Pastor David B. Curtis


The Joy of Persecution

Hebrews 10:32-34

Delivered 09/30/2001

We are studying the fourth warning passage in the book of Hebrews. Last time we looked at verses 26-31, which contain a very solemn warning.

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

This passage is very similar in theology and structure to that of Hebrews 6. In 6:4-8 we have a severe warning against apostasy, which is followed immediately in verses 9-12 by reassuring words of comfort and confidence:

Hebrews 6:9-12 (NKJV) But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

You have labored and ministered in the past - keep on being faithful, don't give up. This is very similar to what we have in chapter 10. Verses 26-31 are a stern warning against apostasy, and then there are words of reassuring confidence that follow in verses 32-39. He tells them to remember their past faithfulness and to continue to be faithful until the end. Our author rebukes and then comforts and encourages.

Hebrews 10:32 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:

The word "recall" is from the Greek word anamimnesko. It means: "to call over in your mind, one by one." The present tense implies a continual habit.

It is a truth which few would dare to deny, that the capacity which we have for memory is often times both a blessing and a curse. There are in each of our lives certain people, places and events which we would just as soon forget. Unfortunately, we are unable to put them out of our minds, the memory of them is painful. The pain which attends memory of certain things such as this is illustrated in the life of Peter:

Mark 14:72 (NKJV) A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And when he thought about it, he wept.

Memory can often times be a curse to the people of God as we remember our failures and our sins. But on the other hand, there are in our lives certain people, happenings and places which we cherish and hold dear. To remember them is often a source of real blessing and comfort. Memory has its good side in the word of God. The Lord's Supper is such an example:

1 Corinthians 11:24 (NKJV) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."

We are to recall to memory the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:3 (NKJV) I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is this aspect of recollection, that function which serves to enhance and promote godliness that our author has in mind in Hebrews 10:32. To people, who after years of faithful service, were growing impatient; to a people, who by reason of external pressures were being tempted to turn their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ, our author says in verse 32, "recall the former days." The memory of the past was designed and intended by our author to provoke perseverance in the future.

He goes on in Hebrews 10:32 to say, "you endured a great struggle with sufferings". The word "endured" is from the Greek word hupomeno, which means: "to stay under, to undergo." they had not fainted in the past or given in to despondency, nor had they turned from their faith. They failed in no part of the conflict. They had endured "a great struggle" - the word "great" is from the Greek word polus, which means: "much or many". The word "struggle" is from the Greek word athlesis. This word was used by the Greeks to speak of an athletic contest or combat. It is the term from which we get our word "athletics". It became widely used of the Christian as a spiritual athlete and so points to the strenuous nature of Christian service. They had met the challenge of these sufferings as good athletes of Christ and stood firm.

He's saying to them, "Remember you endured before, you can do it again. Remember what God has brought you through in the past":

Psalms 145:7 (NKJV) They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, And shall sing of Your righteousness.

About 24 years ago I was paralyzed from the neck down with a rare nerve disease that could have been fatal. It was a severe trial for Cathy and me but we made it, we endured, and the memory of our endurance strengthens us in time of trial.

We all face trials and persecutions in our Christian lives, and we all at times are frustrated and discouraged. We are all tempted at times to give up. But we are encouraged to endure based on what we have already endured. God will get us through this!

This persecution that they were experiencing came after they were "illuminated."

This is from the Greek word photizo, which means: "to shed light, to brighten. This is an apt term for the description of conversion which is a turning from darkness to light. Illumination is the inward operation of God:

1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

Paul put it this way:

Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,

Until God gives us life, we are dead to spiritual things, we are in darkness.

Those to whom this letter is addressed didn't keep their illumination secret but made an open confession of their faith, which resulted in persecution. Public witness tended to be much more perilous for converts from Judaism than those of Gentile origin. The non-Jewish society was in general open to and tolerant of a great variety of religions. But for a Jew to confess the faith of Christ crucified brought on him the detestation of his fellow Jews, the ruination of his business and even expulsion from the family circle.

John 12:41-42 (NKJV) These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;

This wasn't true of these Hebrew believers, they openly confessed Christ and thus endured a "great struggle with sufferings". The word "sufferings" is the Greek word pathema, which means: "hardship or pain".

I don't think you could find a greater contrast between the church of the 21 century and the church of the 1st century then in the area of suffering. As we study the New Testament and examine the attitude and perspective which New Testament believers took toward suffering and persecution, we should be shamed. I am! We often hear today the attitude that suffering and persecution is not something that God wants for his people. Success and prosperity are the name of the game today, not only out there in the world, but inside the church as well. I think most of you would deny and refute the prosperity gospel. We stand against it, and yet most of us have been influenced by its teachings.

