Pastor David B. Curtis


Pray for the Persecuted

Hebrews 13:3

Delivered 11/11/2012

Today is the international day of prayer for the persecuted church. So I'd like to talk to you this morning about prayer for the persecuted. Last Saturday evening we had a representative from Voice of the Martyrs, Darcy and her husband Tim, come to BBC and share with us what is happening around the world. It was quite convicting and encouraging. VOM's theme verse is:

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3 NASB

Before we look at this verse let's back up in the chapter and get the context:

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB

The Church is referred to under many different figures in the New Testament, it is called a: Holy nation--emphasizing our common citizenship; Kingdom--emphasizingour common submission; Priesthood--emphasizing our common privilege, access to God; Vine and branches--emphasizing our common dependance to bear fruit; Temple-- emphasizing our common doctrine and teaching; Body--emphasizing our common life, interdependence; Flock--emphasizing our common need to be fed and led; Assembly--emphasizing our common calling to God's presence; and the figure that is the focus of this text is; Family--emphasizing our common love, intimacy and care.

All believers are part of the family of God, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. And as part of this family, we have responsibilities, or duties, just as we do in our earthly families. The duty that our author emphasizes here is that of love. We are to demonstrate a brotherly love toward one another.

"Let love of the brethren continue"--this command is in the present imperative, meaning it is something that always must be done.

"Continue" is the Greek meno, which means: "abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry." The word includes the idea of enduring in the face of difficulties and temptations. He is exhorting them to perseverance in love.

What is the nature of this love that is to abide in us? He calls it "love of the brethren." This is one word in the Greek, philadelphia, which means: "fraternal affection, brotherly love, kindness." It is composed of two root words--phileo, which means: "tender affection," and adelphos, which means: "brother, or near kinsman" it literally means: "from the same womb."

The greatest hindrance to brotherly love is self-love; we can become so occupied with ourselves and our interests that we lose sight of others. We fail to "Let love of the brethren continue" when we forsake a believer in the time of trouble. Paul told the Galatian believers:

Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

The "burden" that we must bear is one that the saint cannot bear himself. Just what is meant by the term "burden"? The burden could be sickness, sorrow, poverty or persecution. Since Paul will shortly say: "Each one shall bear his own load" (v. 5), this burden must be a load that the brother cannot bear alone. Faithful prayer is a crucial element in bearing the burdens of another.
The law of Christ is the law of love: Love your neighbor as yourself. How do we love one another? One of the ways is that we help a person carry their burden, or their load.

Because we are members one of another, and because we should bear one another's burdens, let us make sure that we never forsake a brother in the time of trouble.

Not only are we to love our brothers, but in verse 2 we are told:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 NASB

The words "hospitality to strangers" are one word in the Greek, philonexia ([fil-on-ex-ee'-ah). It comes from "philos," which means: "love," and "xenos," which means: "stranger." It means: "loving strangers or a fondness, affection to strangers, hospitableness, hospitality."

So there is to be love toward the brethren and strangers. Then how we are to love is made quite specific:

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3 NASB

"Remember the prisoners"--the word "prisoners" here is desmios (des-me-os),which means: "a captive, those in bonds." We are to call to mind, to be mindful of, those in bonds. This is easy enough to understand. By "the prisoners" and the "ill-treated," the author means those who are suffering because of their faith in Christ. He is not referring to criminals. Prisoners in that day depended on relatives and friends to provide food, clothing, and other necessities. Prisoners, then, had to be remembered; otherwise they suffered hunger, thirst, cold, and loneliness.

Earlier, Barnabas reminded his readers that in the "former days" they sympathized with prisoners and became "sharers" with those who were ill-treated, and it is clear that such treatment, whether it be imprisonment or some other difficulty, came about because of faith in Christ (10:32-34). Imprisonment and ill-treatment cover any kind of suffering that occurs because of one's faith.

The term translated "in prison with them," literally expresses "prisoners together with them." Believers sharing a sense of what other believers suffered means that we do not forget one another.

The end of this verse is where it gets difficult. What does, "since you yourselves also are in the body" mean? The Complete Jewish Bible says:

Remember those in prison and being mistreated, as if you were in prison with them and undergoing their torture yourselves. Hebrews 13:3 CJB

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (©2009) is very similar:

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.

Remembering Christians who suffer persecution requires thinking about their situation and applying the golden rule: How would you want to be treated if it had happened to you? That could be the point of, "since you yourselves also are in the body." Barnabas, who was Paul's missionary companion, could be saying, "It could happen to you, so treat those who are victims of persecution as you would want to be treated."

