REJOICING IN PERSECUTION: UNITED WITH JOY IN HIS SUFFERINGS
'But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy.' (1 Peter 4:13)
The higher realms in worship can only be reached after the worshipper has come into the new realm of the anointing. The worshipper is empowered by the Holy Spirit for worship, but it is no longer the worshipper who is leading the worship. There is a new awareness of being anointed with the 'oil of gladness', and the joy of knowing Jesus is described as 'joy unspeakable and full of glory'. There is wonderful fellowship with other worshippers, but outside of this company it is easy now to be regarded as 'a fool for Christ'. It's a title the worshipper holds with joy as he or she is united with Christ in His sufferings.
The anointing upon the believers in the early church brought strong conviction upon those outside of Christ. The Bible describes them as being 'cut to the heart'. The Holy Spirit anointing moved upon them in a manner resembling a person prodding their heart with a sharp stick. They could not ignore this prodding; they had to make a response. There are three kinds of responses mentioned in the early chapters of the book of Acts. The first response was that a great multitude recognised Jesus to be the Messiah, and received Him as their Lord and Saviour. The second response was from those who were not willing to be associated with the disciples but they recognised the power of God was with them. They held them in high regard, but they did not dare to come too close to them. The third response was that many of the religious leaders resisted the moving of the Holy Spirit. It was this third response that provided the opportunity for worship on the higher level.
Paul wrote to Timothy: 'Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution', (2 Timothy 3:12). All believers can face persecution because the godly life of a Christian will stand in direct opposition to worldliness and sin. We can rejoice when we are persecuted for this reason, but this is not worship on the higher level. Worship on the higher levels can only be reached through the anointing. The initiator of the worship is the Holy Spirit. This level of worship is a great honour because the worshipper is found worthy to be humiliated for the glory of the Lord. It is worship that glorifies the Lord in the face of persecution from those who resist the moving of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer on this level of worship has great power with God because the love of Christ in the worshipper is expressed through his or her concern for the welfare of others, even for those who do them harm. They bear no grievance towards their attackers. Stephen prayed for his attackers to be forgiven when he was being stoned to death, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge' (Acts 7:60). One of those who Stephen was praying for was Saul of Tarsus. Stephen was obeying the Lord's command to 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;' (Matthew 5:44). It is not known how many prayers were offered up to God for Saul when he persecuted the church. Their prayers were united with the eternal plan and purpose of God, and Saul of Tarsus was turned from being a murderous persecutor of the believers into one who was willing to count everything as rubbish that he might win Christ. Prayers offered in worship on behalf of those who resist the moving of the Holy Spirit will turn persecutors like Saul into worshippers, and the Father is seeking worshippers.
Those who desire to be anointed must live surrendered lives because the anointing brought humiliation to the Apostles and the threat of death. In Acts chapter 5, the apostles were brought before the Jewish leaders to explain why they were continuing to teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and the other apostles answered them under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, with the result that the Jewish leaders were 'cut to the heart' by the Holy Spirit: 'When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.' (Acts 5:33).
The same anointing that had brought many to Christ now had a very different effect. The Jewish leaders wanted to kill the apostles because they resisted the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles would have been executed if the highly respected Gamaliel had not advised them against it. This persecution was a direct result of the anointing. The disciples rejoiced when they were beaten and disgraced in front of highly respected Jewish leaders. They were not disgraced because of what they had done in their own name; they were disgraced because of what the Holy Spirit had done through them in the name of Jesus. This was a great honour. They worshipped with great joy at the privilege, and they continued to 'teach and preach Jesus Christ'. They were powerful witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ because they were worshipping on the highest levels; '...and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.' (Acts 5:40-42)
When the religious leaders
persecuted the believers in Christ they were persecuting Christ. The Apostles suffered persecution because
they were one with Christ. The disciples
saw this as an opportunity for worship, and they rejoiced at being counted
worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.
They were fellow participators of the sufferings of Christ. When Saul of Tarsus resisted the moving of
the Holy Spirit he persecuted the church.
He was fighting Christ by persecuting the believers in Christ. On the Damascus Road the Lord said to Saul, '…why are you persecuting me? And
he said, Who are You, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: it is hard for
you to kick against the pricks.' (Acts 9:4-5).
