Suffering For What’s Right
Read 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Have you ever been persecuted for being a Christian? Why does Jesus say that those who have should “rejoice and be glad”?
For those of us in the United States and other free countries, we may be hesitant to claim that we have ever been persecuted for our Christian faith. After all, historically, Christian persecution has entailed torture and martyrdom. It’s true that most American Christians are not being killed for our faith on American soil. We are aware that we have brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide who have to meet in secret or risk being jailed (or worse) for their faith. Globally, Christians are kidnapped, sold into slavery and the sex trade, gunned down in churches, and hunted by radical terrorist groups. Many persecuted Christians around the world live in hiding and their faith is outlawed by their governments.
While we are certainly not dealing with that level of severe and extreme religious persecution, hostile attitudes towards Christians are on the rise in the United States and in the west in general. On college campuses, Christians are often mocked and openly ridiculed for their faith. On social media, we are labeled everything from “hateful bigots” to “gullible idiots.” There seems to be a growing antagonistic attitude towards Christianity and a growing number of discrimination cases against Christians in the American courts.
But regardless of whether we are facing hostile attitudes, legal battles, or physically violent attacks because of our faith, today’s verses should comfort us. Jesus said that if we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, we will be blessed—the kingdom of heaven is ours. In this case, Jesus specifically speaks of the hostile attitude the world has towards Christians and the slander and verbal abuse we can expect to receive as a result.
But we aren’t blessed whenever we receive any kind of criticism or persecution. For example, we aren’t blessed when we are rightly being called out for being disobedient or punished for being in the wrong. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake or “falsely on my account.” The key being that we are blessed when we are wrongly accused or treated badly for doing right in Jesus’ name. Oftentimes, Christians are hated for no reason other than the fact that we bear the name of Christ.
In Luke 6:22, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” In other words, if we are persecuted because we follow Jesus, we are in good company. They did the same thing to the Old Testament prophets, they did the same thing to the apostles and early Christians, and we can expect them to do the same thing to us. After all, they did the same thing to Jesus Himself!
Jesus reminded us in John 15:18: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” The apostle Peter also had a lot to say about persecution. He said that we shouldn’t be afraid if we suffer for doing good (1 Peter 3:14 and 17). He went on to say in 1 Peter 4:12-14 that we shouldn’t be surprised “by the fiery trial” instead, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you."
Friends, if we suffer for being Christians we can rejoice and be glad because we are in good company. The prophets, apostles, early Christians, and even Jesus Christ Himself all suffered persecution for the sake of the Gospel. But even more than that, we also know that our momentary struggles are light compared to the glorious reward that awaits us in eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). If you are being persecuted, slandered, mocked, or insulted for the name of Jesus Christ, hang in there. Blessed are you. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Lord, it isn’t easy to be mocked, insulted, and thought of as a fool for being a Christian. But I am honored to bear Your Name and if temporary suffering comes with the territory, so be it. I know You have promised me a share of Your future glory in eternity and long for that day. I pray for all of the Christians worldwide who are suffering for the sake of Your Name— strengthen, encourage, and uphold them. Amen.