People who suffer for righteousness’ sake are poor in spirit—they are living with a humble awareness of their spiritual bankruptcy; they are mournful—they are repenting quickly and forgiving freely; they are meek—they are living before God and man with a gentle and quiet spirit; they are, righteous—they long to obey God’s every word and are laboring to see his justice extend throughout society; they are merciful—because they have received mercy they are gladly and deliberately extending it to others.
Jesus tells us to expect persecution. This is something I attempted to prove in an article a couple of days ago when I showed that at both the beginning and the ending of his ministry he warned that there would be a cost to following him. Yet Jesus knows that not everything that may look like persecution is actually persecution. And so he tells us that, when we come to times of suffering, we need to evaluate it to see if we are truly being persecuted.
There are times when Christians are put in prison because they refuse to follow the unjust dictates of an unjust government; but there are also times when Christians are put in prison because they break good and necessary laws that the rightful authorities have put in place. Sometimes Christians are shunned by family members because they refuse to bow down to the family’s idols; but sometimes Christians are shunned because they fail to honor their parents, or because they treat family members badly, or because they act like sanctimonious, entitled brats.
In the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says his people are blessed when they are persecuted “on my account.” And immediately before that he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” And so Jesus tells us that we need to evaluate our suffering to ensure it is actually persecution and not just the consequence of our own sinfulness.
Peter, a man who knew a thing or two about suffering, offers some helpful guidance here in 1 Peter 4:12. Like Jesus, he says that we should expect to face persecution. Here’s what he says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
It’s clear: persecution is the normal course of the Christian faith. It’s not strange and should not be unexpected.
I know many people who have suffered for their faith. Some have been disowned by their families because they have rejected the family’s religion; some have fallen out with friends because they couldn’t participate in activities they invited them to; some have had troubles at school or at work because they wouldn’t take pride in what others deem worthy of celebration; some have been imprisoned for their religious convictions.