When the Lord told Saul, 'it is hard for you to kick against the
pricks', He was referring to how Paul was resisting the moving of the Holy
Spirit. Saul had been 'cut to the heart'
by the testimony of Stephen and the other believers, but because of his
hardness of heart, he was not willing to recognise that Jesus is the
Messiah. He was seeking to persecute
the church even at the time of his encounter with the Lord on the
The Lord revealed to Paul that he would worship at this level. When Ananias was told to pray for Saul after his Damascus Road conversion, the Lord revealed the 'great things he must suffer for my name’s sake' (Acts 9:16). Ananias was sent to lay hands on Saul so that he would be 'filled with the Holy Spirit'. The one who had persecuted the church because of the anointing was now himself anointed for ministry and that anointing would bring him into opposition with those who would resist the moving of the Holy Spirit. The persecutor who resisted the Holy Spirit would become the persecuted because of the anointing. In order to fulfil this ministry the first thing Paul had to learn was to worship. The anointing of the Holy Spirit enabled Paul to worship on the highest levels. His primary calling was always to be a worshipper. His ministry developed out of worship. Paul never sought to build up his ministry, but he always sought to move higher in worship. For Paul it made no difference whether he was in prison, out of prison, in need, or in abundance. Paul wanted to fulfil his ministry with joy. This was not just the joy of fulfilment and the satisfaction of having done well; it was the joy that is necessary for worship. 'But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.' (Acts 20:24).
First and foremost Paul was a worshipper. He wrote from prison to the Philippians that he counted all things as rubbish that he might gain Christ. Paul had no concern for his own interests or safety, but he rejoiced in his sufferings because he was a worshipper, and he rejoiced in the opportunity to express his love for his Lord. 'That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.' (Philippians 3:10-11). The fellowship of His sufferings does not mean the sufferings of the Lord on the cross because the Lord bore this suffering alone when He cried 'it is finished' (John 19:30). It means being a fellow participator of His sufferings from those who resist the moving of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the Colossians that he rejoiced in his sufferings and being afflicted in his ministry to the body of Christ, 'Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:' (Colossians 1:24). Paul worshipped at the highest levels of worship, but he still wrote 'that I might know Him'. There are always greater heights to reach in worshipping the Lord. Even though Paul had worshipped in heaven, he still desired to move higher in worship.
It is important to understand that being persecuted is not worship. Paul wrote that suffering persecution will only bring a reward if we have love. A worshipper rejoices in persecution because of his or her love for Christ, 'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.' (1 Corinthians 13:3). Worshippers can only reach this place of worship under the anointing and leadership of the Holy Spirit. Some people are persecuted because they have been deliberately confrontational. They have provoked people into reacting against them. This is not worship. They are being persecuted because they have been deliberately aggressive towards others who disagree. Even though they are saved and belong to Christ, they are not worshippers; they are contentious. Worship in persecution is humble submission to the will of God and rejoicing at the privilege of suffering shame for what the Lord has done. A worshipper at this level will see Christ in every circumstance. He or she will rejoice in trials and dangers because they are opportunities of worship. No matter what the hardship the worshipper at this level rejoices in the will of God.
Worshipping the Lord in persecution is being able to rejoice in the knowledge that the shame we face is due to people resisting the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The love of Christ must be the only motivating force behind our deeds, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit must be the power that confirms our words. Jesus told His disciples to rejoice in persecution because they would receive a great reward. When we are spoken against falsely for His name's sake, we should never try to defend ourselves, we should rejoice. We should always keep in mind the day when we will see Jesus. John Wesley called persecution the badge of discipleship. Rejoicing in persecution is the characteristic of the worshipper: ‘Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.' (Matthew 5:10-12).
Rejoicing in being united with
Christ in His sufferings is worship under the leadership of the Holy
Spirit. When we realise this then the
opportunity to worship at this level is a great honour, and should fill the
worshipper with joy. The same anointing
that brought a multitude to Christ on the day of Pentecost, brought persecution
from those who resisted the moving of the Holy Spirit. The believers were united with Christ in
persecution. From the time he was saved
Paul is not only an example of a worshipper who rejoiced in being a fellow participator of the sufferings of Christ; he is also an example of how God answers the prayers of his persecuted saints. When we suffer persecution our first thoughts should always be to pray for those who oppose Christ by persecuting us. The prayers of persecuted Christians have great power with God, and through this kind of prayer Paul was changed from being the persecutor of Christ into a mighty worshipper. The persecutor became a worshipper in persecution.