Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps Jesus’ most famous section of teaching, but it is often considered unrealistic idealism. It’s true that we can’t live in full harmony with it in our own strength, but as Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) And actually, this is precisely the sort of thing Paul was talking about, not exercising spiritual gifts or working flashy miracles. Persecution has been a part of life for genuine believers ever since Pentecost, as Jesus warned repeatedly in the Upper Room Discourse just before His arrest. (John 14-16) American believers have been getting just a light taste of that in recent years, and it has come as quite a shock to many. It is particularly shocking when those doing the persecuting have been in the organizational church! That has been very much the case many times throughout Church history, which is further evidence that human organization doesn’t exactly equal the Body of Christ. That said, it’s always distressing to be stabbed in the back by a “brother” or “sister.” Jesus didn’t promise human harmony; in fact quite the opposite. We aren’t to be surprised by persecution, but we are to be comforted, as Jesus says here. Christian faith isn’t all “pie in the sky by and by,” but as Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) Far too many Christians, even, define blessing, happiness, and even salvation strictly in terms of physical life and material things. That is incredibly shortsighted. Jesus speaks here about our “reward in heaven,” and as Paul said, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Jesus is telling us that if we’re persecuted we should get happy, because it means that our “balance sheet” is getting top heavy on the heaven side!
I feel a little strange writing this, because I don’t know that I’ve ever been persecuted for my faith. I have been put down and ridiculed a few times, but that’s hardly a big deal. I am aware of horrific persecution that is going on even as I write, and if I were to dwell on that it would be difficult to enjoy my own life at all. There were more martyrs for Christ in the 20th Century than in the previous 19 combined, and the pace has even picked up in the 21st Century. Since I am more aware of that than many, I’m very aware that I have nothing to complain about, ever. I am blessed far beyond even my own awareness, and I’m aware of a lot! I do send regular support to an organization that directly supports persecuted believers, but it’s not very much. Even more important is prayer support, because nothing is impossible for God. I am to be grateful for the blessings I enjoy, but make the use of them that God intends so that others may be blessed as well.
Father, thank You for Your overflowing grace. I feel at times like I’m “collecting on the account” of my faithful ancestors. Not many have the sort of family line I do, but I certainly didn’t choose it. Help me be faithful in turn, both for my spiritual descendants and my physical ones, and especially for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!