There is actually a substantial amount of historical evidence available that confirms that life was not easy for the early Christians. I ran across this article authored by SJ Thomason that summarizes some of that evidence. I am going to copy a paragraph from it and then provide the direct link to the article. Her article also includes facts on Christianity as a religion, the historicity of the Bible, archaeology and some rebuttals to skeptics. Quite an informative article. It is well-written and presents an excellent summary of Christ’s ministry, His life and the lives of the early Christians as they suffered horrific persecution. Hope you enjoy Ms Thomason’s article as much as I did. ————————— Life was not easy for early Christians. In the New Testament, numerous reports by authors such as Luke and Paul document early Christian persecution. Acts 7: 54-60 documents the stoning of Stephen, while Acts 12:2 documents the way Herod Agrippa put James, the brother of John, to death by the sword. Paul was also stoned, beaten, jailed, which he documented in his New Testament books. His beheading by Nero was documented by Origen, Tertullian, and Dionysius of Corinth (Habermas & Licona, 2004). The martyrdom of Jesus’ half- brother James was documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Peter was crucified upside down, as confirmed by Eusebius, the first church historian, in his book “Ecclesiastical History” and also by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen.
Blessings to you as you walk with Christ through perilous times.
Father, Thank You for granting us the ability to see that the early Church was, indeed, under such suffering and hardship that it is difficult for us to comprehend. Let us not forget that that same suffering is still going on today in many parts of our world. Lord, protect Your Church. You have promised that the “gates of hell” shall not overcome Your Church. Please comfort and strengthen those who are enduring persecution even now. Strengthen each one of Your Children so that we may be witnesses to the lost world around us, witnesses of Your love and compassion, of Your life and ministry, of Your resurrection and future return to claim Your Church.
In the last post we began thinking about Biblical Joy. In so doing, we noted that Joy is the first fruit, not gift, of the Spirit. This means that Joy is not bestowed on one person as a gift but someone else does not have that gift so they don’t have Joy. Rather, the Christian has Joy in her heart because she has the Holy Spirit in her heart — it is there, whether or not she feels it at this moment!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
What does Scripture say?
In the New Testament church, we can see evidence of the Joy in the Lord by the rapid expansion of the church. [After all, who wants to join a bunch of sourpusses?]
These Christians had something that no one else had to offer … not just eternal life after death, but a way of living that gave them Joy even in the dreary, persecution filled existence that the people experienced in their day-to-day lives.
Picture Paul and Silas – they are in prison after freeing a slave girl from a demonic spirit. In Acts 16 we have the full story. The relevant part for this discussion comes after they have been severely beaten, put into the inner cell, and fastened by their feet in the stocks.
I don’t know about you, but I would be particularly happy in this situation. But, listen to what Scripture says Paul and Silas were doing:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was such a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
The jailer brought them out of jail and that very night, the jailer and his whole family believed on the Lord Jesus and received eternal life. Paul and Silas understood that their physical comfort was irrelevant — if they could win one person, whether prisoner or jailer, to Jesus, the pain of prison was worth it. The joy they had was from a supernatural source – it certainly was not just positive thinking!
In 1 Peter 1:3-9, Peter tells the people that they can rejoice in salvation through Jesus Christ even though they are suffering now, knowing that their suffering is proving their faith which is more precious than gold and it would all be to the praise and glory of Christ.
Both secular and Biblical History tell us that the 1st century was no picnic for Christian believers.
Charles Spurgeon, a minister of the 19th century (1834 – 1892) became the pastor of the Park Street Church in London, England and, in 1855, began to publish his sermons weekly. Today, they make up 57 volumes of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. In a sermon on the fruit of the Spirit – joy, [contained in volume 27,] Spurgeon references the 1st century Christians and their experiences in the catacombs.
Turn now to the poor, hunted Christians and read the inscriptions left by them in the catacombs. They are so calm and peaceful that you say instinctively – a joyous people were wont [inclined] to gather here. Those who have been most eminent [prominent] in service and in suffering for Christ’s sake have been of a triumphant spirit, dauntless because supported by an inner joy. Their calm courage made them the wonder of the age.
Spurgeon continues –
I do not know how much Tiberias and Nero used to sing – happy men they certainly were not. I can hardly imagine them singing, except at their drunken orgies, and then in the same tone as tigers growl. But, I do know that Paul and Silas sang praises unto God with their feet in the stocks and the prisoners heard them. I also know that this was the mark of the Christians of the first age, that when they assembled on the Lord’s day it was not to groan but to sing praises to the name of one Christos, whom they worshiped as a God.
How does this apply to my daily life?
How did those 1st century Christians have such joy even in horrific circumstances? Jesus answered this question when He said:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The Christian’s Joy is not superficial or fake. It is not a plastic smile. This mandate is not superficial cheerfulness or irrational escapism but our joy is grounded in the cosmic reality that our Savior has overcome the world, sin and death. His victory means that we too have overcome the world – not because of anything that we have done but because He is covering us with His blood stained arms.
Listen to the text of John 16:33 as found in the song entitled “I Have Overcome the World,” sung on Integrity Music’s Scripture Memory Songs album “Overcoming Guilt.”
So, where do you find your Joy?
Look to Jesus Christ. Only through His work alone can you received His Joy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.