When Peter wrote his first letter in the early 60s AD the first stirrings of Imperial persecution against Christians were beginning to be felt. Peter had personally experienced persecution at the hands of his fellow Jews, and was aware of the sufferings his fellow apostle, Paul, had experienced and was even then enduring. In anticipation of the more widespread persecution that would follow, Peter warned his readers to not be surprised when such things occurred. In 1 Pet. 4:12-19 he encouraged them to expect to suffer for the Lord’s sake, and to do so as faithful members of the body of Christ. Uninspired historical records suggest that Christians of that era mostly lived up to this exhortation.
Those of us who have grown up in the United States have been uncommonly blessed with an absence of persecution in our country. For nearly 240 years we have enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment and have been free to practice our faith without governmental intervention. This constitutional protection has also sheltered us from attacks by unbelievers, at least until recently. The increasingly militant homosexual lobby has now been joined by other anti-Christian forces, including a surprising number of judges and politicians, to try to restrict the free expression of Christian beliefs.
It is clear that no one in the larger Christian community foresaw the consequences of the years-long propaganda war that has been waged under the banner of tolerance. We have unwittingly gone along with the scheme that has brought us to where our First Amendment rights can be taken away by a lawsuit, or by a city or state ordinance. Practicing Christians are now the open targets of activists whose sole purpose is to silence the voice of God’s word that condemns their ungodly behaviors. At the same time, the fearful evil of Islam is being ignored by these same activists. As a result, believers need to be prepared to suffer persecution as we have never experienced it before.
It is impossible to foretell exactly how this persecution will manifest itself, but only a seismic shift in the political climate in our country can forestall it. As American citizens we have recourse through the election process and through our courts. In the same way that Paul used his Roman citizenship to protect himself and to facilitate his ministry, we may use our American citizenship toward the same ends. We should not, however, place all our trust in these means. After all, the very Roman government that at one time protected Paul because he was a citizen, eventually took his life in spite of his citizenship.
Peter’s warning from nearly 2,000 years ago still rings true today. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you . . . but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:12, 16, 19).
In spite of the fiery trials that are now upon us, we must not bow to this pressure. We must continue “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and to “not shrink from declaring the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Only in this way will we glorify God in the midst of persecution, and thus preserve our home in heaven which our Lord and Savior is preparing for those who obey Him.