The Bare Soul
October 18, 2009
The Beatitudes - Persecution
Matthew 5:10 - Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean to be persecuted for
righteousness' sake? To define Christian persecution as people ridiculing you if
you have a bible on your desk at work, or that you say a prayer in a restaurant
over a meal narrowly addresses Jesus' intent when speaking to His audience on
the Mount. An insulting word regarding one's faith, to be sure, is a minor form
of persecution. However, when one understands the true biblical definition of
persecution, it is evident that we as American believers have not experienced
persecution like others in various parts of the world. Many Muslim nations in
Asia and Africa forbid the preaching and proselytizing of the Christian faith.
It is more than just civil disobedience resulting in a fine in areas hostile to
the Gospel -- the price is often the loss of life. While America was founded by
those fleeing from religious persecution, we have yet to experience those who
would seek our lives for living and sharing our faith in a state-sponsored
manner. However, as Christianity continues to be denigrated in the United States
as a supposed "right-wing" intolerant faith, the days of physical persecution
may not be far beyond the proverbial horizon. (In the near future, it may be a
so-called "hate crime" and a civil liberties violation to even talk about the
sin of homosexuality for what it is -- a perversion of
God's ordained love between a man and a woman!) American believers may experience what their brethren in many parts of the world partake of on a daily basis in short order. We too, may be harangued and persecuted as our foreign counterparts. And why should we expect differently? For as Paul stated: Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12).
In Matthew 5: 10, the root phrase in the Greek, "who have been persecuted" is dediōgmenoi which literally means "to put to flight or to pursue". This implies a pre-meditated, calculated attempt by those in power to impede or stop those who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in whatever means are at their disposal. As in the other beatitudes, Jesus declares a blessing on those who would be harassed and hunted like a wild beast for His Name's sake. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, uses a derivation of this word to describe the actions of Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as Paul) as he sought out Christ's followers to have them imprisoned. When Jesus asked Saul in the vision on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?", Luke chooses a form of dediōgmenoi, using the present tense diōkeis which translates "is persecuting" (Acts 9:4). Little did Saul know that up until that moment of clarity on the Damascus Road, he had been a tool of the devil and yet a catalyst of blessing to those he sought to inflict harm. However, it was not in God's Master Plan for Saul to remain in his present state. He desired to transform the Pharisee Saul into the Apostle Paul. By Jesus' declaration of who Saul was in the eyes of God, this epiphany empowered the zealous young man to be converted for the Lord's work.
So, what kind of persecution should we expect in our western civilization if we desire to live godly lives? In our present societies, most of us will not be hunted down as did blindly-zealous Saul the first century Christians. However, we should expect verbal abuse at times that is hateful toward our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. The Lord made a distinction in the verses following Matthew 5:10 marking the difference between verbal abuse and physical persecution. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus states: Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. In these verses, Christ mentions oral persecution twice with the implication of physical abuse just once. While verbal persecution in and of itself is not life threatening, it can quickly evolve into a physically abusive scenario. (Psychologists tell us that physical abuse nine times out of ten will be preceded with verbal abuse.) Jesus relates that to suffer insults, character defamation, lies, and evil dispersions are all cause for rejoicing. As He points out, the prophets were treated with contempt and abusive speech often years before they were martyred for His sake. And, why were they were treated as such? Because they spoke the truth and did not compromise God's message in a turbulent, idolatrous time! Do we see any of the same parallels today, beloved? Has the Christian faith become so watered-down in many churches that there is no longer any distinction whether the so-called flock is Christian or of some other eastern philosophy that panders to a belief that "all roads must lead to heaven, since all roads lead to Rome"? I tell you with sober conviction, that if we are not at the very least ruffling a few folks around us regarding our faith, I would question whether we truly have any real faith. If we are not incurring the occasional gossip behind our backs (or in our presence) or the overt insult to our face of our so-called intolerance toward others because of supposed "narrow-mindedness", then we should be crying out to God for a life of conviction that is once and for all led by His Spirit.
While we may not experience the depth of persecution that some of our global brethren may be experiencing, there is little doubt that we should be manifesting a certain joy in our present struggles in our encounters with a hateful, anti-Christ world we live in. Nobody that I know in America is currently being hunted down for their faith. However, I can assure us of this -- if one cannot endure the insults and the evil that others might say against us today, then we will not be ready to endure the persecution that may be on our very doorsteps. Do we feel blessed when others might insult us for our faith? Or, have we not garnered that type of response from others because we have not submitted ourselves to our Lord for this to happen? If we are living obedient lives full of His presence, He has promised us persecution to one degree or another. Blessed are we if we will embrace these occasions for they ensure our citizenship in that glorious kingdom above!
Father, we seek not persecution for persecution's sake, but we desire to be pleasing in Your sight. As we are insulted or abused for our faith in You, remind us that we are blessed in heaven and while on this earth for our testimony. Remind us that the kingdom of heaven is ours if we shrink not from the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. In Christ's Name, Amen!
Your Barefoot Servant,
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