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Blessed Are the Persecuted

September 22nd, 2014

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10

This beatitude is given both as a consolation for persecution and as a direction for our priorities in life. We read in 1 Timothy 5:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” so every Christian will experience some persecution. As a consolation it reminds us that God watches over our lives here on earth and when we face persecution – whether it be mild rejection or harsh and brutal persecution – due to our faith in Christ, that God will reward us.

As a consolation, the reward that is promised is simply heaven itself – and the reward unembellished here with statements of crowns or future ruling statuses that we are told about in other New Testament passages. The reward is simply heavenly citizenship, and the meaning is that this reward is sufficient for us. It is enough if all we receive is the promise of citizenship in God’s kingdom. This means that this future kingdom has no low-life, no underprivileged, no second class citizens. Christ said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

The rewards that are mentioned in Scripture are not the type that would set us apart as superior to others or others inferior to us. Dedication shall be rewarded, but saints shall live in a beautiful peaceful equality in terms of dignity, importance, and significance. There will be no boasting in ourselves in heaven (Eph. 2:8), only boasting in Christ and what he has achieved in our lives (Gal. 6:14). No one shall endure suffering and rejection here on earth and enter into heaven disappointed. The kingdom we inherit is the unshakable kingdom of God (Heb. 12:28).

As a directive for living, it tells us that we are to follow Christ where He leads us and not worry about the earthly rewards. I have many friends in ministry and some have received very good financial rewards for their ministry – and they have earned these rewards, for the laborer is worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:18). I have other friends who have served faithfully who have not received as much financial reward, but have just enough their entire lives. It would be wrong to look at either of these and say that one was successful and the other a failure, or that one did right and the other did wrong, or that one was wise and the other foolish. Though it is possible that one may have made better financial decisions that the other, the goal of service to Christ cannot be measured by earthly rewards – whether they are money, popularity, or comfort. Neither are we to strive for these things in our dedication to Christ. We are to simply follow Him and trust Him to provide for us.

This changes for those outside of ministry only slightly. Certainly anyone going into business does so to make a profit, but every Christian has a higher calling than money and profit. Every follower of Christ must set his affections on the things of heaven and not the things of this earth. Our hopes and our directions in life transcend this world and are invested in God’s kingdom. His life becomes ours. His eternal peace, joy, and love dwell within us and this is worth all the gold in the world. God pays in spiritual dividends that give purpose and meaning, as well as immeasurable inner joy and spiritual wealth to our souls.

The goal of the Christian life must always be first and foremost faithfulness to the name and calling of Christ. Our success is only measurable in those terms, not in financial ones. Of course, there is one exception to that statement – how much of our financial resources we give for the cause of Christ. The world sees how much we keep for ourselves, but heaven notices how much we give for Christ.

Beatitudes

The Peacemakers

September 19th, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

If modern entertainment is any measurement of what the world thinks of peacemakers, it places a very low priority on them. I am trying to think of the last time, or any time, I have seen a drama or read a story written in the last fifty years that emphasized something other than revenge, punishing the guilty, and hurting those people we think are evil – and to be honest I cannot recall very many stories about making peace. Since marketing is what drives these matters, one would suppose that in the commercial world themes on forgiveness and reconciliation do not appear to be as appealing to people or as profitable to advertisers as themes on punishment, humiliation, and revenge. A good movie ends with the bad guy being punished, not forgiven and reconciled to those he hurt.

Which simply means that the world is in a greater need for peacemakers than it realizes. The need is so great, they are not even aware of the possibility, let alone the urgency of the matter.

Peacemakers must learn to encourage two factors in restoring people to one another: forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness means to let the anger in your heart die, to cease to strive for revenge and shame. Some sins of others can be forgiven and the matter dropped. Other sins demand some sort of payment or some justice to be done due to the seriousness of the offense. Forgiveness requires that we acknowledge that someone has sinned against us, but choose not to hold on to the offense, rather to release it in to the hands of God. Forgiveness is impossible without the recognition of wrongdoing, or there is nothing to forgive. If I say, “That is okay – it was nothing,” then I cannot forgive for I did not admit that any wrong was done. If I say, “Your offense hurt me but I forgive you,” then that is true forgiveness.  If I go a second step and show kindness to the offender, then that is grace.

Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored. Some problems between people are so severe and the pains go so deep that all that reconciliation may take time. “Once bitten, twice shy,” is an old saying, and in this world when someone hurts us we do not feel we can trust that person again. But at least in the Christian faith we should make an effort to reconcile, to give the relationship the possibility of being restored. Peacemakers at least establish between people a cessation of hostilities.

This is why gossips are so often tools of the devil, for they prevent healing and reconciliation. “Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarreling stops” (Proverbs 26:20). So to be a peacemaker means to avoid gossiping, to avoid stirring up the matter again, to promote unity and kindness.

Peacemakers must also promote understanding between people. Conflicts tend to repeat themselves unless deeper issues are dealt with, and this can only happen when people seek to really hear one another and try to understand.

In today’s world there are some people whose ideology prevents reasoning. Al Qaeda has no intention to reason with anyone. They see moderate Muslims as evil people who need to be killed or converted to their way of thinking. In fact, they see the whole world like this. In their view everyone fits into two categories: them and everyone else. The forgiveness that brings reconciliation is only possible if both parties cooperate.

And from that extreme example we can also think of people who are serial wounders of others. As soon as you make peace with them, as soon as you get close to them, they wound you again. They do not know how else to be. This is why the Bible exhorts us to “bear with one another” in Christian love. This is why Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). If we have let go of the offense, if we have forgiven the other person, if we have committed ourselves not to gossip about it, if we have confessed our own fault in the matter, if we have prayed for the person and blessed them and declared a cessation of conflict between them, if we have sought to understand them and their perspective, then we have done what God has commanded.

Declare peace toward those around you – especially your fellow believers – and promote understanding, patience, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. Your reputation will be special. Not everyone will understand or appreciate what you do, but for those who do they will see you as a true child of God.

Beatitudes