Blessed Through Persecution For Jesus’s Sake

Have you misunderstood someone or something lately? We misunderstand more than we realize. “Perhaps the biggest reason for miscommunication and misunderstanding is a disparity of viewpoints…We largely make sense of reality by using cultures or subcultures. They influence the way we see the world and are usually difficult to change. [It is] our natural tendency to accept and focus on what fits our current beliefs while ignoring and avoiding anything that challenges them…As long as we have our own opinions, miscommunication and misunderstanding will always be a part of human interaction.” (1) The author of the article quoted understands that we are creatures with significant weaknesses but doesn’t go far enough to address our corrupt natures, which affect everything we read, see, hear, and experience. It should be no surprise that we are misunderstood, misunderstand others, and even misinterpret God’s Word. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39). Christians are persecuted in this evil world, but we have reasons to rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings that come through that persecution.

Biblical Persecution

As the last Beatitude, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). “At no point in the entire list of beatitudes is it more necessary to be careful to indicate exactly what is meant by Christ’s statement, for there is no beatitude which has been more often misunderstood and misapplied than this one. For what is the Christian persecuted? That is the heart of the teaching. The answer lies in the phrase ‘because of righteousness,’ and in the parallel phrase in the following verse, ‘because of me’…[meaning] ’Blessed are they who are persecuted because, by God’s grace, they are determined to live as I live.’ This means that there is no promise of happiness for those who are persecuted for being a nuisance…objectionable, difficult, foolish, and insulting to their non-Christian friends…[or] for pushing tracts onto people who do not want them, insulting them in the midst of a religious argument, poking into their affairs when they are not invited, and so on. Christ was speaking of the persecution of those who are abused for the sake of his righteousness…Well, then, if the verse does not mean being persecuted for being objectionable, or doing wrong, or being fanatical, or endorsing a cause, what does it mean?…Simply put, it means to be persecuted for being like the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said that those who are persecuted for being like him will be happy. And what is more, those who are like him will always be persecuted. When Jesus came into the world in his righteousness he exposed the evil of the world, and men hated him for it…Men hated the exposure of their inner hearts and natures, and they killed Christ for exposing them. In a similar way, they will hate any exposure of their evil nature that comes from the evidences of the righteousness of Christ in his followers.” (2) Christians, like Christ, should expect to be persecuted but can rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings. The more we live for Christ, the more we will be persecuted and blessed, rejoicing in our union with Christ and the prophets before him.

Satan’s Influence to Avoid Persecution

“Says Satan…you are better to walk in ways that are less troublesome, and less afflicted, though they be more sinful; for who but a madman would spend his days in sorrow, vexation, and affliction, when it may be prevented by walking in the ways that I set before him?…The first remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, that all the afflictions that attend the people of God, are such as shall turn to their profit and glorious advantage…All the stones that came about Stephen’s ears did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone…God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self. When was it that Stephen saw the heavens open, and Christ standing at the right hand of God—but when the stones were about his ears, and there was but a short step between him and eternity?…The honey of prosperity kills our graces—but the vinegar of adversity quickens our graces…The more saints are beaten with the hammer of afflictions, the more they are made the trumpets of God’s praises, and the more are their graces revived and quickened. Adversity abases the loveliness of the world which strives to entice us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which strives to incite us to folly and vanity…Now, suppose afflictions and troubles attend the ways of holiness, yet seeing that they all work for the great profit and singular advantage of the saints, let no soul be so mad as to leave an afflicted way of holiness, to walk in a smooth path of wickedness.” (3) The truth is that the more we witness for Christ, the more we will be persecuted but blessed; we can rejoice in our union with him and the prophets before him.

Reacting to Persecution

“How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution?…We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child, nor to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, not just to grin and bear it like a Stoic, still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. Instead we are to ‘Rejoice and be glad!’…Why? Partly because ‘great is your reward in heaven.’ We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven, not as a reward for merit, but freely. We also rejoice partly because persecution is a token of genuine Christian authenticity, since the prophets before us were persecuted. But the major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering ‘because of me,’ on account of our loyalty to Jesus and to his standards of truth and righteousness…The Christian can’t expect to be thanked for being merciful or sincere or a peacemaker; instead we are opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of the righteousness for which we stand and the Christ with whom we are identified. Such is a man or woman who is ‘blessed,’ that is, who has the approval of God and finds self-fulfillment as a human being.” (4) “Persecution is evidence that the believer is united to Jesus Christ…If we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, we can be happy in this proof that we are his and are united to him forever. If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit has been at work in our hearts, turning us from our sin and our sinful ways to Christ’s way, and is making progress in molding us into his sinless image.” (5) Do you embrace the truth that the more you are like Christ, the more you will be persecuted and blessed to rejoice in your union with him?

Attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral service were religious leaders of the Jewish, Baha’i, Jain, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Shia, and Muslim faiths. I wonder what thoughts went through their minds as the Bishop quoted Christ’s words from Scripture that apply strictly to believers. It’s impossible to think that there weren’t some who were present or watching and who were prepared to persecute those of us like Queen Elizabeth, who held her faith firmly—and many who misunderstood the words of Scripture. But “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). I would want to have these blessed words spoken of me after my passing, as they were for her—wouldn’t you? “O God, from whom cometh everything that is upright and true: accept our thanks for the gifts of heart and mind that thou didst bestow upon thy daughter Elizabeth, and which she showed forth among us in her words and deeds; and grant that we may have grace to live our lives in accordance with thy will, to seek the good of others, and to remain faithful servants unto our lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (6)

Related Scripture: Genesis 6:11-22; John 15:19–23; Acts 5:17-42; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 11; James 1:2-3; 5:11; 1 Peter 4:12–13; 1 John 3:13.

Notes:

  1. Costi, 8 Causes of Miscommunication and Misunderstanding, https://blog.intelligentbee.com/2020/07/20/8-causes-of-miscommunication-and-misunderstanding/
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:10-12, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Brooks, Thomas, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (p. 54), Kindle Edition.
  4. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 51-56, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  5. Boice, Ibid
  6. One Prayer at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral— https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-62948934

September 22, 2022

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