It is OK to Flee From Persecution?
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:16-23)
Many times we are presented with a false, unbiblical doctrine of suffering that tells us that the Lord always requires us to submit to it and not escape it. Taking scriptures that speak of how the Lord uses suffering in our lives for our growth and for His glory, these distortions of those scriptures make them absolute laws which always apply in every case. And, of course, we see this in the pressure that is put upon victims of abuse by their fellow believers. The victim is told that suffering at the hands of her abuser is the Lord’s calling for her. That she is to stay in it and know that she is bringing praise to Christ by being faithful to her marriage covenant, just as Christ is faithful to His Bride, the church (an obviously false parallel if we would think about it for even a few moments).
But there are numbers of Scriptures that show us it is perfectly within the will of God for us to flee from abuse. You could think, for instance, of the times that Jesus Himself departed from crowds who wanted to kill Him. Or of Paul being lowered over the city wall in Damascus, or of his appeal to Caesar when another mob would have killed him. And then we have this scripture here in Matthew 10 that even goes so far as to tell us that we should flee when persecution comes… even if the persecutor is a brother, a father, or one of our own children! The other Scriptures that instruct children to obey their parents are trumped by this passage in a sense because no parent has the right to abuse and persecute his child. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.
Some readers might question this application with the observation that Matthew 10 is addressing persecution for the sake of Christ, not out of some quest for the abuser’s power and control. But is there really any difference? Furthermore, I maintain that many, many cases of abuse are indeed motivated by hatred of the victim for her love for Christ. Flee! That is Jesus’ instruction.
One final thought for our readers to “chew on.” Please do not interpret this as a criticism of victims who are still with their abuser — getting away is just not as easy as just “leaving the jerk.” But here is a thought that is meant to help them to freedom. Is it not possible that fleeing from the abuser’s persecution is a better testimony for Christ than mistakenly thinking that by remaining in the abuse the victim is somehow bringing more glory to Christ? Drawing boundaries and/or leaving is a statement that “this is not a good picture of Christ’s love for His Bride.” “Fleeing to the next city” also serves to free up the victim so that she is enabled to do an even better job of living for and proclaiming Christ to others.