Others such as Calvin have taken, "also are in the body" as referring to the church, rather than simply stating that they were in physical bodies as many modern interpreters prefer. While the writer does not use this term "body" for the church in the Epistle, it seems odd to simply remind them they had physical bodies; otherwise "in bodies," plural, would have been used with the plural pronoun "you yourselves." I think he is saying, "Don't forget others in the body of Christ who are suffering." Paul put it this way:

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

We are to remember those in prison and being mistreated as if we were in prison with them and undergoing their torture ourselves. This is the nature of the brotherly bonds in the family of God that we can and should think of ourselves as suffering right along with others.

There are a number of things that are written by some of the earlier men about this subject of remembering the suffering, and I'd like to read a few of them.

Tertullian, in the third century, in "The Apology" writes, "If there happens to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in prisons for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's church, they become the nurslings of the Christians." In other words, it's our responsibility to take care of them.

Aristotes, the heathen orator, said of the Christians, "That if they hear that any one of their number is imprisoned, or in distress for the sake of their Christ's name, they all render aid in his necessity, and if he can be redeemed, they set him free."

When Origen, another third century earlier Christian, who was young, it was said of him, "Not only was he at the side of the holy martyrs in their imprisonment and until their final condemnation, but when they were led to death, he boldly accompanied them into danger."

The "Apostolic Constitutions," another work, lays it down, "If any Christian is condemned for Christ's sake, to the mines, by the ungodly, do not overlook him. But from the proceeds of your toil and sweat, send him something to support himself and to reward the soldier of Christ." And, again, "All monies accruing from honest labor do ye appoint in a portion to the redeeming of the saints, ransoming thereby slaves and captives and prisoners, people who are sore abused and condemned by tyrants." When the Numidian robbers carried off their Christian friends, the church at Carthage raised the equivalent of a thousand dollars to ransom them and promised more. There were actually instances when Christians sold themselves as slaves to find money to redeem their friends. So you can see what love bound the early church together.

At the present time we do not suffer much persecution in our country, although it could soon come to that. But around the world, there are thousands of believers, who are part of the body who are suffering for their faith. Let me introduce you to a few of them.

On Nov. 25, 2009, Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and four other Linfen-Fushan church leaders from Shanxi Province were sentenced to criminal detention for two to seven years, according to China Aid Association. The five church leaders were accused of "gathering people to disturb the public order," because they organized a prayer rally on Sept. 14, the day after 400 military police raided the church's grounds. During the raid, more than 30 believers were seriously wounded and 17 buildings were destroyed. Pastor Wang has been in prison for 1083 days.

Eva Abdullah, 17, welcomed Christ into her life three years ago, though she grew up Muslim. After her conversion, her parents disowned her. Her father is a district Islamic leader. She lived with a Christian pastor until she was arrested.

A group of radicals in her hometown of Bagamoyo on Tanzania's coast sought to convince her to give up her new Christian faith. When she refused, they falsely accused her of urinating on a Quran, Islam's holy book. Eva was arrested and put in prison and many Christian leaders were too afraid to get involved in her case because of Muslim dominance in the district. At her trial on July 23, the judge, who was allegedly bribed by the Islamic militants who accused her, sentenced Eva to two years imprisonment.

A VOM contact visited Eva in October. He brought paperwork for Eva to sign in order for her appeal to be filed in the capital. Some sympathetic attorneys are handling her case and deferring payment. The VOM contact wrote that he was greeted by two Christian female guards who are caring for Eva. They both promised to help keep her safe. Since it was not a day for regularly scheduled prison visits, our contact instead had to hand the paperwork through the thick iron bars and exchange a quick handshake with Eva. "She thanked Jehovah God a lot for our visits," he wrote. Eva has been in prison for 313 days.

On March 9, 2010, a criminal court in Uzbekistan sentenced 27-year-old Tohar Haydarov to 10 years in prison for the "illegal sale of narcotic or psychotropic substances in large quantities." Members of the Baptist Church in Uzbekistan insist that the charges are fabricated and that Haydarov's sentence was punishment for his religious activity. It is unclear why Haydarov received a 10-year sentence.

According to "Forum 18 News," Baptists insist that police planted drugs on Haydarov, and church members insist that he is "a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian." Haydarov's appeal was denied. Tohar has been in prison for 979 days.

