Key Scriptures: John 15:19, II Timothy 3:12, I Peter 3:14-17, I Peter 4:4-14, I John 3:13, Revelations 2:10, Proverbs 29:10, Mark 13:9-13, Psalm 119, James 5:10-11, Hebrews 11:25-27, Philippians 3:8-11, II Timothy 2:3-4, II Thessalonians 1:1-12, Mark 13:13, I Peter 2:19-21, I Peter 1:6-7, Romans 8:18, Revelations 21:4, II Corinthians 4:17, Matthew 5:10, Isaiah 43:2, Romans 8:35-39, Lamentations 3:21-33, Romans 12:19, Acts 5:40-42, Habakkuk 3:16-18, Philippians 4:12-14, II Corinthians 11:24-27, I Peter 5:10, Psalm 34:19, Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4
Guiding Question: How can we be strong when faced with difficulties and persecutions because of your belief in the obedience to God?
Optional Introductory Activity: Have the students think about the people they have discussed in the introductory activities for the first three parts of these lessons. In the stories of their lives what strategies do they appear to have used to not only tolerate being different, but also embrace it? What strategies do your students use to be brave enough to be different from the crowd?
Lesson: (Questions for the students are in bold italics.) This week we have learned there will be opportunities (small and large) throughout your life to stand up for God. It will often mean you will appear very different from the people around you. Others will not like you, and may even hate you for your beliefs. There is even an outside chance you may be jailed or physically injured or even killed for obeying God.
God does not deny the possibility of these things happening if you choose to follow Him. In fact, read these verses to see what He does say: John 15:19,
II Timothy 3:12, I Peter 3:14-17, I Peter 4:4-14, I John 3:13, Revelations 2:10, Proverbs 29:10, Mark 13:9-13, Psalm 119, James 5:10, Hebrews 11:25-27.
Sounds depressing in a way. If we are really following God, we are going to be different from most people, we will be teased and possibly much worse. So how did the apostles stay so joyful, when they were being jailed, tortured and killed? How can we stay not only joyful but also faithful when we are persecuted? How can we resist the temptation to blend in with the world rather than stand out as a Christian and make ourselves vulnerable to persecution? (in no particular order)
Remember the suffering Christ endured – Philippians 3:8-11, the Gospel accounts of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The early Christians were able to endure what they did in part because of what Jesus had been through was still very real to them. They also knew he was sinless and of anyone, He did not deserve to suffer. Their attitude in many cases was one of being grateful for being considered worthy of suffering like Christ had done.
Be patient and don’t grow weary – II Timothy 2:3-4, James 5:10-11, Paul, James, Peter and others knew that continued persecutions can wear out even the most faithful Christian. That is why they wrote so many letters encouraging Christians to be patient in their trails and stay faithful. That is also probably why these same letters were passed down to us in the New Testament – God knew we too would need encouragement to patient and not grow weary when faced with persecution.
Continue to faithful, follow God’s commands and do good to all – even praying for your enemies II Thessalonians 1:1-12, mark 13:13, I Peter 2:19-21. We recently studied the last few books in the Bible. These letters written by Peter, James, John and Jude were filled with advice on how to endure persecution. They counseled their reader over and over to remain faithful, continue to follow God’s commands and do good works. Not just to help themselves, but also to be a living witness to people around them about God and Jesus.
Glorify God in everything – I Peter 1:6-7. Psalms if filled with poems glorifying God. It is one of our main purposes in Life. Even when we are experiencing persecution, God still wants us to glorify Him. Stephen is an excellent example of someone who glorified God to the very end of his life.
Remember the promise of heaven – Romans 8:18, Revelations 21:4, I Peter 4:12-13, II Corinthians 4:17, Matthew 5:10, James 1:12. Often, people are able to endure persecution because they are able to change their perspective. Instead of thinking of the pain they are currently suffering and how it seems it will last forever, they are able to focus on the eternal future. They know even years of persecution are not even a blink when compared to eternity in heaven. Their ability to take the long view strengthens them during times of tough persecution.
Do not be fearful, but be hopeful in the Lord – Isaiah 43:2, Romans 8:35-39, Lamentations 3:21-33. Even the apostles mentioned being “fearful” from time to time. We would have to look at the original Greek to know whether it was actually fear or more anticipation with a little dread thrown in, but either way they conquered their fears enough to stay faithful until martyred for their beliefs. The only way they could possible do that in the face of what history records as very gruesome, painful deaths was to remember their hope in the Lord. Hope trumps fear every time.
Remember vengeance is the Lord’s Romans 12:19. Remember when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of one of them. What did Jesus do? He healed the man and fussed a Peter for injuring him. If we attempt to take revenge on those who persecute us, we become totally distracted from what we are supposed to be doing – serving others and sharing our faith. Revenge can become a full time job and eat our very insides that become filled with hatred, bitterness and revenge. The apostles never focused on destroying the Romans. Instead they continued to try and convert them as they taught them about Jesus. They wanted the Romans to be in heaven with them!
Learn to be content in all circumstances – Acts 5:40-42, Habakkuk 3:16-18. Philippians 4:12-14, read II Corinthians 11:24-27. Paul had quite the list of adventures, didn’t he? Yet, Paul wrote some of the most hope filled letters in the New Testament. Paul had learned to make the most of every opportunity, to keep his focus on Bod and to remember his reward of eternal life in heaven. It is said that Paul converted many of his guards as they were guarding him in prison. Notice how many times in his letters, he thanks people for praying for him or sending him the things he needed or people to check on him. Paul had truly learned to not only content, but grateful.
Find your strength in God – I Peter 5:10, Psalm 34:19. Once again Psalms is filled with David’s writings while he was running from Saul and other enemies. David knew his hope; his strength and his deliverance could only come from God.
Suffering can produce endurance, character and hope – Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4. Have you ever had a tough time and when it was over you realized how much you had grown as a person? The life of Peter is a great example of what can happen if we remain faithful through tough times and persecution. Peter was famous for walking and then falling into the water and denying Christ. Yet, he was also one of, if not the first (along with John) to be thrown into jail for preaching about Jesus. We know he was thrown in jail probably several more times and was ultimately killed for his faith. Yet in spite of having gone through all of that, Peter was able to write two letters to encourage Christians going through persecution for their faith. My guess is that even Peter would have to admit the trials he endured made him a much different man from when he was finally executed than the one who was so fearful at the trail of Jesus, he denied even knowing him!
Which of these concepts do you feel you already possess, at least in part? Which ones are struggles for you? How can you become more like the apostles and be willing to be different from everyone else if necessary to stand up for God?
Application Challenge: Think about the strategies discussed in this lesson. Which ones do you currently use? Which ones are new ideas to you? What do you need to do to improve your ability to stand apart from the crowd and follow Jesus?
Author: Thereasa Winnett