Persecuted for all the Right Reasons. Part Two.
Last week in part one of “Persecuted for all the Right Reasons” we found that the consequences of unrighteous decisions by a Christian cannot be properly called persecution. When our actions harm others or ourselves and result in suffering, that’s not persecution. That’s called the God ordained outcome of making poor choices. When someone chooses to act or speak in self-righteous ways that are offensive or unacceptable to civil people, that too is not the persecution of which Jesus speaks. Unrighteous and self-righteous behavior bring consequences, not persecution as Jesus defines persecution. Peter makes this clear when he writes, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” (1 Peter 4:15, ESV).
So, what then is the ‘right’ kind of persecution? What does Jesus mean by persecution, and how does that bring blessings from God? That is the question we turn to now. This eighth and last Beatitude is a longer than the others because it has two components. There is a blessing for those who are persecuted for living righteousness sake (vs. 10) and for all who are persecuted for their professed faith in Jesus (vs. 11).
Regarding these two verses, commentator J.C. Ryle says, “Jesus means those who are laughed at, mocked, despised, and ill-used because they endeavor to live as true Christians.” Those who endeavor to live a Christ-like life in submission to Jesus; those who live in humility, purity, holiness and godliness will attract the attention of others. And since such a life stirs up the conviction of those ‘in the world’ living for Christ will result in persecution. A righteous life convicts and condemns the world for its lifestyle and priorities even without saying a word. Actions are louder than words.
The world will respond with rage and persecution to those desiring to live righteously because, from the beginning, there have been two humanities. There are the people of God, and there are the people who are at war with God (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 2:3; James 4:4). The clearest and earliest example is Cain and Able. Cain killed his brother Able and the Apostle John tells us why. “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12b, ESV).
From this very first hatred induced murder to the strife today between an increasingly secular society and the Christian church, there has always been enmity between these two humanities. But sometimes the worst persecution for the people of God has come from within the religious structure. The prophet Jeremiah was ordered to be beaten and dropped in a cistern by the “chief officer in the house of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 20:1). Jesus had the Pharisees and Scribes, Paul the Judaizers and Luther and the other reformers the established Roman Church.
So the persecution of those who desire to live a life honoring to Christ has always been a part of following Christ and while Jesus does not offer specifics about why He does tell us that we can count on it happening.
We should also note that the world’s hostility is unprovoked. In John 15, Jesus tells His disciples why. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. …because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18–19). If you stand for Christ, you do not share the values, lifestyles, and interests of the ‘world.’ Sometimes people react with indifference but, on occasion, you can expect outright persecution, Jesus says, “slander, lies, and false accusations” will come.
Righteousness in and of itself in our lives, even when we are totally neutral in our actions, will bring persecution. The world hates Christ, and His people and the Bible teaches us that there is no middle ground. In fact, there is no common ground between God’s people and the people in the world. Paul writes; “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). Paul says there are only believers and unbelievers and there is no middle or common ground between them.
Let’s bring this forward to our time and place in 21st century America. Our culture and society are utterly hostile to and desire to destroy biblical Christianity. Maybe fifty years ago the culture was somewhat tolerant toward evangelical Christians but no so today. The media, the government, public schools, and the courts are all hostile toward orthodox Christianity. Our culture is relativistic and pluralistic and is now openly hostile toward Christians who are absolutist and believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Do you think I overstate the case? Try this: Write a letter to the editor of the local paper saying that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only proper basis for sexual expression. Any other expression of sexuality is a sin. Include your address and phone number and see what happens. I think you know!
To say there is one way and one truth is the height of intolerance in society today that will tolerate anything except an exclusive truth claim. And Christianity is, at its core, an exclusive truth claim. So Christians can expect persecution. Next time we’ll address the question “what if I’m not being persecuted?” and we’ll discuss why we rejoice if we are persecuted.