Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).
Jesus ends the beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are those persecuted, reviled, and spoken against.” Would anyone care to get in “the blessed line” after hearing that?
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, persecution isn’t that hard to evade. One needs only to live as the world lives and by default approve of its standards, or lack thereof; simply engage with the world by using its language, adopting its practices, and enjoying its entertainment.
Furthermore, never confront any sin or engage a sinner in a discussion of his eternal destiny. 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 persecution because we have don just that?
Truth be told, our lives are just not that different form the world. Surveys repeatedly reveal that professing Christians 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 profess faith and attend services, most tend to watch the same movies and TV programs, 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 premarital 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 righteous living have not. Personal holiness is still part of the required curriculum for following Christ.
Followers of Christ have been called t olive righteous lives. In the context of this study, we have been called to live a beatitude 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 experience the eighth.
The word for “persecuted” (dioko) means to harass or to treat in an evil way. The word for “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 stating 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 persecution.
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” (II 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 torture.
They were accused of eating each other, committing immorality, participating in orgies, setting fires to cities, being revolutionaries, inciting political unrest, and breaking up families.
When Paul wrote, “For to 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 living in Philippi.
Those called to bring peace had discovered the price for such, and that price was often persecution 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 s 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 everything they do, and sharing the message of peace, one finds himself totally committed 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. Submission to and a hunger for God is a foreign concept in our selfish, self-centered world.
One who lives a life of mercy and purity while promoting peace through a relationship with Christ will find himself swimming in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, 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 throughout 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 progression 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 Christianity is headed is anyone’s guess, but at present things are not getting better but worse.
How is one to respond to persecution?
Biblically, one needs to understand that persecution can serve a good purpose, a sit forces us to look heavenward, take stock of what we believe and are committed 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. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we will always be in a battle with the “forces of evil.”
(2) Refuse to retaliate. Romasn 12:17-19 tells us that vengeance is not a part of the Christian’s job description. Vengeance belongs to God.
(3) Respond positively. 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 gospel. 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?
This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.