Persecution or Consequences?
"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" ~2 Timothy 3:12
Oh how we love to play the martyr, don’t we?! From our youngest years we will claim that we haven’t be treated fairly, that people are being mean to us for no good reason, and that we are entitled to better treatment, a bigger portion, a longer turn on the iPad, and more. And it doesn’t end in childhood. As teenagers and young adults it seems at least one teacher doesn’t give you the grade you deserve simply because they don’t like you. Or a boss doesn’t give you enough hours because they have it out for you. Or your parents are the worst people on earth because they won’t buy you a new car, buy you a closet full of trendy, designer clothing, or be sure you have the newest cell phone in your pocket.
Oh yes, we do love to play the martyr. We love to cry out that we are being treated unfairly, being persecuted when life is less than convenient. It’s tempting to look at our eighth and final Beatitude and find a bit of vindication in our outrage if we can tie it, even by the thinnest of threads, to our faith.
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." ~Matthew 5:10-12
This last Beatitude swerves away from the two line formula we have become accustomed to in the previous verses. It’s almost like Jesus knew He would need to clarify a few things, or that he knew we would be a bit too easily offended on more than one occasion. If it were up to the average person to write this particular Beatitude, it would have been a bit shorter leaving out the reasons for the persecution. But those reasons, “because of righteousness” and “because of me,” are super important qualifiers.
Jesus is making it clear that we will not be blessed simply because we are suffering. Suffering for the sake of suffering is not the point. We live in a fallen, sinful world which suffers from the effects of billions of sinful people living together both now and throughout human history. Romans 3:23 reminds us that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin, any and all sin, no matter how big or small we perceive the sin to be, is death. Suffering because we live in a fallen world doesn’t earn you the reward of the kingdom of heaven.
The type of persecution which is blessed is that which comes when you are truly living a life devoted to God. Jesus reminded us in John 16 that we would have trouble and tribulation in this world. Why? Because truly living the life Jesus has called us to forces people to confront some uncomfortable truths about themselves. Your godly life will expose the ungodliness in the lives of those around you. For example:
§ If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
§ If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
§ If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
§ If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
§ If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
§ If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
§ If you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.
To live a life defined by overflowing mercy, a pure heart, and the power to make peace ALWAYS involves a close relationship with Jesus. And it is such a life which reminds those around us that you cannot earn salvation, but it is a gift freely given to those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. To live such a life invalidates all other claims and ideas to find salvation and paths to eternal life which do not come through Jesus Christ.
Thus, as we ponder this last Beatitude, it is important that we are sure the pain and suffering we are feeling are on account of faithful service to Jesus and not some other reason. For it is this pain and suffering to which Jesus is referring. It is by enduring this specific sort of pain and suffering Jesus is promising the kingdom of heaven.
- When talking about what it means to truly be persecuted for one’s faith, I find it really helpful to look at this topic from a global perspective. A great resource to help gain a global perspective is The Voice of the Martyrs. Check out their website by clicking HERE.
- The next time you are ready to cry out “that’s not fair, I don’t deserve this,” stop for a moment and consider how your choices may or may not have contributed to the situation for better or for worse. By no means is any suffering you are experiencing automatically your fault. Remember, we live in a sinful, fallen world meaning we all live with the consequences of sin. But that doesn’t excuse us from humbly taking responsibility for our own actions and choices and how they contribute to our any suffering we may experience.
- Take a look at your actions and choices and ask yourself if you are contributing unnecessarily to the suffering of others. What can you do to be sure you are not contributing the suffering of those in your family, community, country, and the world?
- If you haven’t already, download our BEYOND App and check out the Bible study on the Beatitudes written by former IOLBC Staff member Kyle Fever. Available on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store by searching “IOLBC”.