Martyrdom is not at the top of some kind of righteousness list, however. While God does expect dedication from all of His servants, He does not ask all of us to be full-blown martyrs. There are many other ways that we can demonstrate our love for God. We don't exist on some spiritual scale that will reward us in proportion to our suffering on behalf of God. God's ultimate goal is to completely remove suffering from our lives so that eventually we will live together in harmony and there won't be any contention left to be martyred over. So before any of us gets too carried away with the idea of becoming martyrs for God, I have a few points to offer.
- We shouldn't actively be trying to get martyred. It's not like suffering and sacrifice are going to get us extra credit, so we don't need to go out of our way to find trouble. We'll encounter plenty of obstacles just living our faith with sincerity without purposefully stirring up any hornets' nests. Jesus and the apostles frequently ran afoul of the leadership because of their preaching, but they didn't seek out the leaders to pick a fight. They refused to be silenced, but they also went about their work without actively seeking confrontations.
- Being a martyr isn't the only way to show our loyalty to God. God doesn't want all of us to turn ourselves over to terrorists and get shot in His name. If we did, who would be left to share His message with the rest of humanity? We have work to do for the good of the world that goes beyond proving to God that we love him. Focusing on suffering can actually make us become self-centered, forgetting about the needs of the rest of the world.
- Sometimes it's better to live to fight another day. We should never renounce God, of course, but we don't have to engage in every battle that comes along. We don't have to do all the work of God all by ourselves and work ourselves to the bone until there's nothing left of our personal hopes and dreams. Keeping ourselves healthy inside and out makes us able to maximize our service to God. If we burn ourselves out by sacrificing everything we care about and sentencing ourselves to a life of austere toil, we might not end up being very effective servants.
- In the end, we need to do what God calls us to do. God will call some of us to sacrifice things we care about in order to do His work. He may even call some of us to stand up before the world and lose our lives as a testament to our faith as Stephen did. But even as God called Stephen to martyrdom before the corrupt Jewish powers, he called many other disciples to a life of quiet service and evangelism, drifting under the radar of the establishment. God has a job for each of us, and we don't have to go to the extreme of martyrdom to be faithful servants. All we have to do is follow wherever the Holy Spirit leads us.