“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”Hebrews 13.3
Recently, a group of Christians in India were assaulted by a mob and taken to a police station. At the police station, they were arrested for violating India’s new anti-conversion law. Three of the men were released, but the three pastors are being held without bail. You can read the full story here. When was the last time you prayed for the church overseas? I was recently convicted of my neglect of remembering “them that are in bonds,” and I have noticed a sad trend among the “reformed camp” that mirrors that neglect.
This conviction came in the midst of the recent political turmoil that the United States experienced (turmoil respectively; the political shifts we experience here are minuscule compared to worldwide shifts). Too often we Americans get so caught up in our own affairs that it is easy to forget that the church is not American. It is not even Western. It is global. Besides distracting us from our principle purpose in this life (see this piece I wrote for the Sovereign Grace Messenger), American-centric thinking can cause us to forget our brothers and sisters who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. This is not a recent phenomenon. The command above from the Epistle to the Hebrews was given to those who had themselves undergone persecution and had supported the author in his time of bonds (Heb. 10.32-34).
It is sad, however, how often this topic is neglected among those who are “reformed.” We thrive on controversy. Let us stumble across a video from a woman claiming to be a pastor and we’ll jump all over it. Or give us a quote from some prosperity teacher and we can pummel it to dust. But there is very little controversy in praying for and aiding “them that are in bonds.” It makes us feel uneasy when we read about a Christian woman in Pakistan who may be killed, either by the state or a mob, following an accusation of blasphemy. When was the last time the persecuted church was brought up on a Facebook thread in a “reformed” group? How are we to remember our brothers and sisters who are daily at risk of shedding their blood for the sake of the gospel? As though we are bound with them, and as though we are suffering with them. This remembrance is not merely cognitive recognition. It involves prayer, visitation, and financial support.
Firstly, consider prayer. Several times in his letters, Paul asks his readers to pray for him (Col. 4.3, 1 Thess. 5.25, 2 Cor. 1.11). The request was often that God would see fit to continue enabling Paul and his companions to proclaim the gospel in the midst of their sufferings and persecution. Not only so, but there is an amazing example of this type of fidelity recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Herod had killed James and taken Peter into custody. The immediate response of the church is recorded as follows: “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12.5). The result? God miraculously brought Peter out of prison, and he surprised the church’s prayer meeting with his late attendance. God does not always deliver his saints in such a fashion, but the church ought always to pray for those in bonds without ceasing. Let us follow in their example.
Secondly, consider visitation. Our Lord Jesus describes the final day of judgment in Matt. 25.31-46; in this passage, he famously describes the scenario “as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” How do we know who is a sheep and who is a goat? Interestingly, one of the characteristics of a sheep is visiting the saints who are imprisoned for the gospel. “I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (v. 36). The goats “visited me not” (v. 44) and went “away into everlasting punishment” (v. 46). In 1 Thess. 3, Paul describes the joy he felt when visited by Timothy who was sent by the brethren in Thessaly. One of my favorite portraits of Paul is at the end of his second epistle to Timothy, when he writes “the cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4.13). He wrote those words while in prison. His heart was burdened to keep writing to the churches, to edify and instruct them as long as he had breath in his lungs and strength in his bones. And he expected to be visited. He did not say, “Timothy, if you plan on coming out here, be a good lad and bring these things.” He said “when thou comest.” And then James says that pure religion consists, partly, of visiting “the fathers and widows in their affliction” (James 1.27). Who are these fatherless and widows? I have no doubt in my mind that he is specifically referring to the children and wives left behind by those who have been martyred for the faith. We must not forget the families of those killed (see also Acts 6).
Thirdly, consider financial support. The Hebrew Christians were sorely afflicted in the early days of the church, and part of that affliction was “the spoiling of your goods” (Heb. 10.34). In 2 Cor. 8, we read about the churches of Macedonia who, in “their deep poverty” (v. 2), gave “beyond their power” (v. 3) to the ministering to the saints. This is in reference to a collection taken up among the Gentile churches for the support of the church in Jerusalem during their time of affliction. The Apostle John writes this solemn warning in his epistle to the churches: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 Jn. 3.16-17).
Let us stir one another up unto the good work of remembering them that are in bonds. Let us correct this period of neglect. Pray for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Let us pray that God would grant us opportunity to visit them in their affliction. Let us pray that the Lord would use us to be a blessing to his saints who are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel. Below is a list of resources you can utilize today to remember your brothers and sisters, who are one body with you.