Tertullian was an early church father from Carthage. His most well-known work is Apologeticus. In it, he famously writes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This means the church grows when Christians die for their witness.
In writing this, he makes a fascinating observation: opposition arouses interest. No influential person or movement has gained traction without facing a significant amount of opposition. This is true with politics, social causes, or religion.
This is especially true with Christianity. Christians are the most persecuted group of people on the planet. But with almost two and a half billion members, we’re also the world’s largest religion! These facts seem to contradict each other. But maybe they don’t. Maybe the reason we’re so large is that we’re so persecuted!
This helps answer the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to His people?” He isn’t heartless or uncaring. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to our suffering. Rather, He uses our suffering to advance the gospel.
It Spreads Our Message
Saul persecuted the church after Stephen was stoned. The Bible says “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). But Saul’s excitement couldn’t last long, for “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (8:4).
Saul was later saved and began preaching the gospel as the apostle Paul. Just as he scattered the church from Jerusalem, so the Jews of Asia Minor drove him from city to city. And just like the scattered Christians, Paul preached the gospel wherever he went (Acts 13 – 14).
The same is true today. In places that strive to be purely Hindu or Muslim, Christians are driven from their homes. Sometimes they’re forced to take refuge in other countries! But this doesn’t stop their witness. They too preach the word wherever they go.
Suffering gives us the opportunity to preach the gospel to more people. Throughout church history, persecution has always helped to spread our message. And that advances the gospel.
It Substantiates Our Message
Paul wrote a few of his letters while in prison. In one he writes, “What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).
Paul’s imprisonment advanced the gospel in two ways. First, it spread his message. He says it inspired others “to proclaim the gospel without fear” (1:14). Second, it substantiated his message. Our suffering gives our witness credibility. When we suffer for Jesus, it shows He is worth suffering for.
This dynamic was especially present when Paul was in jail. He preached the gospel to his jailers and fellow prisoners. In one instance, his jailer was saved (Acts 16:29-34)! His worship and witness in the face of suffering compelled more people to believe the gospel.
But there is a deeper meaning here. It isn’t just that our suffering shows Jesus is worth it. In a profound way, our suffering is a portrayal of Jesus’ suffering. Paul says in another prison letter, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
This is a difficult Scripture to interpret. But it’s clear that Paul saw his suffering as linked to Jesus’ suffering. In some way, their suffering was the same! When we suffer on Jesus’ behalf, it validates our message that He suffered on our behalf. And that advances the gospel.
The Proof Is in the Pudens
Perpetua is another well-known Christian from Carthage. She was martyred during Tertullian’s lifetime on March 7, 203. She and a small group of believers were condemned to death in the arena for refusing to worship Roman gods. They were flogged, set upon by wild beasts, and run through with the sword.
Her jailer was a man named Pudens. He showed the believers many kindnesses while they were in prison. He was deeply affected by their joy and steadfastness in the face of suffering. And eventually, he was saved through their witness!
Our suffering is special. The Holy Spirit uses it in a unique way to produce faith in the hearts of unbelievers, sometimes even our persecutors! This still holds true in the lives of persecuted Christians today. Nothing advances the gospel quite like suffering for it.
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