Persecution isn’t fun. If you’re like me, you do what you can to avoid persecution. Honestly, just the fear that someone might think poorly of me can be enough to get me to tuck in my tail and be quiet.
But Jesus tells us that persecution brings a blessing.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
I also want to include the parallel passage from Luke, because it adds some extra perspective.
Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)
Jesus says that the blessings of persecution are so wonderful that we should rejoice when we are persecuted, because God is preparing a great reward in Heaven that will far exceed the pain of the persecution.
Hmm. So how often have I missed out on a wonderful blessing by acting cowardly?
When we think of persecuted Christians, we usually think of those who are physically beaten, tortured, and killed. But the majority of the persecution that Jesus mentions is verbal or emotional persecution. Reviling, saying all manner of evil, hating, separation, reproach, and casting out our names as evil, are all emotional persecution.
We typically think that physical persecution is the worst. However, emotional persecution is only different, not necessarily easier. In fact, the emotional persecution can often come from friends, from family, from people who claim to be Christians.
Persecution comes from those who do not know God. The last part of these two passages stood out to me. Those who persecute us are children of those who persecuted the prophets before us. They are working for Satan and do not hear us because they are not of God.
“Why don’t you understand my speech? Because you can’t hear my word. You are of your father, the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” (John 8:43-44a)
Recently, God showed me that, in order to be persecuted, we must be worthy of persecution. In Acts 5, the apostles were dragged before the Jewish leaders, who wanted to kill them, but Gamaliel convinced them to let the apostles go.
They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name. (Acts 5:40-41)
One reason why we do not see persecution in America and other western countries is that there are probably many people who are not worthy to be persecuted. They are not worthy to receive God’s blessing through persecution.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
So who was “the world” that hated Jesus?
Amazingly, it was the Jewish leaders. The Gentiles didn’t seem to hate Him too much. Both Herod and Pilate found Him innocent. Throughout the Gospels, there are no records of the Romans persecuting Jesus.
I must say that I have seen the same sort of thing in my life. One of the nastiest things ever said to me came from a pastor who I emailed about divorce and remarriage. He responded by saying something like the following:
“Today’s verse is Isaiah 36:12 (KJV) [which speaks of “eating dung and drinking piss”]. Go and do thou likewise, you ungracious jerks.”
Yes, that was a pastor who wrote that.
Note, too, that Jesus spoke of persecution that had already happened. Up to this point, no one had laid a finger on Him. But He had received an incredible amount of emotional and verbal persecution, even from His own family, who grew up with Him and certainly should have known who He was.
Let’s keep the end in mind. Persecution is the result of loving Jesus passionately and giving that love to those around us. Some people won’t be happy. But God promises a reward to those who receive persecution, a reward so great that the persecuted should rejoice!