BLESSED ARE THE PERSECUTED
P. Samuel Manoharam
Every Christian who surrenders his life absolutely to the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to follow Him in everything will find this verse is true. One of the discouragements every true Christian experiences in his life, before he has gone very far in Christian life, is persecution. This is because we live in a Christ-hating world and a compromising age. In such an upside-down world, persecution of Christians is inevitable. Christians are generally understood as those who demonstrate honesty, love, sympathy and unselfishness. Because of this, they are not welcomed by those who live differently. We live in an unregenerate society that cannot differentiate between right and wrong. Therefore God-fearing Christians become misfits. This explains why good people are persecuted and why bad things happen to good people. Godly Christians seem to be an abnormality in this Godless world. But those who are persecuted for ‘righteousness’ sake’ are happy, because they are identified with Christ. “Persecution is ‘blessed’ because it forms a dark backdrop for the radiance of the Christian life.” “A happy life is not one filled only with sunshine, but one which uses both light and shadow to produce beauty.”
Our environment and the age we live in have much to do with the intensity of persecution a Christian is subjected to. Godly Christians are not of this world and their hope is not of this world. They are determined to be loyal to Christ Jesus, come what may. The cross is the Christian’s lot. Jesus said, “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt.10:38). The Bible clearly teaches that every believer who is faithful to Christ, must be prepared for persecution at the hands of the enemies of the Gospel. Jesus told His disciples and followers about the future. He said that discipleship meant a life of self-denial. He asked us to count the cost carefully, lest we should turn back when we meet with suffering and persecution. He said that the world would hate us, that we would be “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” and that we would be treated as a peculiar people. But a forward-looking Christian remains optimistic and joyful, thinking that if he patiently endures the suffering in these days of darkness and uncertainty, he “shall also reign with Him” one day (2Tim.2:12). “Patience is that quality of endurance that can reach the breaking point and not break.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.5:10). Christ’s righteousness is so revolutionary and so contradicts man’s manner of living that it naturally invokes the enmity of the world. Nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians are exempt from the tribulations and disasters that come upon the world. The Bible, however, does teach that the Christian can face them with the supernatural power that is available to him in Christ and can rejoice in the midst of persecution and suffering.
Forms Of Persecution
Many Christians live in very difficult situations. For some, life is difficult because they are a small minority among dominant non-Christians. For some, there is an active and deliberate opposition from governments that do not tolerate religious freedom. Some who embrace Christ are disowned by their families. A Christian employee may find his career advancement blocked because his superior is prejudiced against him. Christians’ presence in some social gatherings is disliked. A person with good morals is laughed at, if he refuses to join in the immorality of others. Persecution can take many different forms.
Joy In Persecution
The Bible tells us to bless those who persecute us and not to curse, to repay no one for evil,to live peaceably with all men, not to avenge ourselves. If our enemy is hungry, we are to feed him. If he thirsts, we are to give him drink. We are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good (Rom.12:14,17,18-21). We are instructed to show Christ’s love to them, instead of lashing out at those who oppose us.
We are exhorted to rejoice in the midst of persecutions, because we have eternity’s values in view. When persecution comes, we should look beyond at the promised glories of heaven.The hope and assurance of the eternal glory and joys that await us can make the present trials and troubles seem light and temporary. Charles Spurgeon said, “If Christians are not willing to suffer a little persecution for Christ, they are not fit to be His disciples. If the world has nothing to say against us, Christ will have nothing for us. If persecution is received willingly, it will not be a hindrance to the Christian life but a help.”
Those who have no deep Christian root or base, easily fall away when they encounter affliction or persecution even for a little time. We should not be discouraged when we are persecuted. It is a great honour and privilege to be persecuted for Christ, because we partake of His sufferings (1Pet.4:12-14).
There are some who suffer because of their own poor judgement, bad nature, poor manners and wrong-doing, bringing others’ displeasure on themselves. We must be careful not to behave, preach, or do anything offensively. It is not our goodness but our lack of it that people resent. While we should never compromise on Christian principles, we are not obliged to push our opinions on others in an unjustifiable way. If people dislike us because of our convictions, we should not feel sad but rejoice. When Christ was reviled, He did not revile again. Someone has said, “To return good for good is natural but to return good for evil is supernatural.”
The suffering we experience is the natural resentment in the hearts of people toward all that is godly and righteous. This is the cross we are to bear (1Tim.4:10-12). If we react harshly against our persecutors, we become bitter. There is no blessing in bearing persecution that way. Matthew 5:44 says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Persecution and death intensified the joy of early Christians. D. L. Moody said, “The most glorious triumphs of the church have been won in times of persecution. The Early Church was persecuted for about three hundred years after the crucifixion and these were years of growth and progress.” It is so true that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” The early Christians rejoiced in suffering, since they looked at it in the light of eternity. For them, “the nearer the death, the nearer was a life of eternal fellowship with Christ.” Ignatius, about to die for his faith in A.D. 110, cried out, “Nearer the sword, then nearer to God.”
Billy Graham wrote, “The early Christians were able to experience joy in their hearts in the midst of persecution. They counted suffering for Christ not as a burden or misfortune but as a great honour, as evidence that Christ counted them worthy to witness for Him through suffering. They never forgot what Christ Himself had gone through for their salvation, and to suffer for His name’s sake was regarded as a gift rather than a cross.” Aren’t the early Christians examples for us to emulate?
Our Great Reward
If persecution seems more than we can bear, we should remember how great the reward is. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we shall reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” We must therefore enter into the kingdom of God through pain, trouble and tribulation. The Apostle Paul said, “Through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.” Romans 8:18 says, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” We should keep looking not “at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Cor.4:18).
One of the important truths we need to remember is that those who are under persecution are being processed for heaven. They should therefore rejoice. Persecution is one of the natural consequences of living the Christian life. What should really matter to us is our walking with Christ, living with Christ and to have the consuming passion to please Christ.
No suffering, no glory. No struggle, no victory. No persecution, no reward!