“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness …”
What does it mean to be ‘persecuted for righteousness or for righteousness’ sake’? I know that it’s not suffering because of our foolishness or suffering from our own wrongdoing. Also, suffering for the sake of righteousness is also not about suffering for being noble, good or self-sacrificing. In general the world praises heroes who embark on noble causes such as ending world hunger and establishing world peace. Crowds cheer such people who make those statements. But that is not true righteousness because suffering does not generally come to people who make such noble claims.
What then does practicing righteousness look like? It is to simply be like Jesus. The Bible tells me that those who are like Him will always be persecuted (John 15:18-20, 2 Tim. 3:12). Old Testament examples of Abel, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Daniel come to mind as well as the Apostles. Those people truly suffered because of their desire to be like God and walk in His ways. Suffering came their way, and oftentimes not only from the world. It’s been said that the most grievous persecution has been done at the hands of the Church and religious people. Jesus’ chief persecutors were such. Jesus exposed their cold, religious hearts that hated the pure faith He exhibited, taught and endorsed.
Formal Christianity is often referred to being the greatest enemy of raw, pure and genuine faith. It is because pure faith does not fit into a formal religious category or tradition. Pure faith in Christ is radically different because it is rooted in Someone who was radically different from the religious traditions of the day. Jesus was different from the standard religious thought and practice. He did not fit into orthodoxy. He in fact blew it up.
Being Jewish Himself, Jesus drove the religious leaders into fits of rage. Many threw stones and hated Him. They eventually murdered Him. I wonder what the religious leaders of today would say if Jesus was able to speak? But wait, He already did, and the repeated message was for us to repent! (Rev. 2:5, 2:16, 2:21, 3:3, 3:19)
This Beatitude tests us if we allow it. It ought to test our ideas as to what being a ‘Christian’ is. Contrary to popular opinion, a Christian is not someone who never offends, is always easy to get along with and popular with everyone. The world attempts to paint Christianity this way. However, it is the wrong view of Jesus. If our conception of Jesus is that He would be admired and applauded by the religious community and world alike, then we have a wrong view of Him.
Martin Lloyd Jones says this, ‘if you try and imitate Christ the world will praise you; if you become like Christ the world will hate you’. In other words, persecution becomes inevitable if we are to be like Christ.
Here is what I have come to realize about my life with Christ.
- My life will bring division. Jesus said that His effect will do this very thing (Matt. 10:34). In my life, the effect of Jesus’ ministry created a clear-cut distinction between myself and the world. I am no longer to live according to the pleasure of my eyes, the desires of my flesh or the pride of my lifestyle (1 John 3:15-17). I still have lots of work to do in this area, but the closer I get to Him the further away I am from other things.
- My life is to be controlled by Jesus. Our culture does not like the word ‘controlled’. We are influenced by culture to pursue individual freedom of choice, expression, desire, and thought. The Apostle Paul said that living for him was Christ (Phil. 1:21). I think Paul was a very smart man who was full of God’s Spirit. To ‘live’ is Christ. That means He and He alone is the author and perfecter of my faith. In other words, Jesus is to dominate my living in such a way that my life becomes very much like Him. Again, I am a work in progress, but thankfully His Spirit moves and transforms me moment by moment (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
- My life should be controlled by thoughts of heaven and the world to come. If living is Christ, Paul says, then to die is even better (Phil. 1:21). Have you ever noticed that the non-Christian does everything to not think of the world beyond? In our pleasure mania culture we are taught to seek after every worldly passion and pleasure under the sun. The world prioritizes a temporal mindset. The problem I have is that the more I follow Jesus, the more I think about eternity and the return to Eden.
To close the Beatitude list Jesus looks at His followers then and now and simply reminds us of the focus of our living: ‘Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven’ (Matthew 5:12)
As we become like Christ we are to experience persecution. In the Canadian culture this is beginning to happen. Our government is beginning to establish some clear cut definitions it expects its citizens to attest and endorse. The follower of Jesus needs to remind themselves that before the world hated us, it first hated Him (John 15:18-27). May we be a people who are committed to be like Him.