Thursday, October 18, 2012

THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS (part 1)



Some time ago I read an interview with a Christian man from Ethiopia, one of the African countries in which persecution against Christians has been extremely violent in recent decades. I was taken with the fact that this man was not surprised in the least about the persecution that was occurring in his country. He almost expected that this should happen, and quoted the Apostle Paul, who said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV).
The Stoning of Saint Stephen - Rembrandt Van Rijn
This Ethiopian man, who had himself suffered greatly and had lost several family members who had been murdered because they were Christians, then asked a question that, I must admit, has haunted me in some ways. He asked, “Why is there no persecution in the United States? Do not the Christians in there desire to live godly lives?”
Despite what some individuals or groups may say, it is true that persecution against Christians in the United States is extremely rare; at least persecution at this same level. I will not deny that there is a definite political and social trend in America that is markedly anti-Christian, but our understanding of the word persecuted goes well beyond simple social trends. We think of persecution more in terms of what the Ethiopian man and the other Christians there were facing (and still are in many countries). However, there is an interesting twist to this word in the way that the apostle Paul uses it in various places.
In its root, the word in the Greek language for persecution does not necessarily mean what we normally take for the meaning of the word in English. The Greek word dioko is more general in its significance and means to pursue, or to follow. It is like a hunter tracking down his game or a detective looking for clues in order to solve a case he is working on: persistent and determined. It is true that it is mostly used in the very negative sense in the Bible, just as we use it today, but it is not always.
For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14, which immediately follows Paul’s great writing on the meaning of love in chapter 13, the apostle then says in the first words of the next chapter, “pursue love,” or “follow after love.” The word that he uses here is the word dioko, but if the Bible translators would have written persecute love, we would misinterpret entirely what Paul wanted to say to us.
There are several other similar uses in the New Testament, such as in Romans 14:19, which reads, “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
The word here for pursue, is persecute, but it would change entirely the meaning of the sentence for us to put in the word persecute. Paul certainly is not trying to tell us to bring harm and to fight against the things that make for peace. Rather, he is telling us to do all that we can to ensure peace and to build up one another.
Having brought out this root meaning for the word dioko, I should again say that most often it indeed is used in the negative sense and in a way that is similar to how we use it in English. However, seeing the real root meaning of the word, we can also see that persecution of Christians can take many forms, all of which are characterized by a relentless battle against believers and a wearing down of their values and lives. As Christians, we find that we must constantly be vigilant in a world that does not share our perspective.
Persecution then, means more than being beaten and murdered by a hostile government or an extreme religious group. If we take a stand against the world’s values, we can expect that there be some consequences. These consequences may come in the form of a relentless pursuit against our beliefs and principles, like a hunter stalking his prey. 
We will continue to be especially concerned, and to pray for our brothers and sisters who, like the man in Ethiopia, are going through severe persecution. However, we must also realize that if any of us truly desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus, we will also know what it is to see persecution.

In the next post I will talk about another verse that has always been intriguing to me and is related to this same subject of persecution. It has to do with the title of this post and I sometimes wonder especially what the apostle Paul meant by the phrase, “the fellowship of His suffering.”
“…That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Philippians 3:10 NAS)

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