Bible Question:

What should Christians do if they are forced to follow Hinduism? Should they flee the country or should they face the consequences of following Christ?

Bible Answer:

The persecution of Christians is occurring at unprecedented levels around the world. Christians are being insulted, slandered, discriminated against, and murdered. God has told Christians that they will suffer persecution if they live a godly or righteous life.  (Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 2:12; 3:14-16).

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12 (NASB)

Christians will also suffer for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5:12. 1 Peter 4:14  captures both reasons why Christians suffer.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a aChristian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1 Peter 4:14-16 (NASB)

If you are living a godly life or if you are sharing the good news about Christ, then you will suffer! Jesus said in John 15:20, that if they persecuted Him, Christians will be persecuted. This is increasingly occurring around the world.  Therefore, what should a Christian do? Should Christians flee persecution or stay and suffer for Christ? What follows answers this question in three parts: 1) How to respond to persecution, 2) when should a Christian flee persecution?, and 3) when should a Christian remain and suffer for Christ?.

Martyrdom of Stephen

How to Respond to Persecution

The first question we should ask is: how should a Christian respond to persecution?  The answer is given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .” Matthew 5:43-44 (NASB)

When we think about love, we usually think of a positive feeling for someone. But, the Greek word that Jesus used for love is agape, which is connected with agapao. This love may include feeling, but it primarily refers to the highest form of love. It refers to treating others with the highest good.  The fundamental principle is that Christians are to love even their persecutors. This principle is also given in Romans 12:14, 17-20. The passage says,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 (NASB)

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. Romans 12:17-20 (NASB)

The point is that Christians are to love and bless their persecutors. God will repay our persecutors. When God does, He will make them suffer according to their deeds.

Both Jesus and the martyr Stephen are important illustrations of this principle when they were murdered. When Jesus was on the cross, He asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34). Also, Stephen made the same request for his persecuted (Acts 7:59-60).

Jesus also told us to pray for them (Matthew 5:44). So, we should love, bless, and pray for our persecutors. Lastly, we should pray for boldness to preach the gospel and remain faithful to the faith Christ. Acts 4:29-31.

When Should Christians Flee Persecution?

Now there are two principles that will guide a Christian when persecution occurs. The first principle is that a Christian should flee persecution when it is possible to do so. In Matthew 10, Jesus is sending the disciples to preach the gospel. Then in verse 23, He gives the disciples this principle.

But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23 (NASB)

This principle is echoed in Proverbs 14:16 and Proverbs 22:3,

A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless. Proverbs 14:16 (NASB)

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it. Proverbs 22:3 (NASB)

That is the wise man flees danger. Jesus repeated this principle in Matthew 24:15-20 where He teaches the disciples about events in the great tribulation that will occur just before the second coming of Christ. In these verses, He warns the people in Israel to flee to the mountains (v. 16), not to go down into the house or turn back and retrieve possessions (v. 17-18), and to “pray that your flight is not in the winter or on a Sabbath” (v.20).  Believers are to flee danger whenever possible.

There are three important illustrations of this principle. The first one is found in the gospels when Jesus left Jerusalem, not once, but three times because of religious leaders who were seeking to murder Him (John 7:1; 10:39-40; 11:53-54).

A second principle is found in Acts 8:1-3, when the early Christians escaped from Jerusalem because persecution had begun against them. The only ones who did not leave were the apostles. Why did they stay? We are not told, but it is obvious they remained because God wanted them to remain for a reason unknown to us.

A third example that we will consider is the time the apostle Paul escaped the city of Damascus at night. Here is Acts 9:25,

But his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. Acts 9:25 (NASB)

They did this clandestinely.

So, the principle is that if a Christian sees danger, such as persecution, pray and ask God for guidance. If the Lord makes it possible to flee, then flee (Psalm 127:1; James 4:13-16). If the Lord does not make it possible to flee, then Christians remain. Only foolish people remain when danger is near and it is possible to escape that danger.

When Should Christians Stay and Suffer for Christ?

The second principle that guides a Christian when persecution occurs is that there may be times when God wants Christians to suffer. 1 Peter 4:19 gives us an example of this principle,

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 Peter 4:19 (NASB)

That is, sometimes it may be God’s will that we suffer. So, how do we know when God wants us to suffer? The answer is that He will not provide us with a way to escape. If He provides a way to flee, then flee!

A second example of this principle is that at some point in time it may not be possible to flee to safety. For Jesus warned in Matthew 24:9 that Christians will eventually be hated by all nations in the end times. Even now nations are increasingly becoming more hostile.

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. Matthew 24:9 (NASB)

There are a number of illustrations of this principle. The first example are the believers in the church in Smyrna. The church was one of the two good churches in Revelation 2-3. Those believers were given high praise. They were faithful. Yet, God told the church in Revelation 2:10,

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10 (NASB)

Notice that God told them to be faithful until death. It was His will that they die. Psalm 116:15  says that the death of His godly is precious to Him. Why? Because they come home to Him and He welcomes them home!

A second example of this principle is the apostle James, who was martyred in Acts 12:1-2. He was an apostle and God let Him die. He was arrested. He did not have an opportunity to flee.

Another illustration is the occasion when Paul refused to leave prison in Thyatira after the guards told him he could leave (Acts 16:35-40). But Paul initially refused because he did not want their release to be in secret. He wanted a public acknowledgement that their imprisonment was illegal since they were Roman citizens.

Conclusion

So, when should Christians flee persecution or stay and suffer for Christ? We have discovered two principles that reveal Christians suffer for righteousness and for the sake of Christ. (1 Peter 2:12; 3:13-17; 4:3-5, 13-16). We have discovered that Christians are encouraged to flee persecution whenever possible. Yet, there may be times God does not want Christians to flee. If that is true, He will prevent Christians from escaping. There are at times good reasons to remain and die for Christ.

He may want us to remain and help other Christians who cannot flee. I believe that is what happened with the apostles in Acts 8:1. Christians must not always think just about themselves. They need to also be concerned for others and be willing to die for Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:19, 32 encourages Christians to have courage and hope in our Lord.

Remember Matthew 5:10-12 says that believers are blessed when they are persecuted. Every Christian must remember that our ultimate purpose in life is to give God glory. Whatever decision a Christian makes must be done for the glory of God.

But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 1 Peter 4:16 (NASB)

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NASB)

Suggested Links:

Smyrna the Persecuted Church — Be Faithful Until Death
Believers Are Worthy of the Kingdom of God
Blessed Are The Persecuted
Philadelphia — The Faithful Church That Kept Jesus’ Word
Persecuted for Jesus
How can we know if our suffering is from God or the devil?
Why Do Christians Suffer? – part 1
Why Do Christians Suffer? – part 2
Why Do Christians Suffer? – part 3