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PERSECUTION OF THE LOCAL CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, July 18, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1).


Dr. John Gill pointed out that the words, "and at that time" can be translated "on that day" (Dr. John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume II, p. 211).

Dr. Gill thus says that the persecution began on the day

…on which Stephen was stoned. As soon as they had put him to death, these bloodthirsty wretches were the more greedy after the blood of others; and being now in great numbers, and filled with rage and envy, fell upon the members of the church wherever they met them, and killed them…not all the members of the church…for we afterwards read of devout men that carried Stephen to his grave; and of the church having made havoc of by Saul; and of men and women being… committed to prison by him; but all the preachers of the word, except the apostles; for they that were scattered, went about preaching the word…They seem to be the seventy disciples, and other ministers of the word, on whom the Holy Ghost fell at the day of Pentecost…among whom were Philip, who went to Samaria; and Ananias, who was at Damascus; and others that went as far as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch: and particularly they are said to be dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria; where their ministry was so greatly blessed, to the conversion of souls, that there were quickly many churches planted and formed in these parts as appears [Acts 9:31] so that this persecution was for the furtherance of the Gospel… And this scattering by reason of the persecution, was of all the preachers, except the Apostles; the twelve Apostles, who [stayed] at Jerusalem to take care of the church; to encourage the members of it to suffer cheerfully for the sake of Christ and his Gospel (Gill, ibid.).

In both sermons last Sunday I pointed out the love and joy that people experienced in the local church at Jerusalem. But we must never think that we can have a joyful, happy local church without ever experiencing persecution. It would be a great mistake to portray the local church at Jerusalem as a place of happiness and joy - without saying that they also experienced persecution.

"And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1).

This is to be expected today as well.

I. First, persecution can come from outside the local church.

That is what happened to the church at Jerusalem. The persecution came to them from those outside the church who were against it. Jesus often foretold this. He said,

"But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake…"
      (Matthew 10:17-18).

Again, Jesus said,

"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9).

The Apostle Paul said,

"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).

Here Paul reminds Timothy of a very important thing: Every true follower of Christ sooner or later will be persecuted… From Christ's time until the present, all true Christians have faced trials and suffering of some kind (The Applied New Testament  Commentary,   Kingsway  Publications,  1996,  page  872).

Jesus said,

"Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake"
    (Matthew 10:22).

Again, Jesus said,

"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:18-19).

New Christians are often surprised to find that people actually hate them for being Christians. I remember that this came as a great surprise to me when I first became a Christian. But I was taken by surprise because I didn't know the Bible well. Jesus made it very clear.

"Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake"
    (Matthew 10:22).

The Communists in Red China tell Christians that they have been "brainwashed." They put Christians in "re-education" camps and try to get them to renounce Christianity. We are not surprised to hear about that - but we are surprised when non-Christian friends and relatives here in America say the same thing - and try to pull us away from the church. We should remember what Jesus said. "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). It isn't just the Communists in China who will persecute us. Persecution comes to good Christians in America also.

"And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1).

II. Second, persecution can come from inside the local church.

Please turn to Acts 20:29-30. These are the words of the Apostle Paul to the leaders of the local church at Miletus. Let us stand and read these two verses aloud.

"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).

You may be seated.

Dr. Gill gives this comment:

Not only false teachers from abroad should enter among them, but some would spring up out of their own communities, such as had been admitted members of them, and of whom they had hoped well…to rend away members from the churches, make schisms and divisions, form parties, set themselves at the head of them (Gill, ibid., p. 342).

In his book Church Split, Dr. Roy Branson says,

In the majority of cases a church splits because a group in the congregation opposes evangelism…When a church starts reaching others and growing, each original member…must do one of three things: Support the evangelistic thrust of the church, sink to oblivion, or rebel by resisting or leaving (Dr. Roy L. Branson, Jr., Church Split, Landmark Publications, 1990, pp. 169-170).

Yes, trouble like this can come from inside the local church. It breaks our hearts when church divisions come, but we can expect it. Jesus said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). The local church is a wonderful place to be, but it isn't perfect. The only perfect place is Heaven.

"And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1).

III. Third, persecution shows the great value of the local church.

Many couples live together without getting married today. They are afraid of committing themselves to each other for fear that there will be a divorce. This is very sad because marriage is a God-given institution.

Notice that the same generation that will not be committed in marriage also has trouble being committed to a local church! That should not surprise us, because marriage and church membership are compared to each other in the Bible. Turn to Ephesians 5:31-33. Let us stand and read these three verses.

"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:31-33).

You may be seated.

Throughout the second half of Ephesians chapter five the husband and wife are compared to Christ and the church. Then, at the end of the chapter, this is restated. The marriage of a man and woman is compared to Christ and the local church.

An unconverted person who does not want to be married, or stay married, is also not going to be able to enjoy the stability of membership in a local church. Those who find local church membership difficult will also find marriage and children difficult. I have seen so many people leave their local church after they have a child or two that it breaks my heart. They just couldn't handle it - family or church.

But what joy these people miss! Those who cannot stay married and raise children miss one of the great joys of life. Those who cannot join together in the local church miss one of life's greatest pleasures.

The pressures that come against local church membership do not show that it is unimportant. Quite the opposite! The pressures and persecutions that come against membership in the local church show how very important church membership really is!

"And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1).

Why did this happen? Because the Devil attacks the local church! The Devil does not want you to find happiness and make lasting friends in the local church! The Devil wants you to be blown around like a leaf in the wind.

Let us, no matter what happens, put our roots down, and be committed to each other in marriage - and be committed to each other in the local church!

That is our very theme. "Why be lonely? Come home - to church! Why be lost? Come home - to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!" Sing that chorus, that Mr. Griffith sang, again with me.

Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home.
    ("Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling" by Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909).

(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 8:1-4.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling" (by Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909).

THE OUTLINE OF

PERSECUTION OF THE LOCAL CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1).

I.   Persecution can come from outside the local church,
Matthew 10:17-18; 24:9; II Timothy 3:12;
Matthew 10:22; John 15:18-19.

II.  Persecution can come from inside the local church,
Acts 20:29-30; John 16:33.

III. Persecution shows the great value of the local church,
Ephesians 5:31-33.

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at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."