Blessed [comforted by inner peace and God’s love] are those who are persecuted for doing that which is morally right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].
Jesus taught this beatitude early in His career, but perhaps He was thinking about the last week of His life, when He would be killed by religious leaders who felt threatened by His life and teachings. Jesus told those who followed Him, “A disciple is not above his teacher” (Matthew 10:20). Those who follow Jesus can expect to be attacked by people who feel threatened by the truth.
Today, thousands of believers around the world experience severe beatings, imprisonment, and even death because they stand up for Christ. In our culture, our lives are seldom threatened, but we may suffer ridicule when we stand up for righteousness sake. What does this look like? A man refuses to pad his expense account as his coworker does. When both are asked about the differences in their reimbursement request, the truth comes out. The other employee begins a smear campaign against the one who refused to lie. A woman won’t join in when her friends insist on gossiping, only to be ridiculed by those she cares about. A single young man is still a virgin when he’s twenty-seven years old, and he feels as if he’s the only virgin left. A man insists on paying his full share of taxes, while his brother skims a little bit here and there. The examples are almost endless. When we choose to do right for Christ’s sake, many will cheer, but some will ridicule us unmercifully.
For the second time in this hillside message, Jesus promises “ the kingdom of heaven” to those who follow His example. In this case, He tells us that when we are ridiculed-or worse- for following Him, we will experience His presence, peace, and strength. The price of obedience is sometimes steep, but the reward is sweet.
If you haven’t met Satan face to face, it’s because you are running in the same direction.
The call to live a life of righteousness brings us to a point of separation from the ideals and standards of the world. To be sure this doesn’t mean that we are somehow superior to those around us. Indeed, we live in righteous humility, recognizing that our righteousness is the work of God in us and not through some accomplishment on our own. Yet the call of Christ is to live differently. Ziglar gives a few examples of how that way of living may very well bring some form of persecution. Often it may affect or influence our ability to be successful in the eyes of the world. The pressure to fit and blend in with our surroundings is enormous. We coin phrases such as, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” so that we may somehow justify our fear to stand out or stand up as Christians.
I don’t know anyone who places themselves in a position of ridicule or persecution on purpose or with enthusiasm. We read that Christ prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from Him and the apostle Paul prayed for the “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. To comprehend that we may suffer because of our faith and lifestyle is not some martyr motivated thing. However, to be aware that if we choose the path of righteousness, it will often set us at variance with those who choose otherwise and can result in some form of persecution, is important so that we might not be taken unaware.
Even from Christians there can come persecution, for skepticism and embarrassment are often the unintended effects produced by those who choose to live a fully righteous life. I’ve learned that sometimes those who put the things of God first, who commit themselves to the work of God, who make decisions based on biblical teaching, who conduct their business affairs as Christ taught, are often ridiculed or mocked.
Some years ago as I was working in the corporate world, I found myself in this predicament. I had no intention of trying to get my coworkers to conform or comply with some standard that I set. I was just living as a Christ-follower to the best of my ability. But that lifestyle moved me to be honest, to speak truth, to give the company their just service. I attempted to apply the teaching of the Bible that taught us to do everything as unto the Lord. The backlash that occurred was mind-boggling. What was interesting was that the most reaction came from two of the workers who were very involved in their church, one a minister and the other a deacon. They became offended by my work ethic and by my “loyalty” to the company. I guess they felt it exposed their lack of ethics. For months I was on the brunt end of ridicule and attempts to discredit my work. Everything that went wrong, as often as possible was laid on me. Some days it felt like every thing in the devil’s arsenal was shot at me. May I tell you that it became a period of intense prayer. I prayed for relief. I prayed for a new job with a new company. And God gave me none of that. Finally I came to the point, or truthfully God brought me to the point of giving it all to Him. Little by little, I begin to see a change. No, the persecution did not slack but the coworkers who did not know Christ began to ask about my faith. They would open their hearts and ask me to pray for things going on in their lives. God began to work in amazing ways. My two coworkers intensified their ridicule and then one day another coworker called their hand. From that moment they saw their strategy come unglued and soon they ceased.
I tell this story not to make something of myself but to share by example that if you stay true to righteousness, God may not deliver you from the trial, but He will use you to witness to those around you of the grace of Christ.
There will be times when God wishes to use you as he used Job to intercede for those who ridiculed him in his calamity. After all the abuse they heaped upon Job, it was through his prayers that they were given grace. Corrie Ten Boom tells of speaking in a meeting and at the end of the service she found herself standing before one of the guards from the concentration camp. It seems this guard was one of the most cruel and had been instrumental in the death of Corrie’s sister. Corrie says that all the hatred came back at that moment until the guard spoke. “I have asked God to forgive me for all the wrong I have done. Now I am asking you to forgive me for the wrong I have done you and your sister.” In the camp, Corrie and her sister had lived as Christians and had frequently incurred the wrath of the guard. Corrie says that she prayed that God would give her grace to forgive as she had been forgiven.
As Christians we do not respond to persecution and ridicule as others may. We choose to respond as Christ who prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
If you keep running into the devil, be blessed and comforted by the truth that you are running the right direction. Know that our Savior who was persecuted Himself, understands and He will give you grace in the trial and blessings beyond imagination for He is the one who said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake.”
Dr. John Thompson