration and is profitable for many ways.
These are some of the major issues that Paul wanted to get across before his death. However, his secondary reason for writing this godly disciple and friend of his is more personal. Considering the fact that Paul is about to die, he uses some of the last few verses to urge his friend to join him in Rome. He wants to see this young man just one more time before he leaves this earth.
As we focus upon II Timothy 4:9-22, we can learn a lot from this last section of Paul's epistle. We see more of his humanity and how he boldly faced death with dignity. We feel his heart and passion for those whom he loved and his feelings about those who abandoned him. We're able to glimpse a bit of sadness and maybe a little loneliness. Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling of triumph as he faces the end, knowing that God never abandoned him, and that Paul was able to accomplish all that the Lord had sent him to do.
Further, if we look at it from the viewpoint of young Timothy, we can see our own responsibility as fellow members of the Body of Christ to help those who may be going through persecution and possibly facing death for their faith in the Lord. Let us study this passage and look for ways in which we can be of help and encouragement to a large section of the Church of Jesus Christ in our 21st century world.
I. Let Them Know They are Not Abandoned
One way we can help those persecuted for their faith is to let them know that they are not abandoned. And while we may not know a person who is being persecuted, such as Timothy knew Paul, there are organizations such as Open Door U.S.A and The Voice of the Martyrs that we can go to in order to help with this.
Going back to Paul, we can see that in his first major imprisonment, recorded at the end of the Book of Acts, he was under house arrest. And he was as comfortable as a prisoner could be under the circumstances. However, this final time, he was in the infamous Mamertine prison. The Apostle was in solitary confinement while writing this Epistle. And the only entrance to his cell was through a hole in the ceiling which was 6.5 feet high. And it was more like a dungeon than a prison. We can see what conditions like this can do to a man's mind and spirit. Timothy was a connection to the outside world and Paul's old life before being imprisoned.
Paul begins this final section of the epistle by saying to Timothy:
"Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica-Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me."
We can also see the apostle's feelings in these and other verses throughout this section as well. For instance he talks about Alexander the coppersmith who did him "much harm" and warns Timothy to be aware of him too.
He also told Timothy that:
"At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them."
In verse 21, Paul asks his friend to:
"Do your utmost to come before winter."
One of the reasons why Paul asks for this is obviously to have the comfort of his friends. Timothy was asked to come and to bring along Mark as well (11). If you remember, it was Mark who had abandoned Paul on his first missionary journey. This lead to an argument between Paul and Barnabas and an ultimate separation between the two when Barnabas wanted to take Mark along and Paul didn't want to do this when beginning the second journey. Now, Paul seems to have restored young Mark, since we see in verse 11 that he is now useful to him for ministry. And he is a good friend as well that the Apostle wants to see.
However, besides seeing good friends, Paul would be able to get the physical items that they'd bring along to help the Apostle through a long, cold winter. After talking about having sent Tychicus to Ephesus, in verse 13 He asks his companion to:
"Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come. And the books, especially the parchments."
Of course, in this damp, dark prison in which he was staying, it would be necessary to have the cloak for the cold winter nights to keep him warm.
The other things were the books and parchments. The word for books here, (biblion), is common in the New Testament. However, the word for parchments, (membrana), is used only in this book of Scripture. This is a word derived from the Latin and means "animal skins." There are 3 ways that scholars have interpreted what Paul is saying here.
1. By books he may have been referring to copies of the Old Testament. And the parchments were copies of various New Testament books that had been written by this time.
2. The books could be copies of Old and New Testament books and the parchments may have been blank writing material or notebooks containing rough drafts.
3. Or the third possibility is that the two words signified the same thing. In other words, he was saying: "The books, that is the parchment notebooks."
If the third is the proper interpretation, then Paul was probably interested in recovering some rough drafts that he'd written and left behind when he was arrested.
This man of God, during his long, lonely time in prison was relying upon his good friend and fellow-laborer, Timothy, to help him with his physical needs. And his plea for him to come before winter, showed his dire need for these things, both for his comfort and so that he could remain productive until the end when he was finally away from this earth; absent from the body and present with the Lord.
By fulfilling these needs of the Apostle, Timothy gave this imprisoned man the knowledge that he wasn't abandoned after all.
II. Remind Them of the Lord's Faithfulness
The next way which can be utilized to help those who are the victims of persecution is to remind them of the Lord's faithfulness. Though no one stood with Paul during his defense, he was comforted by the fact that the Lord did. Here is what he said:
"But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also, I was delivered out of the mouth of the Lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His Heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory, forever and ever, Amen! (4:17-19).
The Lord always fulfills His promises never to leave and never to forsake His children. And Paul was no exception. Interestingly, he actually saw His imprisonment and eventual death as a means whereby God could use Paul to accomplish the mission He'd given him to do in life. The apostle to the Gentiles was able to proclaim the gospel before a Roman tribunal. And by proclaiming this good news to such a mixed pagan audience, Paul could say that he had reached all the Gentiles with the message of salvation by grace through faith.
So, because of his trust in the Lord, he knew that his suffering had meaning. It lead to something great. That is, it lead to the evangelization of the world that Christ loved.
Further, the apostle knew that God would not allow his life on earth to end unless He'd finished with him. He'd been figuratively rescued out of the Lion's mouth until the Lord decided to take him home to heaven. Then Paul would be safely brought to the Lord's heavenly kingdom. That is the perspective that kept this man going until the final second of his life.
