The man who did the most to spread Christianity across the world, the Apostle Paul, began his adult life as Saul, devout Pharisee and persecutor of the church. He stood by approvingly as Stephen was stoned in chapter 7 and, following that scene, he began a tirade against those who claimed the name of Christ.
The first verses of chapter 8 record this for us:
1 And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
This persecution was so fierce that most fo the Christian left Jerusalem and scattered across the outlying regions. But this was not the defeat of the church. In fact, this was God’s way of showing that no power of hell or scheme of man can ever pluck the church from His hands, nor can anything stop the spread of the gospel. Look at the very next verse:
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
Those who were scattered did not go into hiding. They saw this as an opportunity to spread the good news farther than it had yet gone. God’s sovereign plan was not frustrated by the plans of men. God’s plan was furthered by the evil intent of others so that He might show just how powerful He truly is.
This reality is true to this day. By and large, the places that tend to be most hostile to Christians are those places where the Gospel is spreading most powerfully. Persecution reveals the true grit of our faith. It forces us to answer the questions, “Will you truly follow Jesus anywhere? Do you really find the sufferings of this world to be unworthy of comparison to the glory that is to be revealed? Do you consider every test and trial a pure joy because you know it means that you are being perfected and the Gospel is being proclaimed?”
I say I believe these things, but I often fail in my courage at the slightest whiff of hardship. I want to be shown fruitful and faithful to my Lord in all times. And so I pray that God would strengthen my resolve to passionately proclaim the good news of Jesus at all times, no matter how dangerous things get and no matter how easy life seems to be.