If Moses lived today, it would not be said of him that he chose to "suffer affliction with the people of God" (Hebrews 11:25), but that he chose to suffer wealth, success and popularity with the people of God. Believers today view it as a great disaster if we are called on to suffer for righteousness sake. This was not the attitude that believers of the first century held, they were not surprised by suffering. We act as though something strange is happening to us. We act as if God must not love us if we are suffering, but the Christians of the 1st century held no such notion.

Here our author is asking them to remember the former days, the days right after their salvation and how they endured the persecutions that came upon them:

Hebrews 10:33 (NKJV) partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;

According to this, two things were especially involved in this suffering. First, they were made a spectacle by reproaches and tribulations. The word "spectacle" is from the Greek word theatrizo. We get our word theater from this word. It means: "to bring upon the stage, to set forth as a spectacle, expose to contempt." They became a public spectacle of "reproaches" - this word means: "to upbraid, to revile. It's an attack on their character, it's more internal in nature - verbal persecutions.

The word "tribulations" is a different word than appears in verse 32. This is the Greek word thlipsis, which means: "a pressing together, oppression, persecution." It's an assault on one's bodily person and is more external in nature - physical persecution.

How do we respond to such tribulation in 2001? Usually with the attitude that we have been forsaken by God, because he is angry with us. But Scripture teaches that such persecution is a direct result of godliness:

2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Whenever believers will live as they ought to live in this world, where they will live righteous lives and aggressively seek to spread the gospel and make disciples, the natural outcome will be suffering. Expect it!

Paul asks the Galatians:

Galatians 4:16 (NKJV) Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

The Greek here demands a positive answer - yes. Why? People who are living in sin don't want to hear the truth. When you live a godly life and speak the truth, you'll have plenty of enemies. But remember what James said:

James 4:4 (NKJV) Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Not only were they "made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations", but secondly; they "became companions of those who were so treated." The word "companions" is from the Greek word koinonos, which means: "sharer, associate." If they kept silent, they might have escaped persecution, but they identified themselves with those who were being persecuted. They came to the aid of those being persecuted. They didn't rationalize - those people are religious fanatics, they deserve the trouble they get - no, they identified with them. Why?

1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (NKJV) And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

They understood the unity of the body of Christ wasn't just a doctrine to them, it was a reality:

2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (NKJV) besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

Paul identified with other believers who suffered. Do we feel this way? Do we identify with those who hurt?

Verse 34 further explains verse 33 in reverse order:

Hebrews 10:34 (NKJV) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.

The word "compassion" is from the Greek word sumpatheo, which means: "to sympathize with." They sympathized with the author "in my chains" - implying that the author himself had been in prison. Being thrown in prison was a common New Testament persecution:

Acts 8:3 (NKJV) As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Saul was throwing believers in prison, and in 2 Corinthians 11 we see that he was also imprisoned many times. Prisoners in those days depended on relatives and friends for food, clothing and other needs. Prisoners who had no means of their own were liable to starve unless their friends brought them food and whatever other form of help they required.

Hebrews 13:3 (NKJV) Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.

These Hebrews believers did this. When some of their fellow believers were imprisoned, they visited them, although in doing this they ran the risk of being imprisoned themselves.

They knew that to minister to other believers was to minister to Christ. Jesus said:

Matthew 25:36-40 (NKJV) 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

To the extent that you have not ministered to others in need, you have not ministered to Christ. To abandon them is to abandon Christ.

Not only did they have compassion on those in prison, but they also; "joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods". I would very much like to tell you that this is a textual error, but it's not! This is very convicting. This is the concrete action of the tribulation mentioned in verse 33. Their property was being confiscated.

The word "plundering" is from the Greek harpage, which most likely points to mob violence, the unjust seizer of their property. Notice that it doesn't say anything about retaliation or resistance. I would like it to say, "And they took their AR-15s and AK-47s and joyfully defended their property." But it says, "They took it joyfully." These people are destroying our car, praise the Lord. They're tearing up our house and stealing all our possessions, praise God.

Now I know from experience that ordinarily there is nothing in this world that causes more distress, depression, grief, anxiety and sorrow than the loss of one's material goods - especially those material goods for which an individual has diligently and honestly labored, and which they and their families still need. But our text says they accepted it joyfully. How could they have this attitude? What did they know that we don't? God! They knew God in such an intimate way that it controlled how they lived. Joy is a by-product of a spirit controlled life:

Romans 15:13 (NKJV) Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit produces joy in our lives as we walk in fellowship with God. Paul says in this verse, "fill you with all joy and peace in believing". This is the simple secret of everything; our life must first of all be a life of faith, and from faith comes joy.

