Text: Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:12-16
As Melissa said in the children’s message, we are coming to the end of the Beatitudes proper today, though we will have one more week to look at how we bless others out of this wealth of blessings Jesus has showed us. As she said, it is also a difficult topic, particularly in the context of this week’s politics, but I think the scriptures give us some helpful guidance on what is and isn’t persecution, and so maybe this is God’s good timing.
As we have done throughout this series, we’ll look first at those Jesus describes as blessed, then at what the blessing is. And we’ll find the 1 Peter passage to be helpful in unpacking all that.
Persecuted for Righteousness
First, Jesus says “Blessed are those who have been persecuted…” And in this case he expands the usual one sentence to several. He says again, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.” So persecution can include verbal insults and slander. In some cases in history, persecution has even meant death.
Persecution is also something that is wielded by someone with power. A little brother can annoy you or even lie about you, but probably not persecute you unless physically stronger or otherwise has some power over you. So not every disagreement is persecution! A person of another faith moving into your neighborhood or workplace is also not persecution. Your boss firing you because of your faith (and not your job performance); that might be persecution.
It is important – very important – to point out that Jesus is not talking about any slander or persecution; he is specifically talking about persecution for the sake of righteousness… for doing what God says is right. Be very clear about that! And be very sure you continue to search the scriptures to know what God says is right!
That reminds me that Jesus has mentioned righteousness three times now in the Beatitudes. There seems to be a progression as well:
(v. 6) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – Jesus begins with the desire to learn and grow in righteousness. We never grow past this; we never learn and embody all of what God says is right. We must continue to study God’s Word and hunger to know and do what God says is right.
(v.8) “Blessed are the pure in heart” – While it’s a different word, we talked about how “pure in heart” was a form of righteousness, a form of spiritual maturity. This is also when we started noting that the pure/holy/righteous traits needed to be paired with the mercy/peace/grace traits and not set off against them.
(v.10) “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” – In today’s verse we see the outcome of desiring then growing in faithful righteousness. It may result in persecution. I think far too often it is immature believers who want to claim persecution and who attack the enemy in return. But Jesus characterizes this stage of faith as one of spiritual maturity, comparing it with the prophets of old and resulting after the hunger and then growth described in the earlier verses.
That maturity and a proper understanding of persecution is important to note as we see what Jesus teaches us to do with the persecution.
Reward: God’s Glory
Remember, Jesus defines this persecution as a blessing! And just as the other blessings, he invites us to then bless others, bless the crowd, and bless the world. And he most definitely does not say that blessing others is persecuting them back!
1 Peter re-iterates this beatitude: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (4:14)
How is this glory manifest? Christians are to suffer in such a way that they bring honor to God instead of disrepute. And that itself is a form of doing what God says is right!
Listen again to 1 Peter 4:15-16…
“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evil doer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
Can you see why this is the action of a spiritually mature follower of Christ? Like Jesus, we are not to return an eye for an eye, but to turn the other cheek. We are not blessed if we are persecuted and return evil for it. And if we do that, we are no longer acting righteously, but have wedded an UN-righteous act to what we are doing. I appreciate that beyond the obvious “don’t go there” of murder, we are also commanded not to become a “troublesome meddler.”
Rather, if we are persecuted, we are to glorify God. We are to continue doing what is right. Both the fact that we are doing what God says is right and our disposition towards our persecutors are means to that end.
Scripture talks about some teaching being easy to digest and some being something you have to chew on for a while. I think this – at the end of the Beatitudes – is the latter. The disciples, to whom Jesus was talking, would all come to know the full meaning of persecution as a means to bring glory to God. And of course Jesus was the perfect example of this, opposed and persecuted to the point of death while never wavering from doing what God said was right or from giving God all honor through his words and actions.
Is that something you or I are ready to do? I’ll confess that I still have some growing to do. But that’s the last (and perhaps hardest) of these Beatitudes: realize that even persecution for doing what God says is right is an opportunity to bless others and honor God. A warning: it is also an opportunity to bring dishonor and disrepute to God. So tread cautiously in laying claim to persecution, and ask God for help in “doing what is right” including rightly handling persecution if and when it comes.
This week I challenge you to look back over all the Beatitudes. Consider all the ways God has blessed you and find one of the blessings in Matthew 5 that you recognize in your own life. Give thanks to God for that! And then this week look for a way to extend that blessing to a specific person in your life. Ask God to give you that opportunity and to help you see it and act on it when you do. Amen!
Some Music Used
- Knowing You (Graham Kendrick)
- When the Saints (Sara Groves)
- God of Wonders
- This is My Father’s World
- By Our Love