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Happy in Persecution

August 15th, 2018

You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 CSB)

The word “persecution” in English is related to the word “prosecution.” They both share the same connection to the Latin word persequi meaning “to hunt down,” “to pursue,” and “to proceed against.” The Greek word in the New Testament, dioko, means “to pursue with all haste.”  Persecution is more than a casual questioning or a circumstantial rejection. It is the deliberate, intentional, pursuit to bring legal forces to bear against Christ-followers.

How can this be a blessing, or a cause for happiness?

The right attitude must come first

Christ only mentioned this in the Sermon on the Mount after He had first given the eight beatitudes. They describe the attitudes and actions of the Christ-follower: (1) Confession and repentance, or admission of personal spiritual poverty, (2) mourning for our sins and the fallenness of this world, (3) meekness, or surrender of our rights to God, (4) the development of spiritual appetites for God, (5) being merciful to others, (6) pure in heart, being cleansed within by the grace of God in Christ, (7) and sharing the gospel of peace in this world. Only then did Christ add the eight beatitude of being persecuted for righteousness.

In persecution we will go one of two ways: we will become bitter at the unfairness of it all, or we will become grateful for the privilege to endure persecution for the sake of the name of Christ. There is no middle ground. So the first step of letting persecution be a blessing, or a source of happiness, is to go through the first seven beatitudes. Meekness, for example, means the acceptance of what God has entrusted to us to endure, and in our hearts bow to Him in worship in the midst of the challenges of life. Any person who is not meek will become bitter in persecution.

Valuing what heaven thinks

The second insight in this passage above is that the one who rejoices in persecution delights in what heaven delights in. He or she trusts that when they are going through moments of persecution that God is watching, that the angels are watching and cheering us on. This does not speak only of a reward in heaven when we die for being faithful during persecution here on earth. It also describes the joy of the Christian today as he experiences the comfort of what God in heaven thinks of his life.

In Revelation martyrs are often mentioned, and this describes God’s attentiveness to all believers who endure persecution for their faith. God provides unique comfort and peace to the persecuted. It is amazing to read of the great joy on the faces of many martyrs in their moments of death. Though they were unhappy about the injustices done to themselves and to their loved ones, they still experienced incredible peace at that moment of death.

For example, the Boxer Rebellion of China started in 1900 and turned violent against Western missionaries and Chinese converts. Thousands were martyred for their faith – burned alive, brutalised by mobs, beheaded and run through with swords, and other cruelties. Yet the testimonies of their deaths describe the joy of many of them, preaching the gospel to the end, singing Christian songs, praying and praising the Lord.

The fellowship of the persecuted

Another cause of rejoicing in persecution is the company of the persecuted include some of the greatest men and women of faith in history. It is true that some have invited their own persecution by disrespecting local laws and customs. If they had only been more sensitive to local customs, or taken to heart the words of Romans 13 about the authority God gives to rulers, some would have escaped persecution. But not all.

The majority of those who are persecuted for their faith have been in these circumstances because they have been faithful to the Lord. Courage and boldness should characterise Christians of all nations.  This characteristic of boldness is not self-pity but love – love for the Lord, for the world, and for the Word of God.

 

Sermon on the Mount