What is the relationship of the Christian to persecution? Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against your falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).
The Master does not offer to bless us simply because we suffer. Sinners suffer, but not for the cause of Christ. We are blessed only if that suffering is “for righteousness’ sake.” Thus, there is no merit in suffering the just punishment for evil deeds (1 Pet. 4:15). When common criminals who rob and murder are caught and punished, they should not be glorified as heroes or martyrs. They are receiving their just recompense.
When others speak evil of us, there is no blessing promised unless the evil speech is false (Matt. 5:11) Nor should Christians seek or provoke persecution. We are to strive “to live peaceably with all met,” (Rom. 12:18). If we live righteously, we will not have to seek persecution, for it will find us (2 Tim. 3:12). This is because Christians are not of the world, and the wicked world hates us for our very righteousness (Jn. 15:19 f; 1 In. 3:11-13).
All men, good and evil, must die in one fashion or another (Heb. 9:27). Bad health is brought upon the righteous and unrighteous. Often the wicked bring upon themselves many of their evils by smoking, drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, or by living a risky lifestyle. However, the righteous will suffer bad health because they serve God righteously. Men like Job, Lazarus, and Paul are perfect examples of this. God will try the righteous, but for the wicked awaits hell and damnation (Ps 11:5-7). All Christians will suffer sickness alike (1 Pet 5:9,10). Job’s afflictions were defined as misery. Paul took pleasure in sicknesses, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.” Saying, “For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10). The key words in all this is. “For Christ’s sake”.
The blessed ones are “they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:10). This means to suffer “for the Son of Man’s sake” (Lk. 5:22). If we simply live the kind of life Christ demands and refuse to renounce or disgrace His precious name, we will be persecuted. When we are, Christ will bless us. “. . . it is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr.
In ancient times God’s people were persecuted by being “. . . tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection; “And others had trial of . . . scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonments; “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about In sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy.) they wondered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:35-38).
No man can preach the Gospel faithfully without having a multitude of lies told about him by vicious sinners and false brethren. Indeed, all faithful Christians must endure the stigma of slander and misrepresentation.
The Master reveals, “for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12 f; Lk. 6:23). Although we will never earn our salvation, God has graciously decreed that, in reward for service rendered, there is a corresponding blessing. But the blessing so outweighs the service as to be incomparable. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”( 2 Cor. 4:17). “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18).
“Be thou faithful unto death,” promises the Lamb of God, “and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The basis of this reward is revealed in the statement, “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:12).
To suffer for Christ is to have fellowship with those immortals “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38 f; 1 Cor. 4:9-13). What a grand privilege, to share in so glorious a succession, with those who overcame tribulation and look down upon us as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1-3). Yes, it is even to share, however so slightly, in the suffering Christ endured in our behalf (1 Pet. 4:12-13). And, in our tribulation, Christ goes each step with us (Acts 9:4-5; 22:8; 26:14-15 ff; 2 Cor. 4:9; Dan. 3:19-25). Thus, we must walk in the steps of the Savior for such reason were you called (1 Pet 2:20,21).
Luke records the Master as having advised, “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23 ff; 2 Cor. 12:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). And why shouldn’t we “leap for you” in the face of suffering, when we realize how great the blessings are that follow? This will cause us to patiently endure all the abuse the world can heap upon us (Heb. 12:3-7). Dear Christian, all faithful Christians must face persecution, sicknesses, tribulations, and trials if they would follow the Master. Don’t become discouraged. Don’t be ashamed of your persecutions for the cause of Christ but rather glorify God! (1 Pet 4:16) Consider the reward. Think of the value and gain. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”