“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
You have heard the old saying: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is a lie. Words can kill, and words can bring life. How words are used is deeply impacting to who we are as people, both positively and negatively, especially when we are being attacked about something we care about.
Such is the case with righteousness. Why would we choose to act in a way that is self-sacrificing and forgiving when we want to be angry? And why be generous when we want to build our own world? Why would we be such people?
It is a funny thing that when we watch a movie, we love people of conviction. But in real life, we find people of conviction hard to deal with, especially when they disagree with us. So I want to present a list of ideas I would consider persecution for righteousness, and some things we try to lump into the category that aren’t.
We must understand that the first hearers of this message lived in a very different world when it comes to persecution. These are people who have a long history of suffering for their convictions. Torture, death, starvation, tragedy, pain, and abuse were commonplace for those who first heard this statement. They didn’t like it any more than we would. Many tears were shed and much wailing commenced over the pain they endured. There was an actual cost to their decision to follow Christ.
Persecution is not someone talking bad about your church. Persecution is not someone taking you to task over a hot-button moral issue. Persecution is not when your kids are struggling with their faith and they don’t know if they want to follow God. That’s not persecution.
Persecution is not cars breaking down or people getting sick. Persecution is not job problems or struggling with your spouse. All of these things are called life. Whether or not you walk close to Jesus, these things happen. My fear is we have lived so comfortably within God’s blessing that we are too soft to understand what Jesus is actually saying here.
Persecution is when we are forced to stand by a faith based decision in the face of compromise. It is not fighting over moral issues. It is loving people well while being rejected by those same people. Persecution is actually looking like Jesus when the whole world around you looks just like the painful world that it is.
When you are persecuted, and you endure, you experience the Kingdom of God in a way that is deep and profound — a truth about who God is and how the world actually functions that only persecution can give you.
The point of the book of Job is not why bad things happen to good people. The point of the book of Job is to wrestle with this question: If everything else is taken away, is God enough? When it is all gone — security, future, hope — would you still hold to your core beliefs about God?
May you experience the power of being persecuted. May you experience the devastation of being persecuted. And may you look like Jesus in your most desperate moments, because in so doing you understand the real hope the Kingdom of God can bring.