Faith is believing what God says. What does God say about suffering?

Philippians 1:29 (NKJV) For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

The verse says, "It has been granted" - that is the Greek verb charizomai, which comes from charis, which means: "grace". So charizomai is grace. Vines' Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "Charizomai primarily denotes to show favor or kindness as in Galatians 3:18; to give freely, bestow graciously." Suffering is a grace gift from God.

"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe" - he compares suffering with salvation. Both are grace gifts. Salvation is a gift, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, and so is suffering. He doesn't say that suffering is punishment or that it is something that has happened to you by chance. God gives suffering as graciously and lovingly as He gives you the faith to believe in His Son.

Does this make sense to you? Suffering, affliction, and oppression a gracious gift from God? The New Testament believers understood it:

1 Peter 4:12-16 (NKJV) Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Verse 13 says to rejoice! Suffering is a gift of God. Why would anyone in their right mind rejoice in suffering? We are to rejoice because of what it produces in our life. Let's look at several benefits of suffering in a believer's life.

1. Suffering matures us in our practical Christian lives.

We suffer because it is a training tool. God lovingly and faithfully uses suffering to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him:

Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."

The word "chastening" is the Greek wordpaideia, which means: "tutorage; education or training; by implication disciplinary correction." God uses suffering and pain in our lives to train us, to mature us.

2. Suffering weans us from self-reliance:

2 Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV) Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,

Many men and women have testified that God taught them this lesson, that they are dependant upon him, by taking away all the things they had mistakenly depended on. We suffer to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God. Suffering is designed to cause us to walk by God's ability, power, and provision, rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.

3. Suffering is an evangelistic tool:

Philippians 1:12 (NKJV) But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,

When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a marvelous testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants in order to verify and confirm the messenger and his message.

4. We suffer to develop our capacity and sympathy in comforting others:

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

Often God sends suffering to give us an opportunity to minister to one another. How can I help those in need, unless God causes someone to be in need? In the midst of the suffering of others, we must see an opportunity to minister in His name.

5. We suffer to keep down pride:

2 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

The Apostle Paul saw his thorn in the flesh as an instrument of God to help him maintain a spirit of humility and dependence on the Lord, because of the special revelations he had seen as one who had been caught up to the third heaven.

There are many reasons given in the Bible why God sends suffering into our lives, but the supreme reason is the ultimate reason for all he does.

6. We suffer to bring glory to God.

Jesus taught his disciples this lesson in John 9:

John 9:1-2 (NKJV) Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

The disciples either hadn't studied Job, or if they did, they didn't learn much from it. Their false assumption was that there must have been a terrible sin to warrant the blindness. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding by teaching that this suffering was not a result of personal sin:

John 9:3-5 (NKJV) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Jesus tells them that the man was blind, not because either he or his parents sinned, but rather that God might be glorified in the healing of the man.

Here is where we find comfort in our suffering. This is not an isolated case wherein the suffering served the purpose of glorifying God. All suffering is designed to glorify God. When we are in the midst of suffering, we must remember that in this ultimate sense, all is right with the world. Things are operating as they should. Not one thing happens in our lives that God had not planned to happen.

When we are in the midst of a severe trial, it can be very difficult to celebrate God's glory. When we are hurting, we tend to be rather consumed with ourselves and find it difficult to say with much sincerity, "I sure am glad this disaster in my life is glorifying you, Lord. Please let me know any time that I can suffer great pain to bring you glory."

So, let me give you another reason to celebrate in our suffering. We have a guarantee from the Lord that everything that happens to us is for our good:

Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

This is, in fact, a promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Think about it! If everything works for our good, then nothing can be bad, because it is always turning out for our good.

Notice how Jesus says we are to respond to persecution:

Matthew 5:10-12 (NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Hebrew believers were living out this command. So did the Apostles:

Acts 5:40-41 (NKJV) And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Paul and Silas rejoiced in their suffering:

Acts 16:23-25 (NKJV) And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

How many of you know that you are supposed to rejoice in your suffering? How many of you do? Why don't we? I think it's because we think that life is all about us!

Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eternal reward was so real to the first century believers that they could light-heartedly bid farewell to material possessions which were short lived in any case. What they had in heaven was better and enduring.

This world can take a great many things from us - money, homes, automobiles and even our life, but they cannot take away or damage what we have stored in heaven.

It is these godly attitudes and actions that our author bids them to remember in verses 32-34. And he is saying to them in effect what Paul found it necessary to say in his letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 3:4 (NKJV) Have you suffered so many things in vain; if indeed it was in vain?

It would be absurd for them now even to consider the possibility of abandoning the struggle. You've endured so much, why turn back now?

Believer, can you relate to their attitude? Why not? Has God changed?

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