I remember my thoughts whenever we had a study about the early church martyrs or I read about them in a Christian history article:
I consider martyrdom a waste. Many people died because they refused to bow to a statue. How silly! Just because you bow before a statue of something or someone doesn’t mean you are worshiping it. What you are thinking determines whether you are worshiping or not. If you think the Christian God is the only god, what difference does it make if you kowtow or place something in front of a statue? You know the statue isn’t God; you have no intentions of actually worshiping. Rather you are preserving yourself.
Some may think self preservation is cowardly. A true believer would die for their faith! Paul, Peter, Stephen, and a host of other people did after all! However, a living believer is far more valuable than a dead one. A dead person cannot teach, help, inspire, heal, and spread Christianity or any faith. That is why martyrdom is a waste. Sure, a martyr can inspire others to a faith, but a living person can do far more than inspire: they can teach; they can love.
The apostles that allowed themselves to be martyred did a disservice to Christianity. The faith would have benefited more from a lifetime of Paul writing than his early demise. In many regards martyrs are selfish. By dying for a faith, they believe they are immediately going to heaven and its benefits. A good Christian would have humbly did what they could to live and help others attain heaven instead of going the “shortest” route.
So am I saying Paul, Stephen, and others should have compromised their faith and bowed to idols? No. They compromised their faith by choosing to be martyrs. Bowing to something may have looked like worship to others, but if their mind was upon God, they weren’t worshiping the statue. They were just going through the motions. The mind is where the division is. Even pagan’s didn’t worship the idol itself. They worshiped the god the idol represented.
Of course, I am looking back and projecting upon the past. Paul and the other martyrs lived in different times, yet despite that martyrdom remains selfish and egotistical. This fact remains true today. Sidi Bouzid sparked the Arab Spring with his self immolation, but he isn’t around to help the movement. Martyrdom may start a movement, but it doesn’t push it forward. Only the living can help the living. Christianity would have benefited more from Paul, Peter, and other others remaining alive, writing, teaching, and proclaiming the gospel until a natural death.
Martyrdom robs the world of a person’s influence and abilities to ease suffering. Remember, God did say “Thou shalt not steal.” The worst item we can steal is ourselves.