Blessed Are The Persecuted
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. (Matthew 5:10-11)
Persecution is able to separate those who follow Jesus from those who practice religion. Jesus received hostile and ill-treatment for the truths He stood on, and we are to expect the same according to John 15:20—if we belong to Him. James adds, in the fifth chapter of his letter, that those who endure or remain steadfast are blessed when patiently suffering. Blessed is a divinely bestowed happiness not found in the world’s philosophy of happiness, namely wealth, leisure, or indulgence, but is found in the spirit of those that seek after the things of God.
Admittedly, persecution is very much against what our human nature would want. By our own nature, we are contrary to inconvenience, discomfort, awkwardness, or suffering. We would seek the path of least resistance and greatest comfort, but that path is the opposite of what God requires. God uses trials to mature a Christian (James 1), and persecution to glorify Jesus, along with those in Him (Romans 8:17). It is our hope! If we endure to the end, we will be saved by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5); and if we are saved by the power of God, we are also guarded and protected by the power of God so that we will endure.
Beyond doubt, persecution is imminent for the child of God. Additionally, it is an unpleasant, often hurtful test of our faith when we are told to bear patiently, confidently, and enduringly. But, is all opposition we experience regarding our faith, persecution? We could not say we are being persecuted if we face admonishment for acting in a way that comes from wrong motives, or an unloving spirit. Rather, “for the sake of righteousness” means direct opposition from “unrighteousness.” The righteousness for which we will be persecuted is the righteousness of Christ in us, not the appearance of righteousness from self-prescribed rules we feel we ought to live by.
Jesus says in John 15:19 that the world hates us because it hated Him first. The righteousness of Christ in us is defended by Christ through us. This brings hope and joy in persecution because, just as we share the suffering that our Lord first suffered, we will share in the glory and comfort of Him. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Opposition will come if we are abiding in Jesus. Fruit on a tree or vine is visible, and the people around us will notice it in our lives. Then, we need to be ready to give an answer to every man who asks of us the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) and preach the word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting (2 Timothy 4:2). Jesus said that we are not greater than our master and that the world will hate us also (John 15:18). Jesus told us not to fear and that we are to uphold his teachings before men and not to shy away in self-preservation (Matthew 10:26-39).
Remember, the same disciples who left Jesus in the garden during his trial were made martyrs (with the exception of John) for Christ. They also, through the power of God, overcame their fear of those that are only able to kill the body.