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Yet More News of Christian Martyrs: What Can We Do?

February 19, 2015

In the last few days, we have heard of yet more Christian martyrs in the news.  Twenty-one people were beheaded in Libya because they were “people of the cross.”  News like this, it seems, is increasingly common, and scholars have shown that this perception is, in fact, true.

Our hearts ache when we hear of martyrdom in the news yet again. But being so many miles from Libya, Nigeria, and the other places where this is happening, we feel so helpless.  On top of this, we look at the relative comfort of being a Christian in America, and we not only feel helpless but also guilty.

So what can I do?  What can you do?

I’ve seen many wise words from godly Christians regarding godly political engagement, financially supporting relief efforts, and supporting the missionaries on-site.  I wholeheartedly agree with those recommendations.

But I’d like to submit a few additional ways you and I can respond to news of yet more martyrs today:

1. Remember the martyrs.

In Colossians 4:18, Paul asks the Colossians to “remember my chains.”  It may seem a passing comment at first, but it is significant.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are called to remember the wondrous works of the Lord (Psalm 105:5).  Further, their lack of remembrance of these works is given as the reason for their spiritual weakness (Psalm 106:7).

Then, of course, Christ tells us to remember his sacrifice as we celebrate communion, to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Simply put, remembering is a critical part of the Christian life.  It is faith strengthening.  It roots us in reality.  Remembering has a God-ordained sanctifying effect on Christians.

Paul’s request is more than just for the Colossians.  Included in the eternal Word of God, it is a reminder from the Holy Spirit that we are called to remember the persecuted, those in chains.

So then, remembering the martyrs is one way we can respond today:

  • Remembering them brings honor to Christ and serves his church as it roots us in the reality that eternity is at stake in ministry, that we can’t take Christ for granted, and that he is worth everything – even our very lives.
  • Remembering them also eliminates ignorance of their persecution, calling us to action and justice in the public square.
  • Remembering them further calls us to action privately, motivating us to fight sin and to pray.

Let’s remember their chains.

2. Pray for Saul-to-Paul-like conversions.

One really striking verse in the New Testament is Acts 8:1.  As Stephen, the first recorded martyr, is dying we read, “And Saul approved of his execution.”

Saul, who would eventually become the great preacher and evangelist Paul, is introduced to us in the midst of his approval of the first martyr and his proceeding ravaging of the church (Acts 8:3).  This was Saul’s history and reputation – persecuting the church with great ferocity.  Yet it is this Saul who meets Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, is converted, receives the name Paul, and becomes a powerful, bold missionary to the ancient world like no other.  The great persecutor becomes the great evangelist.

Biblically, we have every reason to believe that Jesus can raise up a great evangelist from someone currently approving of executions.  In fact, this may be just the kind of person that some of the most hostile people and nations to the gospel need.  Why?  Because someone who once persecuted Christians can now, as a believer:

  • Speak truth powerfully and incisively into their worldviews
  • Go with boldness into areas where other Christians would struggle to gain access

Let’s pray for Saul-to-Paul-like conversions.

3. Fight sin in your own life.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us of the nature of the battle we face as Christians: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

When we read of – and even with technology today see – the martyrs of Christians, the truth of this verse is unmistakable.  That people would be murdered simply for being “people of the cross” is undoubtedly a work of the “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” of the “spiritual forces of evil.”

And Christians across the world face this same enemy every day.

Friend, you and I may not be able to be in Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere to stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters.  But we can take up the fight against the same enemy that is fighting them today!  So:

  • Fight lust in your life
  • Fight greed in your life
  • Fight pride in your life

There is something deeply contradictory when we, as Christians, lament over martyrs yet toy with and trivialize the temptations of the evil one.  And there is a mysterious, glorious solidarity with persecuted Christians in the fellowship of the Spirit when we stand against the evil one, in whatever way we can.

Let’s fight sin in our own lives.

4. Live faithfully where God has placed us.

In all this, we must remember that God ordains the times, places, and seasons in which we live (Acts 17:26).  We cannot feel guilty for the time and place in which God has placed us – the reasoning is a divine mystery.  But we must remember that God has called every Christian, regardless of time and place, to live for him:

  • To go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • To be his witnesses (Acts 1:8)
  • To shine the light of Christ in word and deed so that people might turn to Jesus and glorify God (Matthew 5:16)

Surely, the challenges of living out our calling will be shaped by the time and place in which God puts us, but we stand with believers across the world in the power of the Spirit when we seek to live out that calling, regardless of our circumstances.

So whether it means life or whether it means death – let’s live faithfully where God has placed us.

What will you do today to respond to the persecution of your brothers and sisters around the globe?


The Author
Tom Olson

Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.



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