Persecution in the Bible ranges from mildly hostile to intensely hostile actions. These actions can include ridicule, restriction, certain kinds of harassment, discrimination, torture, imprisonment, ostracism or death (see Matthew 6:11-12, Luke 6:22; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; James 1:2 and others).
From a biblical perspective, persecution encompasses actions spanning the full range of hostility and can be violent, physical, psychological or social. We cannot define persecution strictly on the basis of the level of harm it might cause or the level of hostility in which it occurs. To do so would be inconsistent with scripture. The issue that missions like VOMC must consider is this: At what point on this spectrum do we see our involvement as necessary?
Persecution need not involve violence, although it may. This is not to say that all persecution should be treated as equally grievous. Nor is all persecution a violation of our basic rights as a human being. To be despised, hated and ridiculed is not a violation of one's rights, as unpleasant and unjust as these things are.
Understanding persecution in a biblical sense helps to include the Western Christian's experience in what it means to follow Jesus. Understanding persecution as only including violent acts often leads us to conclude that Western Christians are never persecuted. Understanding persecution to include a wider spectrum of hostility makes it obvious that even Western Christians can and will experience persecution if they faithfully follow Christ, even if it is of a milder degree. The biblical passages on persecution then can become more meaningful for us, and we can properly apply them to our present situation.
For example, the various biblical texts that speak of rewards to those who were faithful in the face of persecution may seem out of reach to us if we understand persecution primarily as suffering violence for Jesus. With little opportunity to suffer in this way, how are we ever to receive these rewards? Understanding persecution in a broader sense makes these promises more applicable to us and should motivate us to greater faithfulness to God in the midst of our own situation.
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