Farshid Fathi was arrested on Dec. 26, 2010 in a wave of arrests of believers in Tehran and other areas. Of the 22 believers arrested by security forces in Tehran, 10 were released after intense questioning and after they signed agreements to refrain from Christian activities. Eleven others were also later released. By the end of April, 2010, only Farshid remained in prison, though his family had paid an enormous bail sum. He spent nearly a year in solitary confinement.

Farshid, a Christian convert from Islam, was charged with "acting against national security through membership of a Christian organization, collection of funds, propaganda against the Islamic Regime by helping spread Christianity in the country," and sentenced to six years of imprisonment on March 5, 2012. Though the charge is for his Christian work, authorities tried to cast his activities as political offenses.

According to Elam Ministries, Farshid is a shining beacon for Christ in Evin, so much so that the son of an Iranian ayatollah commented on Farshid's sweet nature in a You Tube video. The two shared a cell. The man remarked on how beloved Farshid is among the inmates. Elam described Farshid as "a man after God's own heart."

Farshid is married to Leila, and has two children, Rosana and Bardia. Pray that they will be comforted during this time. Pray he will remain a shining light in prison and pray for his release. He has been in prison for 687 days.

Since the Communist takeover of Vietnam, Christians have been targeted for their supposedly "anti-government" faith in Christ. Many are harassed for years, beaten, imprisoned, and tortured before finally fleeing the country with what little they can carry. In 2010, one Christian was tortured to death and many more were imprisoned after a violent clash with Vietnamese police in what became known as the Con Dau Massacre.

The number of Christian martyrs, those who have died for their faith in Christ, in the last century alone is greater than all the other centuries combined. Every year some 156,000 Christians are killed because of their faith. Also, nearly two thirds of the world's population lives under governments that persecute Christians for their faith in Christ. We should realize that while being a Christian in the United States is not a life threatening thing, for the majority of the world's Christians, it is.

So what can you and I do to "Remember the prisoners"?

We here at BBC hear a report each week of what is happening to our brothers and sisters around the world. We are reminded how they are suffering for their faith. So we are in a sense remembering them. But what can we do for them? When Darcy was here last week do you remember what she said was the number one request of the suffering church? When asked, "How can we help"? Their response is, "Pray for us."

Prayer is something that all of us can do. Notice what Paul writes about suffering:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua Ha'Moshiach, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NASB

Paul is talking about their suffering for the cause of Christ and the comfort that God brings:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NASB

So they were in danger of their lives, trusting in God to deliver them. Now watch the next verse:

you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11 NASB

Paul is saying the believers in Corinth were helping them "through their prayers"! He says "favor was bestowed on them through the prayers of many." We can all pray for the suffering church. If that seems trite to you, then you do not understand the nature of prayer or the power of God.

Why is it that we don't pray more? The Scriptures are loaded with exhortation to pray, so why don't we? As those who believe in the sovereignty of God sometimes we let our theology hurt our prayer life. "If God is sovereign, why pray?" That is a good question, I'm glad you asked it. Let's think about this for a minute. If God wasn't sovereign, what would be the use of praying? Why pray to a god who couldn't answer your prayers? The sovereignty of God, when properly understood, is an encouragement to pray, not an excuse to fall into fatalism.

I really think that too often we don't pray because we don't think that prayer matters. We don't really believe that it is effective. We didn't get that view from the Scriptures, that's for sure. As we spend time in the Word we see the that prayer is effective:

"He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him. Psalms 91:15 NASB

'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.Jeremiah 29:12 NASB

God promises over and over to answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man of prayer and we see prayer's effectiveness in his life. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.):

For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." 20 So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NASB

Hezekiah prayed for the people, and the Lord heard his prayers and healed the people. Please notice what the Scripture says, "So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people."

When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:

But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven. 21 And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. 22 So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side. 23 And many were bringing gifts to the LORD at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter. 2 Chronicles 32:20-23 NASB

Believers, prayer is effective--Hezekiah prays to God, and God delivers Judah. Hezekiah's prayers were also effective in his personal life:

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the LORD, and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a sign. 2 Chronicles 32:24 NASB

To get the full picture of what happened here look at:

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'" 2 Kings 20:1 NASB

What would you do here? What did Hezekiah do? Did he say, "Well God is sovereign, and He said I'm going to die, so that's it, I'm dead." No, he did the same thing you would do:

Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 "Remember now, O LORD, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Thy sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And it came about before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 "Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 "And I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David's sake."'" 7 Then Isaiah said, "Take a cake of figs." And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 2 Kings 20:2-7 NASB

Over and over in the life of Hezekiah, he prayed, and God answered. What we see in the life of Hezekiah is that prayer is effective.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16 NASB

With this the whole Bible and Christian experience agree: Prayer is effective. In 1540, Martin Luther's great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed, he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply, "I command thee in the name of God to live. I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God." These words may seem shocking to us, but do you want to know what is even more shocking? One week later, Myconius recovered and died two months after the death of Luther.

