The last of the beatitudes is Matthew 5:10-12: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
II Timothy 3:12 leaves no doubt about persecution for believers in Jesus: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Persecution seems to be the “mark” that we are in the “last days”; however, the “last days” have lasted for 2000 years. Remember, if a day is a thousand years, then it has been two days. Just as Jesus rose on the third day from the grave, so He will also come back to the earth on the third day. (That’s a whole different teaching; we don’t have time for that now.)
Persecution may include being laughed at or mocked for believing in Jesus. It may mean losing a promotion at work or losing your job altogether. It may mean losing friendships. It may mean being put in jail in many countries, or it may mean losing your life. There have been more people who have died for believing in Jesus in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Approximately 250,000 people per year die as martyrs for their Christian beliefs. If you are willing to take a stand for your belief in Jesus, then sooner or later you will likely be persecuted. The question we must ask ourselves is: “Are you willing to take a stand when the time comes?” Taking a stand may mean walking away when those around you are telling obscene jokes or using obscene language. It may be that you risk losing your job or even your life.
I. Reasons for persecution
Verse ten tells us we are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” When we try our best to live a righteous life, we are different from others in the world. We stand out, sometimes “like a sore thumb.” When our friends are laughing at their sin, we should be mourning over their sin. When the world says: “Be strong even if it means hurting others,” we try to have an attitude of meekness. As Matthew 5:13 says: “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt stings; people do not want to know the truth when they are living in sin. Matthew 5:14 says: “You are the light of the world.” Those living in sin do not want the light revealing their sin. In a righteous society, it is good people who punish evil people for doing evil. But in today’s evil society, it is evil people who punish good people for doing good. I Peter 4:14 encourages us: “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part, He is blasphemed, but on your part, He is glorified.”
Verse 11 says we may be persecuted “falsely for My sake.” We are persecuted not just for living a righteous life, but for claiming the name of our Lord. Even today we see Tim Tebow, a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, being persecuted for claiming the name of Jesus. The more he gives God the glory for giving him his talent, the more he is persecuted by the media.
We must remember that the world does not hate the baby Jesus in the manger. Merchants make lots of money off of the baby Jesus at Christmas time. The world doesn’t hate Jesus for feeding the hungry or healing the sick. The world hates Jesus for destroying the works of the devil. The works of the devil are alcoholism, pornography, sexual sin, fraud, murder, lying and many other sins. Sin loves darkness and Jesus brings light to reveal sin.
We must remember the words of Jesus in John 15:18-20: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Paul also tells us in Philippians 1:29: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
II. Results of Persecution
The results of persecution might include personal insults, bullying, or physical abuse. Actors portrayed as Christians in television and movies are portrayed as a fool. Many Christians face beatings and other physical abuse, especially those Christians in other countries. As we have stated, many Christians face death.
III. Response to Persecution
If verse 10 says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” then we should respond like a child of the king. The point is that we should not stoop to the level of those who are doing the persecuting. We should not return evil for evil, but rather we should return evil with good. Jesus explains this in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Verse 12 tells us: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” It may be very difficult to rejoice in the midst of verbal or physical abuse, but that is what Jesus told us to focus on. The other option is to have an attitude of hatred. Jesus would not want us to have that kind of attitude. Acts 5:40-41 tells us how the apostles responded: “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
Ultimately our response should be love, not hate. The law in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Stephen responded in love as he was being stoned, and Paul was standing there watching. Stephen asked God to forgive them. Paul never forgot Stephen’s response.
We must remember that our persecutors may not be better for our response, but we will be better by having the right response. It doesn’t matter if we please the whole world if we do not please Jesus. We want Him to be pleased by our response when we face persecution.
As we complete our study of the beatitudes, we must realize that these character traits are not those which we get to choose which one we will have. The mature believer should have all of these character traits. As an unbeliever who hears the gospel message, we are convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit to realize that we are sinners. We realize that no matter how wealthy or poor we may be financial, we are all poor in spirit. There is no amount of money that can pay the price for our sin. We are at the mercy of God and we must depend on the blood of Jesus who died on the cross as God’s perfect sacrifice to pay the price for our sin.’
As the unbeliever mourns over his sin, he is comforted by the Holy Spirit to know that the price has already been paid by Jesus. Even the believer who sins after salvation is comforted in his mourning to know that Jesus has paid the price for his sin. We may also mourn over the seeing others in sin who have not yet come to salvation. Or we may mourn overseeing fellow believers who are living a life of sin. We pray that the Holy Spirit will convict their hearts and that they will turn from their sin back to the Lord.
As we grow in our maturity in the Lord, we should have an attitude of meekness. Meekness is not weakness, but rather it is strength under control. Our strength and power are in the Lord, not in ourselves. Therefore, we must be careful not to have an attitude of pride.
As we grow in the Lord, we should have more hunger and thirst for righteousness in our lives. The new believer may be happy just for knowing that he has salvation. The new believer may still continue in some of the old sinful ways, but the mature believer should have a hunger and desire to please the Lord in everything he does.
As we mature in the Lord, we realize more every day how merciful God is to us. Should we not also extend mercy to others, especially to the new believer who has not yet matured in his spiritual growth? Why should God extend His mercy to us, when we are not merciful to others? The mature believer realizes the more mercy he gives to others, the more mercy God gives to him. There is a time to speak the truth in love to someone, but it must be with an attitude of meekness on our part.
As we live in righteousness and as we judge ourselves, our hearts are purified. When we have a pure heart, God will give us “spiritual eyes” to see how He works in our lives and in the lives of others.
The mature believer should realize how God can use him to be a peacemaker. As we have made our peace with God, we should want to help others in their walk with the Lord to be at peace with God, to be at peace within themselves and at peace with others. Just as human parents want there to be peace among their children, so God wants his children to be at peace with each other. There will never be peace in the world until Jesus comes to rule and to reign, but we can have the peace of God in our hearts as we live in the world. And we can let God use us to be a peacemaker among the children of God. Those who are not children of God will never have peace until they come to salvation in Jesus.
The more righteous life we try to live, the more we can expect to have persecution. If the believer is still living like the rest of the world, there may not be persecution, but as we grow in the Lord and separate ourselves from the things of the world, persecution will certainly come. Perhaps this is why we see such persecution of Christians in the media today. As Christians take a bold stand for the Lord and for righteousness, the world does not like the light shining on their dark and sinful ways.
Take this opportunity to search your own heart to see where you are in your spiritual walk with the Lord. Have you taken on all of these character traits we call the Beatitudes? They are traits that our attitude ought to be. Yes, we should want to help others in their spiritual walk, but we must first look at ourselves to see where we are. Encourage yourself in the Lord as David did, but also listen to the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter. He is there to encourage you and to teach you.
Notes from Dr. Adrian Rogers Taught by Dr. Susie Stiles