Matthew 5:10-12 ESV
“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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So, what does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Is it just because we claim to be Christians or Jesus followers? Is it because Christians (or professing Christians) attend church services on Sundays? Is it because those who call themselves Christians read their Bibles and pray?
First, what is righteousness? It is the approval of God. It is what is deemed right by the Lord, i.e., what is approved in his eyes. So, what meets with God’s approval? What is deemed right in his eyes? Titus 2:11-14 says:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
That says it right there. This is the message all throughout the New Testament. It was for this reason that Jesus gave his life up for us on that cross, that we might die with him to sin and live to him and to his righteousness (1 Pet 1:24; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24).
And it is the reason we are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It is the reason that people hate, reject, mistreat, scheme evil against, abuse, falsely accuse, slander, beat, falsely imprison, and kill followers of Jesus Christ, because we are living righteously in God’s power. See this:
“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:7-8).
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but 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 master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (Jn 15:18-20; cf. Matt 24:9; Lu 21:12).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are being made to be like him. Our lives are to be modeled after his life. We are to speak and do the kinds of things that he said and did when he walked the face of the earth, not in our own strength, but in the strength and power of God’s Spirit who lives within us.
The more we become like Jesus and we live the kind of life that he lived, the more that we will be hated and rejected by others, as he was hated and rejected. And who were Jesus’ greatest persecutors? They were his family, friends, neighbors, fellow Israelites (God’s people) and the temple rulers.
So, don’t be surprised if your greatest persecutors are family, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians (or professing Christians), and pastors and elders in the church (or in the institutional church). For, the church at large, but not the whole, at least in America, has gone the way of the world.
And since we are called out of the world, to be separate (unlike, different) from the world of sin, the world and worldly Christians are not going to be united with us in heart and mind. They will think us odd, crazy, hyper-religious, self-righteous and/or legalistic. They won’t be particularly comfortable being around us.
Some of them will just ignore us. Others will go on the offensive against us. Some will be mild in their objections, while others’ objections will be expressed in much more severe ways. And sometimes we will feel as though we are all alone, but not believing that God has abandoned us, though.
But we are blessed of God. We have salvation from our slavery to sin, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to live godly and holy lives, pleasing to God. And we have the Holy Spirit as our helper, giving us strength and encouragement, guiding us in the way that we should go, and counseling and comforting us in our sorrow and in our suffering.
And we have the hope of eternal life with God and a better home than this earth where there will be no more sin, no sickness, no rejection, and no persecution. And He will wipe away all the tears from our eyes that we have cried because of persecution and because of grieving for those who are lost.
A Believer’s Prayer
An Original Work / July 31, 2012
With my whole heart, Lord, I pray
To be Yours, and Yours always.
Lead me in Your truth today.
May I love You, and obey.
Lead me in Your righteousness.
When I sin, may I confess;
Bow before You when I pray;
Live for You and You always.
Love You, Jesus, You’re my friend.
Life with You will never end.
You are with me through each day,
Giving love and peace always.
You will ne’er abandon me.
From my sin You set me free.
You died on that cruel tree,
So I’d live eternally.
Soon You’re coming back for me;
From this world to set me free;
Live with You eternally.
Oh, what joy that brings to me.
I will walk with You in white;
A pure bride, I’ve been made right
By the blood of Jesus Christ;
Pardoned by His sacrifice.