At one time, religion and the church had influence in our society. Now, we live in a post-Christian culture. More and more people claim no religious affiliation and things like the Ten Commandments or nativity scenes are banned from public areas. In this pandemic, we’ve seen church attendance be restricted by states, but liquor stores, strip clubs, and casinos considered essential. Yet, the persecution in America does not compare to the persecution our brothers and sisters around the world endure. They face imprisonment, violence, kidnapping, and death just for meeting and worshipping.
The Reason for Persecution
As Jesus finishes the beatitudes portion of His famous Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Mt. 5:10-11). Jesus is talking about suffering for doing right. Suffering for doing right is called persecution. Suffering for doing wrong is called punishment. Notice also the repetition of the word “you.” It’s personal. 2 Timothy 3:12 says that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Jesus said in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Persecution for Christians is normal! It’s expected. If you never receive any persecution for being a Christian it may be because you are not a Christian. To avoid persecution all you have to do is live like the world, forsake your faith, and deny Christ.
The Response to Persecution
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad…” (Mt. 5:12). This is how Jesus says we should respond when we are persecuted. The prophets were persecuted, Jesus was persecuted, the apostles were persecuted, the early church was persecuted, and we will be persecuted too. What is our response? Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. They spit in His face, pulled out His beard, punched Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross. He could have called legions of angels to destroy the world and set Him free. But, He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” When the apostles were on trial, “…they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Paul and Silas were in jail singing in the midnight hour. This does not mean that we enjoy persecution, but that we have joy in the midst of it. Paul said, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
The Results of Persecution
Jesus said, “…for so they persecuted the prophets before you” (Mt. 5:12). Scripture tells us of so many heroes in the faith who were intensely persecuted. Most all the disciples died a martyr’s death. When we suffer for our faith, it is identification with Jesus. The English word for martyr is from the Greek word that means “witness.” Saul of Tarsus was there when Stephen was stoned, and he saw his witness. Persecution results in the growth of the church. The gospel cannot only survive in this culture but thrive! We are like missionaries living in a pagan land. Persecution results in the growth of our faith. It drives us closer to God and one another. Romans 5:3 tells us that our tribulations produce perseverance, character, and hope. James 1 tells us our trials produce patience and work in us so that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (v. 2). It is not easy to follow Christ, but it will be worth it!
The Rewards of Persecution
“…for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt. 5:12). Persecution is proof of who we are and where we are going! Our future is fixed! Our salvation is secure! Our home is heaven! The unbeliever is living for this world; that is all they have. The Christian is living for the world to come. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). Are you being persecuted for your faith? If you have never been persecuted for righteousness, why not? If you never run in to the devil you must be going in the same direction he is. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us.”