People in persecuted lands need to know that God hasn't abandoned them. They have to be made to realize that suffering as a Christian isn't because God is mad at them or that he loves them less than others. They need to understand that their life has purpose and meaning despite the horrible ways that they are being treated by men who don't know the Lord.
God's people across the globe can help to give them that perspective by caring for them and having compassion for their plight.
III. Become Part of a Network of Christian Friends Worldwide
A final way in which we can help the persecuted church throughout the world is to become a part of a friendship network that gives them hope for the future. Even though Paul might have had some feelings of abandonment from people, he could still name many who were his friends and would be willing to help in in any way that they could. They, of course included Timothy himself and Mark, whom he hoped would visit him.
Also, after saying that Demas had deserted him, he names people like Crescens who had gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. Notice he didn't say that they had abandoned him. They were probably still his friends, who left for pure motives that Paul didn't mention here. But he also states that Luke didn't leave. He was one of the friends that probably communicated with him on a regular basis.
Paul could also name such people as Carpus with whom he left his cloak as well as the books and parchments.
In the final verses, just before his benediction, he named some people to Timothy that he wants his young friend to greet as well as other friends and concludes the list with those who desired to greet Timothy.
Paul tells him to greet Prisca, (i.e Priscilla), and Aquila as well as the household of Onesiphorus. He talks of Erastus who remained at Corinth and his friend Trophimus whom he left sick in Miletus.
Then there were the people who were probably living in Rome, near Paul's prison. These were those who asked Paul to greet Timothy. They included Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia as well as all the brethren in that area.
Even in the benediction, Paul was able to name more than one person who were among his network of friends. He says:
"The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you." (22)
The you in this verse is plural, which tells us that Paul is extending his farewell message to the entire Ephesian congregation to whom Timothy was a minister.
Just to know that these people were backing him and praying for his situation must have comforted Paul as he was going through his final days on this earth. And, we can assume, like Timothy, they did their best to provide for his needs.
Though we may or may not get to know someone in another area of the world that is being persecuted for their faith, we can still become part of a modern-day network of believers who can pray for, provide resources and genuinely care for our neighbors across the globe, letting them know that they don't need to go it alone against the forces of evil that seem to be stacked against them.
That is genuinely what the fellowship of the Body of Christ is all about. We not only rejoice with those who rejoice, we mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). When one member suffers, we all suffer (I Corinthians 12:26).
So, lets us, as American Christians especially, who have never known what it's like to suffer for our faith, begin to remember those who constantly do suffer.
Before concluding this message with some suggestions on how we can all help those who are going through persecution and martyrdom, I'd like to share a story told by Jim Daly, who is the current president of Focus on the Family. He relates this:
"Pastor Farid ministers in war-torn – and predominantly Muslim – Syria. Death threats against him are so common he can’t track them all. Except for the one instance that he was able to count them. Thirty. He knew that because they were spray painted and numbered on the front of his home.
Number one, this is how we’re going to kill you. Number two, this is how we’re going to kill your wife. Number three, this is how we’re going to kill your children. Number four… etc.
The church in the Middle East is under more persecution than anywhere in the world. Not coincidentally, I think, the Christian church in the Middle East is growing rapidly. In the midst of terrible darkness, there is a beautiful ray of hope.
God is moving in profound ways.
It’s amazing how God uses desperate circumstances to open people’s eyes to their need for Christ. A portion of Pastor Farid’s death threats came by text from a man named Rashid. Someone once asked Farid why he didn’t replace his phone, so Rashid couldn’t terrorize him. Farid said, “No, Rashid’s threats remind me to pray for him every day. Nobody else will. So I will.”
Farid did more than pray. He went to Rashid’s home. Their interaction was intense. As Farid was leaving, he surprised Rashid by saying, “I have a gift for your family,” and handing him a Bible. In the Middle East, if someone offers a gift to your family, you don’t turn it down. Rashid held the Bible with two fingers like it was poisonous.
Some weeks later, Rashid was trapped in bombing in Syria. The Quran wasn’t offering him any comfort. He picked up the Bible and read it until 6 a.m. the next morning. Along the way, he fell in love with Jesus. Rashid now writes worship songs for the church in Syria."
In the world around us there are literally millions of true stories like this one of heroes like Pastor Farid, who go the extra mile, despite the opposition and are making a difference for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We too can make a difference for those people who are suffering for their faith. We can learn about them, pray for them and give financially as the Lord leads us.
There are are many organizations out there that go to the most persecuted on this planet. We named two at the beginning: Open Doors U.S.A and The Voice of the Martyrs. Others include:
1. Release International
2. Barnabas Fund
3. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
4. Christian Freedom International
5. Mission Network News
7. Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement
8. Steadfast Global
9. The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME)
Before, you choose to give help through any organization, learn about them, read their mission statements and, like any charity, give to those whose philosophy of ministry you agree with the most, and who use their funds the most wisely.
But however any of us may choose to get involved, we have a Christian duty to the rest of members of the Body of Christ who are suffering. Not all of us have the means to give money or physical aide. But we all can pray and remember our Christian brothers and sisters that God loves as much as He loves us.
It is my prayer that all who are in situations like the Apostle Paul will be able to know that they are cared for by God and by those who call themselves His children. For no one who names the name of Jesus should ever have to feel that they are living and dying alone. May we express God's concern for all of them whom the Lord brings to our attention.
© 2020 Jeff Shirley