In our current world, the word 'martyr' has somewhat lost its meaning. It’s now associated with suicide bombers and terrorists. But originally it was actually meant for us, yes us as believers!! Let’s take a journey through martyrdom, look at its origins and how this concept applies to our lives as Christians now.
When I first started writing this post, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a martyr (which is probably where you are right now....). But I very quickly realised that I didn’t actually know what I was running away from! Or what God expected of me as a martyr. Psalms 119:130 says “The entrance of Your [God’s] word brings light” . So my prayer is that as we go through this journey, light will come in this area and we’ll rise to our calling. Let’s start with the origins of the word.
Martyr is actually from the Greek word ‘Martys’ which means witness; originally used in secular culture describing someone who testified in court to things seen and experienced. This is exactly what we’ve been called to do as followers of Christ. It’s the main reason we’ve been given the Holy Spirit and power.
We see this in Acts when Jesus gave His disciples their last instructions before He returned to heaven:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses (martyrs) in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” - Acts 1:8 ESV
Martyrs were willing to die for their testimony. This was a very real scenario to the early church, but what does that mean for us now? Most of us will never face a situation where someone threatens us with death to denounce our faith. So for us, it’s about a willingness to crucify our flesh and die to self. This type of martyrdom makes our testimony of Christ credible.
When we look at the issues the world has with the church, it’s usually not God they have a problem with. It’s His people. Our lack of spiritual maturity and tendency to walk in the flesh has the world questioning the testimony of Christ and His transforming power.
We can see the power of testimony in Revelation 12:11 – “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
The blood of Jesus combined with the sharing of our testimony is what defeats the enemy. Why is this? The blood and name of Jesus are the most powerful things in this world. But unless we share what we know and have experienced, people won't know that the power is available to them.
"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" - Romans 10:14
The gospel spreads through testifying and witnessing - simple! When Revelation 12:11 is quoted, we often stop after “the word of their testimony…” We usually skip over the part that says “and they loved not their lives even unto death” – we have to be willing to give up our lives for people to be saved!
We now know that being a martyr is about being a witness and dying to our fleshly desires. So how do we go about doing this in our everyday lives?
Galatians 5:16 says “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” It then goes on to tell us what the fruits of the spirit are “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
Fruit is grown and cultivated over time. As Christians, these are the fruits we should be growing and developing in daily as we walk with God. Let me share an example of how this was tested in my life recently.
I’ve been having some issues with one of my neighbours. He’s been aggressive and hostile towards me, falsely accused me to my landlord and even emptied a bag of rubbish on my door step. In the heat of it all, my flesh wanted to retaliate. It’s only by the grace of God (His strength and empowerment) that I was able to respond in a manner more worthy of my identity in Christ.
When the opportunity arose to discuss things with my neighbour, there were many chances for me to take offense and lose my temper with him. But as we talked, it was clear that there was more going on below the surface.
It’s important we stay aware that there’s often something spiritual behind the things we see in the natural.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” - Ephesians 6:12.
In short, something was troubling and tormenting my neighbour, speaking lies to him and causing him to act irrationally. He had no peace and was experiencing pain in his body. By the end of the night, he invited me into his home and allowed me to pray for him. He even said he’d like to come to church! On the other side of crucifying my flesh was something so special and beautiful.
Martyrdom isn’t a one-time thing. Daily, we have opportunities to testify to what we’ve seen and experienced of God. Not just through our words, but through our lifestyle. Our lives are our testimony and witness!
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” - 1 Peter 2:11-12
Our conduct relates to our behaviour and conversation. In the same way that we witness and testify of our experiences with God, people testify and talk about their experiences with us. So it’s important we choose martyrdom daily, by dying to our fleshly desires. This will give others positive experiences that cause them to glorify God.