Persecuted for the Right Reasons. Part four: How do I rejoice in persecution?
Finally, I want to close out this long running discussion on the eighth Beatitude with why we rejoice when we are persecuted for the proper reasons.
First, it is a sign that we are Christian. Jesus says at the end of vs. 12 that we are to rejoice because the world persecuted the prophets before us. That means we are on the same side as the prophets who lived before us and, in essence, are on the side of God who sent the prophets. Persecution is a badge of honor placing you in the company of the prophets who were approved and blessed by God.
Second, we rejoice when we are persecuted because an eternal reward is promised. In vs. 12a Jesus says: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” The reward promised to the persecuted for Christ is ‘great,’ Jesus says. The original Greek word translated as ‘great’ in our English Bible is a word that describes “the upper range or scale of extent,” according to the Louw-Nida Lexicon. Today ‘great’ is a term used to described almost anything from a movie to a meal to a basketball score. But the word Matthew chose to convey the magnificent extent of reward is the same word Luke used in Luke 7 to describe the love the unnamed woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair had for Him. We rejoice in persecution because we will receive a great reward in heaven.
Third, we rejoice in the privilege we have been given to be counted as a friend of Jesus and an adopted child of God. Paul says this: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV). There is no amount of suffering in this world that can compare to the eternal joy of our lives with Christ in God’s eternal kingdom that awaits us.
The persecution of the world against the children of God will come. But God ordains just what, when, how and how long that persecution will be for each of us. Furthermore, He has given us His Spirit to be with us in and through the persecution so that we can stand. Paul writes to the church in Corinth these words to encourage them through their trials, and they are the words we need to hear and hold as well. He writes:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, ESV).
Be glad and rejoice in the persecution that you face because it means you are honoring Christ by living a life that is seen as righteous by an unrighteous world. It means that you are working out your salvation with fear and trembling which Paul encourages us to do in Philippians 2. This ‘working out’ is allowing the Holy Spirit to conform our lives and actions to the image of Christ. The ‘fear and trembling’ is the awe, respect, and amazement at the power and glory of God that causes us to truly work hard at putting off our old self and putting on the new self we are in Christ Jesus. And when you do that, the world will see Christ in you, and you will be persecuted.