“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad…” Matthew 5:11-12a
“44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44
With events currently going on around the globe and in our own country, the topic of persecution comes up often. My heart breaks for those in Egypt, Iran and other places where persecution often means torture and death. But, the truth is, as we see in the first verse here, there are other kinds of persecution present in the world, and as Christians we often face consequences in America for living our beliefs daily. I do not seek to diminish that truth here, but I do question the response I so often see when persecution of either kind occurs.
Christ tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere in the Gospels that we will face persecution of some kind if we follow Him. He tells us the world will hate us, because it hated Him first. He tells us we will have trouble. But, He also tells us, and demonstrates to us how to respond to such persecution, whether it is the verbal and legal attacks we face here in this nation, or the physical attacks that lead to death. He commands us to rejoice and be glad. He commands us to pray for those who persecute us. He does not say point at the persecutors, hate them, condemn them, or complain about them.
In His own life, there is only instance where Christ directly rebuked someone persecuting Him was when He came to Saul on the road to Damascus, and nowhere did he complain of persecution. In fact, as He hung dying on the cross, He cried out to the Father to forgive those who had gathered to celebrate His death. Why then do we as Christians spend so much time complaining and condemning those who insult us and falsely say all kinds of evil against us? I understand that in our nation in particular we feel the need to stand against those who would silence God. But, are we in fact being servant of the Christ we profess to follow when we fail to rejoice and be glad? Have we demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit in us when we hate our enemies and wish harm upon them?
Why do you think it is that Christ told us to rejoice? We know that there are powers at work in the world that hate God. We know there are those who are currently held in bondage to those powers, whatever they may be. And because we know this, we know two more things. First, when we are persecuted for His sake, we are doing our job well. We are shining the light brightly enough to become a target of those forces that stand in opposition to the Gospel. Second, each time we meet insult with grace, each time we meet falsehood with God’s truth, we have the opportunity to rescue someone from the clutches of that darkness by demonstrating God’s glorious love.
Next time you feel put upon, boxed in, beaten down, next time you hear of others being insulted, accused or attacked because of Christ, set aside the human drive to strike back in word or deed, and instead lift praises to God because we are indeed blessed by doing His work well.
Father, we often feel angry when others wrong us because we speak the name of Your Son. We get defensive. We get sullen. We get outraged. Help us today to see that Your enemy can use those feelings to separate us from You when he cannot silence us. Fill us with the presence of the Holy Spirit so the whole world can see that we rejoice and are glad in all our circumstances, because we know when attacks come it means we have drawn close to You. In the Name of Jesus we ask Your joy and peace.