Summary: Unfortunately for many Christians, compromise is easier than being criticised and no-one would ever know that they are Christians, or if they do know, they are disappointed by the kind of example that is given.
Matthew 5 - Part 8 - Have you ever been criticised and abused for being a Christian?
One of my jobs some years ago was working with disabled people. I remember working with a young Christian woman and my job was teaching her how to read. She would readily share her faith to others and I enjoyed the opportunity to encourage her in her faith. I chose the 23rd Psalm in our lessons and encouraged her to do a Bible Reading at Church when we were finished. She experienced short term memory loss so it was at least 6 months before she was able to read in front of the Church. She received a standing ovation.
One of my work colleagues was scheduled to take a group of people out on a camping trip. Unfortunately this young Christian woman experienced a severe epileptic seizure on the camp and was rushed to hospital. She went into a coma for some days and came out of it speaking in tongues and praising God. My colleague, an atheist, was so totally disarmed by this behavior that she decided to accuse me of causing the seizure. She said that I had been teaching her how to speak in tongues and that my radical belief system had almost killed this young woman.
Although we had spoken about her faith, I had not caused her seizure, nor taught her to speak in tongues. My colleague however, was not satisfied and sought to have me fired from my position. Her complaints meant that I went before a board to answer her accusations and lies. Her relentless persecution was very unpleasant. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus says,
"BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN PERSECUTED FOR THE SAKE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)
Although I have experienced minor forms of persecution as a Christian, I have never really been damaged in any way. The truth is, I don’t know what it would be like to be really persecuted for my faith. Oh, I’ve had to stand up for what I believe at times and have been looked down on for doing so and I’ve been criticized and abused verbally, even lied about, but today, in some countries, people are being literally tortured and abused for their faith. Churches are burned, and people live under the knowledge that being a Christian is dangerous. It was dangerous in Jesus’ time and the disciples were warned in this strange way.
The word "Persecuted" (diokomenoi) means "to endure suffering for Christ; to be mocked, ridiculed, criticized, ostracized; to be treated with hostility and even to be martyred." (POSB Commentary)
At first sight this seems to me to be saying you can smile when you are persecuted because you will die and go to heaven. Great conciliation! What about the here and now. I can hack the verbal abuse and the lies I think, but I’d hate to be tortured or martyred for my faith. Remember Jesus is speaking to His disciples up on the mountain (I still don’t know which mountain), and this is a leadership principle. It doesn’t seem all that encouraging to me.
Of course this is what happened to Jesus Himself. In John 15:18-19 (NLT) He says...
"If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."
Notice it’s only the person who lives for righteousness sake who is persecuted. So if you don’t want to stand out from the world, then you won’t have to worry about being persecuted. Jesus suffered persecution and even death for me. Would I be willing to be persecuted for His sake? Lord, I am willing but I don’t want to invite it unless I have to.
Unfortunately I have to. I can expect to suffer persecution whenever I start to expose sin by my own choices to live with Godly behavior, when I am different to the world, when I don’t compromise in order to fit in or indulge my own sinful desires, when I live a pure life in the face of a morally corrupt world.
If you live a life for the sake of righteousness - being right in terms of relationship with God and right in terms of your behavior before others, then persecution will not be too far away. Whether it’s by way of your friends trying to persuade you to be "one of the boys (or girls)" or by criticism of what you stand for, persecution will be there sooner or later, if you stand up for what you believe.