Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus ends the beatitudes by saying “Blessed are those persecuted, reviled, and spoken against.” Would anyone care to get in “the blessed line?” Most of us prefer popularity, praise, and prosperity over persecution. Certainly applause is more appealing than abuse, and we’d much rather have one’s support than be slandered.
From a Christian perspective, persecu¬tion isn’t that hard to evade. One needs only to live as the world lives and by default approve of its stand¬ards or lack thereof. Simply engage with the world by using its language, adopting its prac¬tices, and enjoying its entertainment. Furthermore, never confront any sin or engage a sinner in a discussion of their eternal destiny. And never, ever suggest that Christ is the only way and any other religious system is a lie. If questioned, lie about your convictions (which you don’t have) and never publicly take a stand for God or biblical truths.
Could it be that we suffer so little per¬secution because we have done just that? Truth be told, our lives are just not that different from the world. Sur¬veys repeatedly reveal that professing Chris¬tians do not live that differently from the world in that their stated faith has had little impact on how they live their daily lives. While they pro¬fess faith and attend religious services, most tend to watch the same movies and television pro¬grams, listen to the same music, dress and talk the same, and pursue the same goals. The divorce rate among Christians is almost as high as that of the world, as are the rates of school cheating, teens lying to parents, alcohol use, and pre¬marital sex. We want to point to the world and blame it for the change in our own behavior. In our hearts we know that isn’t the problem. The fact is we have lowered our personal standards for righteous living. While our standards have changed, God’s standards for right¬eous living have not. Personal holi¬ness is still part of the required curricu¬lum for following Christ.
Followers of Christ have been called to live righteous lives. In the context of this study, we have been called to live a beat¬itude kind of life. Here is the hard reality of such a life: anyone who lives out the first seven beatitudes is guaranteed at some point to experi¬ence the eighth. The word “persecuted” (dioko) means to har¬ass or to treat in an evil way. The word “revile” (oneidizo) means to abuse with vile, vicious, mocking words. It is the word used by the thieves in Matthew 27:44 who “heaped insults” on Jesus. The phrase “falsely say all kinds of evil against you” means to slander by stat¬ing things that are not true.
Jesus was clear in that one who chose to follow Him and live by His standards would encounter opposition and perse¬cution. He spoke of carrying a cross and counting the cost (Luke 14:27-28). He made it clear to His disciples that just as He had been persecuted, they would experience a similar fate (John 15:20). Paul echoed that same truth often with such words as, “All who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
The early Christians were persecuted horribly. Christians were flung to the lions, wrapped in pitch and burned, sewed in animal skins and torn to death by hunting dogs, tortured on racks, burned to death by molten iron being poured over them, body parts cut off and roasted before them, and many other such horrific acts of tor¬ture. They were accused of eating each other, committing immorality, participating in orgies, setting fires to cities, being rev¬olutionaries, inciting political unrest, and breaking up fam¬ilies. When Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29), those were far more than words on paper to those maligned and persecuted Christians liv¬ing in Philippi. Those called to bring peace had discovered the price for such and that price was often persecu¬tion and death.
It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “When a man encounters Jesus, he will do one of two things. Either he must die, or he must put Christ to death.” The question each must face is which of those two we have done. A beatitude kind of life is a death wish. Bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, living with an insatiable desire for righteousness, sharing the mercy received, seeking purity in eve¬rything they do, and sharing the mes¬sage of peace, one finds himself totally com¬mitted to living a Christ-centered, God-honoring, kingdom-focused, self-denying life. One also finds himself at odds with a sinful, selfish, self-indulgent world. Every virtue stated in the beatitudes is at odds with the world of which we are a part. A broken spirit stands in stark contrast to the proud, self promoting world in which we live. Mourning sin certainly creates issues in our “I’m okay, you’re okay” culture. Sub¬mission to and a hunger for God is a for¬eign concept in our selfish, self-centered world. And one who lives a life of mercy and purity while promot¬ing peace through a relationship with Christ will find himself swimming in unfamiliar, uncom¬fortable, hostile waters.
I want to tell you that persecution is something you read about in the Bible and something that no longer happens. The reality is there were over a quarter million individuals killed last year because of their faith in Christ through¬out the world. While the vast majority is in other countries, one has to have his head in the sand to fail to see the constant pro¬gression of opposition to Christianity in our own country. In 2012 there were 115 incidents of church-related violence reported, 63 of which resulted in death. When we think about violent opposition to people of faith, we are reminded of Columbine a few years back when Cassie Bernall was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and when she answered “Yes,” she was shot. Rachel Scott, a young lady known for her faith, was also killed. Where the opposition to and persecution of Christi¬anity is headed is anyone’s guess, but at present things are not get¬ting better, but worse.
How is one to respond to persecution? Biblically, one needs to understand that persecution can serve a good purpose, as it forces us to look heavenward, take stock of what we believe and are com¬mitted to, strengthens our faith, and encourages others who may endure a similar fate. To handle persecution in a God-honoring way, I would suggest that you:
(1) Recognize the source. Ephe¬sians 6:12 tells us that we will always be in a battle with the “forces of evil.”
(2) Refuse to retaliate. Romans 12:17-19 tells us that vengeance is not a part of our job descrip¬tion; it “belongs to God.”
(3) Respond posi¬tively. If you are always trying to get even, you will never get ahead. Romans 12:21 tells us to overcome evil with good.
(4) Reflect on God’s will. David in Psalm 37:7 9 reminds us to “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently on Him.”
Jesus never preached a prosperity gos¬pel. His final promise in the beatitudes was a promise of persecution for those who lived out those qualities listed before. God’s greatest were persecuted. That will never change. How are you doing?
Blessed are the persecuted.