Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Notice this is not just talking about being persecuted, but being persecuted for the right reasons. That is you do what is right, no matter what.
Did you know that it is reported that 80% of religious freedom violations in the world today are directed against Christians. We are easily the most persecuted of any religious group. Also, the majority of these go unreported. It is estimated that throughout the world, 2 Christians are being killed every single hour.
Many people consider that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, but it actually takes great courage to follow Christ.
In the relatively comfortable west, we are far less likely to suffer real persecution, although some subtle forms can make us feel very uncomfortable and marginalised. But in other parts of the world it can get a lot tougher. As Christians we need to show solidarity and support to our persecuted brothers and sisters by praying for them regularly. We are after all, the body of Christ.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)
Even though we may not experience physical intimidation, if we are serious about our faith, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience some form of persecution, which could be in the form of pressure or repression. In fact it is promised in the bible;
Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others (2 Timothy 3:12) (contemporary English version)
When you are being persecuted or feeling under pressure, it is important to remember the following 3 things;
1. Opposition can make you more like Jesus
Jesus was hated by many people
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but 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. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
Opposition means that you are doing something right
If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! (1 Peter 4:14) (message)
2. Opposition will deepen your faith
It’s much like the muscles in our body which strengthen when we stretch and strain them.
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
3. You will be given eternal rewards
“God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God: the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs! You will be blessed WHEN people insult you, and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) (NLT)
Finally I’m going to refer to Rick Warren again, who has suggested 6 things to consider in the whole realm of persecution
1. Don’t be surprised
Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials that are like walking through fire, as though something unusual is happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12) (TEV)
2. Don’t be afraid
The antidote to fear is to be filled with God’s love;
“If you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry! Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:14-15) (NLT)
The key is to focus on God, worship instead of worry!
3. Don’t be ashamed
Never be embarrassed for standing for the truth
“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Instead, thank God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (1 Peter 4:16) (NLT)
You don’t need other people’s approval to be happy
“Take a firm stand against Satan and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:9) (NLT)
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
Whatever you do in life, there will be someone who doesn’t like it. If you are rebelling, God won’t like it, if you are doing good other people won’t like it. It’s best to do the things that please God rather than other people.
4. Recognise the source of the opposition
It’s very important to realise that Satan is the one behind all opposition we experience. He is the one influencing people against us.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10)
Satan hates God and so it follows that he will naturally hate God’s children. He can’t hurt God and so his focus is on hurting us instead.
“We’re not fighting against human beings, but against wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly realm . . .” (Ephesians 6:12) (TEV)
“Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble. God’s servants must never quarrel. (Instead) be kind to everyone . . . and be patient. Be humble when you correct people who oppose you . . . they’ve been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God may help them escape.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26) (Contemporary English Version)
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) (NIV) They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. (message)
5. Refuse to retaliate
You are behaving most like Jesus when you don’t attack or fight back
“Never pay back evil with more evil . . . If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And never avenge yourself. Leave that to God, who has said, ‘I’ll be the judge and I’ll take care of it.’”(Romans 12:17-19)
“Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) (NIV)
We need to understand that sometimes, suffering is God’s will. It is a mystery, but we have to entrust ourselves to His grand plan.
6. Respond with a blessing
It’s not just refusing to retaliate, turn it on its head.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
Jesus: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.” (Luke 6:27b-29a)
That sort of reaction is the most powerful form of witnessing, because it proves that God is real. Nobody has that kind of self-control
Next week I’m going to look at what happened to the Old Testament prophets and how they suffered for doing God’s will, but for now I want to leave you with a thought provoking quote from the one man who died for his faith, Jim Elliot:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”