“Blessed Are the Persecuted”
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10- 12).
This blessing of the Lord, like the ones before it, falls on our natural ears like discord. Blessed? When people talk insultingly of us? When they do unkind, spiteful, even harmful deeds to us?
There is an important point of clarification in this beatitude. “For righteousness’ sake … for my sake.” Jesus is not putting a blanket blessing on all those who are reviled or harmed, but on those who are maligned and mistreated for His sake.
When we consider this beatitude, our thoughts may first go to countries that have been intolerant of Christianity, countries where Christians have been put in prison, tortured, and killed for their faith. And the Lord’s blessing certainly falls on such. Of such is the kingdom of heaven! The Apostle Paul, however, after describing such hardships in his own life, wrote, “Yea, and ALL that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
There has always been a deep antagonism from Satan toward God, from the world toward the Church, and thus from the ungodly toward the godly. This is not to say that every believer hates every unbeliever. But it is to say that there is an essential conflict between evil and good, and that this conflict will spill out of unbelieving, sinful, carnal people against believing, righteous, Spirit-filled people. It will spill out in derogatory remarks, in cutting accusations, in spiteful attitudes, in unfair dealings, and sometimes in physical harm.
The more subtle persecution and sometimes the most malicious comes from those who hide their carnality and sinfulness behind religious cloaks. Jesus found it so. The Gentile rulers, Pilate and Herod, would have set Jesus free, but the Scripture-thumping religious leaders were hostile beyond reason. Hypocrisy–form without life–is still with us, and therefore, those who live like Jesus will be despised and persecuted. Following are some examples:
- Those who live by principles, not simply by Church standards, may make applications that threaten the comfortable boundaries of legalistic Church members. First they will draw raised eyebrows, then confrontation, and then they will become the object of gossip, evil assumptions, snide remarks, and worse.
- Those who live heart and soul for Jesus and His eternal kingdom will not have the material values of Western culture, and thus they will not enter into the normal round of buying, working, laying up, or living for pride or pleasure. Where the Church has become worldly in these things, people who live like Jesus will become a source of irritation. They will be accused of being financially incompetent.
- Those who have eternal vision for their children, and who take definite steps in training them in God’s ways, steps that set them apart from the norm, will likewise be reviled. They don’t fit in. Their children are not permitted to participate even in some Church-sponsored activities. They don’t buy into the latest recreational activities.
Let’s balance these examples with recognizing that there is no virtue in being different. There is a blessing only in living righteously, like Jesus.
And Jesus said, “Rejoice!”
Even when our actions have been righteous, we find that our natural reactions to unkind, cutting, sarcastic, demeaning, words and actions are carnal. We don’t naturally rejoice when mistreated. It is far easier to be discouraged, to find sympathizers, to lash back, to mentally review the hurt and grow bitter.
Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
Why should we rejoice?
- Because persecution identifies us with Jesus.
- Because persecution for righteousness’ sake identifies us with the most noble, godly, shining characters in history.
- Because Jesus counts us as part of His heavenly kingdom.
- Because our reward in heaven is measured at least to some extent by what we sacrifice on earth for the name of Jesus.
- Because persecution provides an opportunity to reflect the character and mission of Jesus.
- Because the Lord’s special care for His people is revealed in times of rejection and difficulty.
- Because rejoicing in the Lord delivers us from those carnal responses that mar our testimony for Jesus.
When you have done right and were criticized, insulted, ignored, laughed at, and held at arm’s length for it, how have you responded?
Jesus says, “Rejoice!” And He knows what He is talking about.
Deeper Life Ministries Newsletter, February 1996