The writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews exhorts Christians to ‘remember those in prison’ (13:3). But how easy is it for UK Christians to do this?
How can we possibly understand the suffering that so many of our fellow-Christians are experiencing?
I believe it means firstly understanding what the ‘church’ is. We must grasp the church’s uniqueness. It is the body of Christ, a community of God’s blood-bought people, a gathering of saved sinners. It is a group of people who have this in common, that they are united in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We should also grasp that, though our nation is an island, this does not mean Britain is to be cut off from other nations. We may moan that so many ‘immigrants’ are coming into our ‘little Britain’, and all the consequences of that, but we must realize where they are coming from.
Many are coming from war-torn countries where life has become unbearable. Many too, are coming from countries ruled by corrupt governments. Indeed, for not a few, to stay in their country of birth would result in imprisonment or death.
And some are Christians, who are being hounded for their new-found faith in Christ. Would we turn them away? What if the tables were turned?
How do we know if God is not bringing these people into our nation in order that the evangelical church here will get down to some serious witnessing?
Our prayer must surely be that many non-Christians from other countries will be brought to faith in Jesus Christ and one day return to their homelands carrying the gospel message.
Maybe God is bringing them here to benefit and teach us? We have become so shallow spiritually, and now these will remind us what real faith is like and leave us longing for more of our Saviour. We need to go back to the school of faith and get down to some serious study and learning!
Maybe God is even bringing them here to bring about a long overdue spiritual revival? This nation is in a mess on many levels. We are so far removed from God’s standards.
The desecration of the sabbath has been to our downfall. How true are these words, which I came across a good few years ago when reading about the life of A. W. Pink, ‘A sabbath well spent brings a week of content, and strength for the toil of the morrow, but a sabbath profaned, whate’er be gained, is a certain forerunner of sorrow’. I do not think Pink wrote these words, but he certainly lived by them.
But, here is an actual quote from Pink: ‘In how many ways have we been unfaithful to Christ, and to the light and privileges which God has entrusted to us! How refreshing, then, how unspeakably blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful — faithful in all things, faithful at all times’.
UK Christians are only holding our heads above water due to the faithfulness of our merciful and gracious God. He may even, as a result of upheaval among the nations, be enhancing his church in the UK and moulding it into the church it is supposed to be.
‘Remember the prisoners’ is a Bible text that shows us the ‘three r’s’ of Christian compassion (in this case, not reading, writing and arithmetic!).
‘Out of sight; out of mind’ is a well known expression, but one that should never be the case for Christian thinking. Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, wrote, ‘Every persecuted Christian should be remembered by their fellow Christians, because in Christ, we are all part of one body’.
This really says it all. We should all be remembering ‘every persecuted Christian … because in Christ, we are all part of one body’.
There are so many needy causes in this world, and I am particularly thinking of Christian causes. We should be taking them regularly to the ‘throne of grace’ and pleading our brothers’ and sisters’ needs in prayer before the Lord.
When all is well with us, remember those who are struggling on a daily basis. When things are seemingly tough for us, for a season, remember those who are undergoing beatings and torture.
When we are worshipping God in our relatively ‘grand’ buildings, remember those who are worshipping in stinking and squalid prison cells. When we are enjoying the blessings of family life, remember those whose families have been ripped apart or divided by persecution.
It seems too, that there is a ‘relational’ point in our text. The writer says, ‘Remember those in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those mistreated, as if you yourselves were suffering’.
We are to empathise with our fellow, suffering Christian brothers and sisters. We are, as it were, to draw alongside them. We are related to them, even though we will never meet them all this side of eternity.
We should start by enjoying closer ties with those in our own ‘local’ church and, from that base, relating to the wider church. This is not just about discussing and deliberating, but empathising and sympathising. It is not just about ‘another persecuted country’, but ‘coming alongside’ fellow-believers. It is about entering their situation with heart and mind engaged.
It is reading about their situation with feeling, and maybe praying for them with tears in our eyes. How much would we sacrifice for our own blood-family? How much would we be prepared to do for our own spouse and children, for our earthly family members? These prisoners for the Lord are surely also very dear to us.
In the book of James we read, ‘Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed”, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’
The whole point here is that we are to be practical. The faith we possess in Christ is to be followed by deeds in Christ. The parent grace of faith gives birth to the children of deeds. We are not to be so taken up with achieving all our goals and ambitions that we neglect our family in Christ.
We often fail to remember the widow’s mite. She gave her all: nothing was too small. That which no man sees is that which is most used by God.
We have so much in our nation, that is flowing, materially, with ‘milk and honey’. Many of us have comfortable homes and a steady income, pension pot, and many other blessings besides. Does it not break our hearts to see sad images on the media of poor people with hardly any worldly belongings?
Where is our evangelical compassion? Where is our Christian love? And may we all indeed ‘remember the prisoners’!
Barry Loeber serves on the world mission committee at Gateway Baptist Church, Burgess Hill