You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. — Matthew 5:10-12, The Message
The great 19th century preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, coined the famous saying:
God had a Son that had no fault, but He never had a son that was not found fault with.
He went on to say,
Great hearts can only be made by great troubles.
Jesus Himself laid out the course of life for all of His followers when he said,
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
Persecution in many forms and in a variety of ways and means is the NORMAL course of following Jesus. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews makes the astounding declaration:
If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.(Hebrews 12:8)
Citizens of the “kingdom of heaven,” the theme of the Sermon on the Mount, are people who experience persecution because of righteousness. A couple of insights here might help us sort out this “hard” saying of Jesus.
First, expect persecution. Ephesians 6:12 puts it this way:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
There are and have been real enemies against Christians in this life. God’s comfort and peace is given in ANY and ALL persecution for Christ’s sake. It is not comfort ALTHOUGH there is trouble, or Stoic endurance THROUGH trouble, but rather comfort right in the midst of trouble and persecution. This is a reminder to us that true faith is not a matter of our feelings, but a matter of God’s character as our strength and shield. There is a story of a university janitor who when recently converted to Christ sought to share his faith with a professor. The professor dismissed this untutored man’s testimony and made fun of his faith witness. But the janitor’s words, “There is only one name under heaven by which a man may be saved,” haunted the professor that night until falling on his knees he gave his life to Jesus Christ.
Not all persecution is “blessed” by Jesus. It is only persecution because we are living right lives or persecution falsely laid to our account because of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Believers can go through hard times, tough times, and many claim it is because they are believers. The litmus test of true persecution is suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ, because of the standards of Jesus Christ, and for the truth found in Jesus Christ. Many Christians think they are suffering for Jesus when their troubles are merely the result of ill-advised actions or words. It is sometimes our own stupidity that gets us into trouble with the unbelieving world! The caution resident in these words of Jesus must be fully absorbed and heeded.
The faithful and persecuted follower of Christ is to “rejoice and be glad!” The Message rightly says, “Give a cheer, even!” To be quite frank, not many Christians I have observed suffer for Christ this way. How can we mature in our faith-journey so that when persecution comes our way, we can cheer? We need to get beyond “grounding” in the faith to the application of the faith to all of life and thought. A Christ-centered, God-honoring world-and-life viewpoint is more and more required as we understand the times in which we live and witness. We are to then submit to God’s ways, irrespective of how strange and severe they may seem to be. If we live every moment under the all-seeing eye of a watchful Heavenly Father, such submission will become normal. Finally, we need to work through our feelings from suffering to praise. Peter reminds us,
These [trials] have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise . . . (1 Peter 1:7)
Charles Hodge once said,
It is those who suffer much and who experience much of the comfort of the Holy Spirit, who live much.
And in the quaint words of Charles Spurgeon again,
The ship of the church never sails so gloriously along as when the bloody spray of her martyrs falls on her deck. We must suffer and we must die, if we are ever to conquer this world for Christ.