As a believer and follower of Jesus you should expect persecution from others. That you should expect persecution probably isn’t something you want to hear, but it is something you need to hear. Paul told his younger disciple Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 emphasis added). Did you see the first word I emphasized? Everyone. No matter who you are, how old you are, or how much you care about others, if you stand up for Jesus, someone will try to shoot you down. Everyone who wants to live a godly life will eventually be persecuted. Don’t be shocked by this. Don’t be discouraged by it. Don’t be overwhelmed by it.
Some of your friends may not like what you say on Facebook. They may talk behind your back. They may not invite you to some wild party they’re having. Or you might even be overlooked for a promotion because you follow Jesus. None of these things surprise God. And they shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20a emphasis added) This is why I try never to worry when people shoot at me online for my faith. I actually worry when they don’t.
Not only should you EXPECT people to occasionally (or often) push back on your faith, but also when they do, you should ENDURE it. Paul said, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it” (1 Corinthians 4:12 emphasis added). Our example is Jesus on the cross. When the creation mocked the Creator, He didn’t whine, gripe, or retaliate. Instead, He prayed for those who mocked and beat Him. Jesus ENDURED it. He rose above it.
When you’re praying for others who are persecuting you, it’s also wise to pray for yourself. If someone attacks, ask God to help you know how — or if — you should respond. Just because they shoot your way doesn’t mean you have to answer. There are times you should answer and other times when you should ignore it. Either way, be careful not to react out of emotion; respond only in love.
While ENDURING persecution, you might reply with a thoughtful or encouraging comment. But remember that social media isn’t a good place for long explanations. Just like a serious theological debate can’t happen in 140 characters or less, it’s hard to solve difficult problems in social media or email. Don’t feel pressured to respond. God can take care of Himself; He doesn’t need you to defend Him every time some online heckler rattles your cage.
When critics flail at you, you aren’t under any obligation to answer. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I responded to someone hurling bombs my way on social media. I often respond to people who have legitimate questions about the church or something I posted (blogs, articles, teachings). But I won’t debate with people who simply want to pick a fight online. Pray and ask God if He wants you to respond.
I also encourage you to ask God to help you know when to listen and when to dismiss invalid criticism. If someone has a valid point and they’re trying to help you, you should listen. Scripture confirms, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.
If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding” (Proverbs 13:31-32 NLT, emphasis added). But when strangers (or angry people) take cheap shots. You can often disregard what they’re saying and move on. Don’t let that poison seep into your heart.
Some people tend to be naturally critical and negative, but I choose not to let their foul disposition ruin a good day. It’s also helpful to remember that sometimes people are simply hurting. Rather than taking their negative comments personally, I try to let them remind me to pray (in private) that they will experience God’s healing. Peter describes how Jesus modeled this for us: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). In the middle of His pain, Jesus din’t fight back. Instead He allowed God to be His defender and submitted Himself to he loving care of His heavenly Father. He call us to do the same.
More next time…