The Beneficial Effects of Suffering and Persecution

Acts 3-4 records the beginning of persecutions that Satan brought upon Jerusalem disciples: the imprisonment of two apostles at the hands of the chief rulers and Sadducees. The persecution was mild compared with the increased intensity brethren would suffer, and this beginning was a stark reminder of Jesus’ warning to His apostles: “But take ye heed to yourselves for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues shall ye be beaten; and before governors and kings shall ye stand for my sake, for a testimony unto them” (Mark 13:9).

The steadfastness of Peter and John in the face of the demands the authorities made that they cease preaching in the name of Jesus brought stronger and stiffer punishment to them and ultimately to the whole body of Christians. Of these troubling times the Hebrew writer wrote, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which after ye were enlightened, ye endured a conflict of suffering, partly being made a gazing stock both by reproach and affliction; and partly, becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds and took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:32-34). But if the actions of the apostles brought even more severe efforts by the authorities to make them cease preaching about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they brought also a possible, good effect upon believers. Luke wrote, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul and not one of them said that aught of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” (Act 4:32).

These believers were united in a common cause: all were committed to it. There was a unity among these early believers, the kind of unity for which Jesus had prayed to the Father (John 17:20-21), a unity which is seldom seen. The suffering the apostles experienced — and would soon experience again — brought determination to the party of believers to uphold the apostles in their suffering, to imitate the same conviction that they manifested as though joined by an invisible bond.

Such harmony and unity manifested itself in the care believers had for each other. “Not one of them said that aught of the things he possessed was his own”. They sold their possessions, put all proceeds under the apostles’ care, they had “all things common”. The deep conviction in the apostles’ message that Jesus had been raised from the dead, coupled with God’s bearing witness to that truth by the miracles He wrought through them, gave the disciples assurance that any sacrifice they made was little to be compared with the blessing that would be theirs at their own resurrection, and made them determined to share that message with others. These disciples had “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). No one should be surprised that Luke further wrote, “And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:32).

Just as the apostles’ steadfastness had strengthened the disciples to imitate the apostles’ convictions, so the disciples’ steadfastness in their own conviction had a great power over others. A bit later, when the unity and well being of all these disciples’ convictions would be tested by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira for lying, their faith held strong and “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14).

We could wish for the same attitudes of believers toward the resurrection message, for the care one for another and the unity present then among believers. But should we wish for such, it would be well to remember what happened to bring about such a spirit among those believers. While we could wish for the results among believers, could we wish for the tribulations which brought about that spirit?

Who wants to suffer persecution, imprisonment, or even death for Jesus? Yet, if we must either suffer those things or deny Jesus there is only one option for us if we wish to go to heaven. Few of us wish for those things, but remember that “every cloud has a silver lining” and should such come our way, there will be blessings to come as well.

Suffering for Christ can do some things for believers that few other things can do. It can give us serenity, hope, joy, and even peace. It did for these early disciples. It can do the same for us.

Jim McDonald