I think we all need to ask the Lord what the disciple did, "Lord, teach me to pray." As we pray for others we get outside of ourselves and we seek to minister to others in the body of Christ. The persecuted church needs our prayers, we must stand with them.

How do we pray, or what do we pray for? Remember our verse:

Remember those in prison and being mistreated, as if you were in prison with them and undergoing their torture yourselves. Hebrews 13:3 CJB

If we were in prison undergoing hardship and even torture what would we pray for? Now you may be thinking, "I'd pray, get me out of here Lord." This is not the prayer of those suffering around the world. Some of them have opportunity to leave the land that they are being persecuted in, and they will not do it. So what should we pray for? To answer that turn to Acts 4 and let's see what the very first believers prayed for in the face of persecution.

In Acts 4 we find that Peter and John had been arrested and put in jail for preaching in the Temple, and the next day they were brought before the Sanhedrin. This was the first persecution that the Church had experienced. The Sanhedrin was made up of "the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders" and basically functioned as we would think of the Supreme Court. The Sanhedrin ruled by serving as a combination of judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. The Sanhedrin commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Yeshua.

And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. Acts 4:23 NASB

Peter and John returned to a group referred to as "their own companions" and reported all that had happened to them and all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. They told them they commanded them not to tell others about Yeshua! These threats, coming as they did from the highest civil authority, had the force of law. Obedience to Christ would from here on be costly.

They share with other believers what had happened, and this led to corporate prayer:

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, Acts 4:24 NASB

The first response of this group of believers was to turn to God in prayer. Is prayer your first response in difficult situations? Do you understand the importance of prayer?

Asahel Nettleton, one of the great leaders and preachers during the "Second Great Awakening," began a sermon with this statement: "There is no duty in Christianity, the practice of which Christ and the apostles press upon us more frequently than prayer. Amidst all the absurdities and heresies which have sprung up in the Christian world, we know of none who have dared to deny the duty of prayer"(Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, 205).

Notice how they prayed, "O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM." Isn't that interesting? They don't cry out, God help us, protect us from the Sanhedrin. They begin their prayer by affirming God as the sovereign Creator of all things. And after five verses of proclaiming the glories and sovereignty of God, we have two verses of petition:

"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Yeshua." Acts 4:29-30 NASB

The believers pray, "Now, Lord, take note of their threats." In other words, Peter and John had told them about the threats mentioned in verses 18 and 21. In verse 18 the priests and elders demanded that Peter and John "not speak or teach at all in the name of Yeshua." In verse 21 they threaten them further.

Now notice what they pray, "Grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence." The Greek word for "confidence" here is parrhesia, which means: "free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance." They understood that persecution would naturally incline men to draw back, to soften up on the message which they preached. Thus, the prayer for boldness and confidence was an admission of the fallibility of Christians.

They did not ask to be delivered from persecution. They did not even ask that God judge or punish their opponents. They were more concerned about their mission than their comfort. Believers, we can learn something from this! Do you live with a consciousness of the mission our Lord has given to each of us as ambassadors for Christ to a lost world? These were simple people who were given the responsibility to carry the Gospel into the world--the same responsibility which each one of us has received from the Lord, as well. I believe all of us can join with these brethren in praying for "boldness" in speaking the Gospel.

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where all the requests seem to focus on everyone's health problems? But if that is the main focus of the prayer time, it reveals that we're too focused on ourselves, not enough on God's kingdom.

They didn't pray, "God, make sure that nobody else threatens us; make sure that nobody persecutes us." They understood this was going to cost them. They just said, "God, give us the confidence, give us the boldness to step it up and to accomplish the mission."

Are you frustrated with God's response to your prayers? Why not evaluate the motive and content of your requests? Are they so that God's purpose can be advanced and so that people can be influenced by Yeshua Ha'Moshiach--or are they primarily for your safety and comfort? As we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, let's pray that Yahweh will give them boldness in the face persecution that they may stand fast proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

As we hear each week about the persecuted church, may we join with them in prayer. We may not be able to do much from here, but we certainly can pray, and we can also support VOM who is there to help these suffering believers.

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