I must admit, persecution wasn’t my first choice when Ashley pitched writing on the beatitudes. The primary reason being I don’t have much personal experience with persecution.
I’ve been a believer my whole life, and although I’ve worked with, studied with, and been friends with people that don’t share my faith, I’ve never been persecuted for it. Maybe people have talked about me behind my back but never to my face.
I wouldn’t use the word bold to describe myself, and I’ve struggled with courage, but I’ve tried to be faithful. I don’t hide the fact I’m a Christian. I’ve been intentional about looking for opportunities to work my faith into my conversations. I’ve prayed for or with people when they are feeling hopeless or weary. I’ve shared the Gospel a few times, and in general have tried to bear good fruit. But, in all my subtle and overt faith-sharing experiences, I’ve never been met with hostility.
I suppose I could consider myself blessed, but I wrestle with that when God’s word says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted”.
PERSECUTED FOR THE WRONG REASONS
The Bible is filled with examples of persecution. When reading the accounts of the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and many others, I’ve often wondered, “Maybe I’m doing something wrong? Isn’t a Christian supposed to experience some sort of persecution?” Rather than be elated, I feel convicted.
Let’s start by defining persecution.
PERSECUTED: Harassed by troubles or punishments unjustly inflicted, particularly for religious opinions. (Webster’s 1828)
This is the type of persecution the Bible is talking about when it uses the word persecuted. Biblical persecution requires being persecuted for the right reason. Matthew 5:10 illuminates what that reason is. It says, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The right reason is because of righteousness, or in the Greek dikaiosyne: “In a broad sense: the state of him who is as he ought to be, the condition acceptable to God. Integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness; correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting” (Blue Letter Bible)
What are the implications here? To be persecuted in a Biblical sense, you must be persecuted because you are living rightly.
Matthew 5:11-12 expands on this saying, “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 this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This kind of persecution comes from positioning yourself in Christ and bearing His fruit (see John 15:1-7). Persecution doesn’t always mean martyrdom or imprisonment. As we see in this verse, it could be insults or false accusations. The type of persecution isn’t the point of these verses, but rather that you are experiencing persecution for the right reason.
So, is it possible to be persecuted for reasons other than for righteousness? Absolutely!
Biblical persecution is for Christ’s sake, other persecution is most often for self’s sake: your pride, your opinions, your politics. To name a few. I say most often because there are other valid reasons people have been (and still are) persecuted such as race, tradition, or religions. For this article however, I’m focusing specifically on Biblical persecution and the things people mistake it for.
Pride can cause you to think you are doing what is right in God’s eyes, but really you are blinded by your own desires. People might rebuke you because of your pride. As a result, you might believe you are the victim of persecution when really you are being justly admonished.
There are a lot of things the Bible is crystal clear on: sex, marriage, murder, salvation through Jesus, just to name a few. These matters are not open to opinion. You don’t define them. What the Bible says about them defines you. But then, there are a lot of things the Bible isn’t crystal clear on: modest dress, how many times you should go to church in a week, wearing face masks in a pandemic. When it’s not clear you are left to form an opinion on these matters. It should be a Biblically sound opinion, but you will find a variety of Biblically sound opinions on a lot of these issues. When someone disagrees with you on matters like these (those the Bible doesn’t directly address), it does not mean you are being persecuted. It simply means their opinion on the matter is different.
It’s easy to conflate political ideals and Biblical truths. There are certain moral/sin matters that are woven within political platforms, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and the treatment of refugees to name a few. It is important to make sure you are aligned with Scripture on these matters, and in doing so you will find no political party harmonizes perfectly with all the “political” issues that are addressed in scripture. If you do experience persecution for your politics, you need to make sure it is because you are believing rightly AND acting rightly, not because of your adherence to a Republican, Democrat, or third party ideology.
I acknowledge these things not to belittle the fact you may have been treated badly over them, but because it’s so important for us not to mistake them with Biblical persecution for the sake of righteousness. The promise, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is specifically tied to persecution for righteousness, and we need to understand that. We might experience backlash for other good things in our life, but that’s not the same as being persecuted for Christ’s sake.
LAND OF THE FREE
In America, historically the ideals of our nation have been Biblically rooted, although not always Biblically executed. Christian thought and ideas have been embedded everywhere from institutions to family life. American Christianity, and the lack of persecution, is an atypical blip in the history of the church. It really is remarkable and something to be treasured. While being grateful for what we have, it is also valuable to recognize that it might not always be this way. As the world welcomes, and churches compromise, anti-Biblical stances on homosexuality and Scripture-opposing ideologies like transgenderism and critical race theory, persecution will likely become more prevalent in the USA.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that persecution doesn’t only come from the world but also from the church. Don’t be surprised by this. After all, Jesus may have been crucified by the Romans, but it was the religious leaders that handed him over.
“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill Him.” Matthew 26:3-4
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” John 15: 18-19
When you are living a life rooted in God’s word, transformed by His Truth, connected to Christ, and bearing His fruit, you should be prepared to get backlash from anyone who doesn’t want to use the Bible’s standards as their lifeline.
Don’t waver. God will use the persecution in your life for good. He promises to bless you. And His promises are good.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
2020 was not what any of us expected. Most ministries were hit hard. The pandemic prevented us from doing the in-person events that we love. Our first-ever women’s conference was canceled the morning of the event and so was the youth retreat we planned for a camp in Northern Michigan. But despite the disappointment, praise God that our online ministry has been strong and that the extra time at home meant I finally took the time to file the IRS papers to become an official 501c3 non-profit organization. You know what that means? For the first time ever all donations to Across My Heart are tax deductible! It also means Across my Heart was hit with a lot of filing fees. Between our cancelled events and legal fees, the funds we use for our ministry operations took a huge hit and we’d like to rebuild those funds so that our team has the freedom to continue teaching young women about God’s heart for purity in 2021!
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