Blessed are They Which are Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of. heaven.
"Blessed are ye, 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).
When Winston Churchill stood before the beleaguered British nation in 1940 to urge them on in valiant resistance to the Nazi war machine, he eloquently intoned, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Many centuries before Churchill uttered these stirring words. Jesus of Nazareth promised His disciples, if any would forsake all to follow Him, ". . . he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mk. 10:30). It is a great paradox of the Gospel that one of the paramount blessings of discipleship is persecution. What is the relationship of the Christian to persecution?
The Master does not offer to bless us simply because we suffer. We are blessed only if that suffering is "for righteousness' sake." Thus, there is no merit in suffering the just punishment for evil deeds (cf. 1 Pet. 4:15). When political radicals and common criminals who rob and murder are caught and punished, they should not be glorified as heroes or martyrs. They are receiving their just desert.
When others speak evil of us, there is no blessing promised unless the evil speech is false (Matt. 5:11). Thus, when false teachers are checked and exposed, or when sinners are disciplined, they should receive no comfort from spineless members of the church who have no stomach for the conflict of faith, but who can always take hidden potshots at faithful preachers and elders who expose the errorists.
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; 1 In. 3:11-13). We should never be so paranoid as to seek or provoke others to persecute us.
Furthermore, suffering that is unrelated to discipleship is not that which is under consideration. All men, good and evil, must suffer pain and death (Heb. 9:27). An arthritic knee or a bad back is not persecution "for righteousness' 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,"(1)
Three forms of evil are specified in the eighth beatitude to describe those things we must endure for Christ. In verse 10 the Master declares, "Blessed are they which are persecuted. . . ." In verse 11 He teaches, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you. . . ." The Lord then promises to bless us when men "shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."
The term "persecute" is from a root which means "to put to flight, drive away."(2) Thus, the word means ". . . in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one."(3) This includes all that can be done to hurt one outwardly.
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).
Today, when people flatter themselves as being "tolerant and broadminded," persecution usually, although not always, takes on more subtle forms. It might come in the shape of the loss of a job or a failure to receive a promotion because a businessman will not engage in unethical or immoral practices. It could be a lower grade in P.E. because a teen-ager will not dance or wear shorts before the opposite sex. It could be simple ostracism, i.e., leaving one on the outside socially.
To "revile" someone is to insult them and call them by contemptuous names. Jesus warned: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" (Matt. 10:25).
As the Son of God hung dying on the cross, His tormentors cruelly mocked and reviled Him (Mk. 15:2932). Tertullus contemptuously styled the church "the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). Faithful Christians today are labeled "Campbellites" and "Anti's." Teen-age Christians are mocked as "square" and "chicken." Name-calling, i.e., reviling, is the last refuge of vicious, ignorant people who cannot meet one's arguments but refuse to admit they are wrong.
If you follow the Master, people will "say all manner of evil against you falsely." Jesus was called "a man gluttonous, and a winebibber" (Matt. 11:19). Tertullus called Paul "a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world" (Acts 24:5). The great apostle told the Corinthians: "Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day" (1 Cor. 4:13). No man can long 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.
Jesus promises of those who suffer for Him, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:10). This is a repetition of the blessing of the first beatitude. The "poor in spirit" possess the kingdom in that they gain entrance there into. The persecuted possess the kingdom in a yet higher sense, enjoying the fullest blessings possible from citizenship and finally inheriting the kingdom in the heavenly abode. This is amply demonstrated in the second promised reward.
The Master reveals, "for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:12; cf. 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, worketh 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).
First, to withstand persecution shows our faith to be of the same stalwart quality that caused the prophets of old to remain loyal despite terrible suffering. Steven rebuked the Jews thus:
"which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just one; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers"(Acts 7:52).
One of the most famous of all the martyrs was Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna. The mob dragged him to the tribunal of the Roman magistrate. He was given an inevitable choice-sacrifice to the godhead of Caesar or die. 'Eighty and six years,' came the immortal reply, 'have I served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved meT So they brought him to the stake, and he prayed his last prayer: 'O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy well-beloved and ever-blessed Son, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee . . . I thank Thee that Thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour.' Here was the supreme opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Jesus Christ..(4)
To suffer for Christ is to have fellowship with those immortals "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38; cf. 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; 2 Cor. 4:9; cf. Dan. 3:19-25). How thrilling the very thought!
Persecution is valuable to us in a very practical way, because it purges our character of dross, making us fit for the Master's service (Rom. 5:3-5; 2 Cor. 12:10; Heb. 12:1-11; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:1-2).
What, then, should be our attitude toward and reaction to persecution? We should not seek revenge or use spiteful language in return for mistreatment (Lk. 23:34; Acts 7:60; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:21-23), but we should rather pray for our enemies and seek to win them over by kind deeds (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:17-21). We should not allow even the most severe persecutions to hinder us from spreading the Gospel (cf. Acts 8:1-5, 22:4-5; 26:9-11; Gal. 1:13). We must not let suffering be the means of causing us to stumble (Matt. 13:21).
Rather, when we fall into Persecution, we should "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad" (Matt. 5:12).
The word for be exceeding glad . . . has been derived from two Greek words which mean to leap exceedingly.(5)
Luke records the Master as having advised, "leap for joy" (Lk. 6:23; cf. 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, you must face persecution if you would follow the Master. Don't complain and gripe about your lot. Don't become discouraged. Consider the reward. Think of the value and gain. "Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven."
1. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1721), V. 53.
2. W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1940), 111, 177.
3. Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, 1886), p. 153.
4. William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia, 1956), I. 111.
5. Ibid., 112.
Truth Magazine XX: 29, pp. 460-462