Did martyrs fail?

  • Sumo

This post is based on a question I received (or rather, an answer I gave) about how to view those who are killed for speaking about God. Here’s my reply to the question.

Source: BBC

Matthew 7:6. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (esv)

What does this say about those who die in proclaiming the gospel? Did they fail, by allowing themselves to be attacked?

I don’t think this verse says much about martyrdom, for I reckon Jesus is making a different point (or set of points). Matthew 7:6 is after Jesus’ words about not judging. This verse states that there is a kind of judging that disciples should exercise – seeing if a person is pig or dog! But it’s not the kind of judgement that decides their eternal status. This is for God alone to judge.

In relation to gospel proclamation, it is worth asking ourselves, ‘Will talking now cause more damage than it’s worth?’ If apparent hard-heartedness possibly becomes an excuse to slander the gospel message or to damage Christians, we should at least ponder the options of speech or silence.

Note two things, though. Firstly, Jesus’ words are you plural – yous. It may be that a primary application for me is to consider the effects my words and life have on all of us. Secondly, our sin means we have great skill in avoiding doing the right thing, especially if it is hard, We should be wary of justifying silence too easily.

Most importantly, Jesus is not giving a reason to avoid all suffering, even death. Later on in Matthew we read of the way of a disciple – to take up a cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 10:38-39). Jesus’ way was suffering, so too will be his disciple’s way. What’s more, Matthew 7 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. There’s no hiding from Jesus’ startling declaration of who is blessed by God: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat 5:10-11, esv)

So, we strive to do no damage to the Gospel message, nor to the church that the Gospel creates. But we have no reason to avoid personal cost, or to judge as failures those who suffer for Jesus.