“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE. FOR THEIRS IS THE KlNGDOM OF HEAVEN. BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN THEY REVILE AND PERSECUTE YOU. AND SAY ALL KINDS OF EVIL AGAINST YOU FALSELY FOR MY SAKE. REJOICE AND BE EXCEEDINGLY GLAD. FOR GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN. FOR SO THEY PERSECUTED THE PROPHETS WHO WERE BEFORE YOU.”
-JESUS (MATTHEW 5:10-12)
LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR AN AUDlENCE OF ONE.
When Jesus came to the eighth key for living a blessed life He spent three times the words and time instructing us about it than He did the previous seven. His obvious concern and emphasis must be duly noted by the length of His teaching on it. It is the only one of the eight that includes a double blessing where He uses the word twice (Matthew 5:10-11). With three times the words and two times the blessings, Jesus was preparing us for the inescapable adversity that righteous living attracts. He was telling us that all the glorious virtues of the previous seven blessings should not be adhered to without the understanding that anyone who practices them will face strong adversities from an ungodly world. If by winning God’s blessing we awaken and encounter personal attacks on our faith, we are not to be intimidated or discouraged, but, instead, we should rejoice, for our reward is made even greater by adversity.
All of us want to be liked and accepted by others. No normal person pursues rejection, criticism, or any other form of personal attack on their lives. It is because of desire to fit in, to be accepted and affirmed by others, that Jesus gave greater emphasis to this last blessing. He knows how vulnerable we can be to the opinion and approval of others. Yet it is here where our mindsets must be adjusted in relationship to God’s kingdom and blessing. We must unwaveringly decide to become God pleasers, not people pleasers.
In this regard there is much for the American church to be wary of because of recent philosophies that have gained tremendous popularity among our churches. Jesus basically guaranteed that, if we vigorously pursue His kingdom and righteousness, we will in turn face violent opposition. Somehow that simple truth has not only been ignored by many in the church today, it has been all together denied as being a truth at all for Christians. If we embrace the standard of righteousness that Jesus revealed in the previous seven blessings without also a resolute determination and commitment to endure potential hostilities, our lives will be unprepared to persevere in obedience through the pressure of unjust persecution. Jesus taught us that we will face unjust and ungodly assaults on our faith as believers. He said that people would make up the most vicious of lies and false accusations about us. He said that, when that happened, we should
not only resist its negative emotional impact but instead “rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” He said that there is an uncommonly joyous experience for those who face unwelcome attacks on their life because of being Christians.
The entire foundation of this final blessing is found in the way we approach life itself. Finding and winning God’s blessing must be our dominant priority and motivation. (Please note all eight of these promised blessings have to do with our attitudes and our behavior. When we change either of them in order to apply His teaching to our lives we win these promised blessing; they are rewards promised for Godly behavior.) Everything else must pale in comparison to our passion to please God. Once that priority is firmly established in our hearts and minds, we will be successfully equipped to survive the storms of adversity we will surely face. This revolution of thought is very important but difficult to achieve. If by winning God’s approval we lose other people’s it must be something we view positively and joyously.
John 12:42-43 reads: Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Because those rulers had not conquered their need for man’s approval, they ended up losing God’s. As we look back on them, we can only imagine how they must now greatly regret their actions then. To win temporal approval they lost eternal blessing. But the same battle they faced two thousand years ago, we still face today. Do we love the praise of men more than the praise of God? Are we prepared to endure the anger of men in order to win the pleasure of God?
All of us were born with a hunger and need for acceptance. Jesus does not ask us to ignore that need, but He does invite us to have our need for acceptance met by God Himself and not by people. When our search for acceptance is met by God, we are empowered to overcome the temptation to look for fulfilling that desire with people.
Ephesians 1:3-6 tells us: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
We are accepted into the Beloved. Our loving Father has sent His Son to remove the barrier of sin between us and God. Through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God’s loving approval and acceptance is now ours to receive and enjoy. Our need to be accepted is now completely satisfied by the glorious love of God. Receiving and experiencing God’s unconditional love is the most healing and completing human experience we will ever have. When this all important need is met in our lives, we are then much better prepared for the storms of life. Jesus spoke to this issue in the beautifully allegorical parable of the sower in Matthew 13:5-6; 20-21:
“Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away… But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
Jesus taught about the potential pitfalls of becoming productive Christians. In this description of the second type of soil, He gives us insight into the problem and also the solution to being successful with God’s Word. The problem is revealed in the phrase “he has no root in himself, but endures only for awhile.” This is the picture of the life that is unequipped for adversity. The opposition that comes is described thus: “for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word.”
“Tribulation” is a word that means “pressure.” Both pressure and persecution come “because of the Word.” As this person sought to do good and become successful with God’s Word, they did not expect the degree of resistance that they faced. All the good intentions they may have had were being overwhelmed by adversity they were unprepared t.o withstand. Persecution and pressure come into our lives through other people most of the time.
Jesus said that the missing ingredient in this person’s soul was endurance. The meaning of the Greek word for “endurance” is “to hold up one’s ground in conflict, bear up against adversity, persevere under pressure, have fortitude.” This picture of endurance gives us insight into the strength of this word. It’s an active resistance to hostile forces and pressures. Jesus said that, unless our roots were deep enough, our fruit would not produce. This is the description of a life rooted in deep commitment that reveals strong character. Adversity becomes the revelation of the quality of our character and commitment to the things of God.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil…
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified…
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter…
Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 3:14-17; 4:12-14, 16, 19)
The scriptures teach us that persecution and adversity are to be expected in the life of God’s people. True Christianity can not only survive such onslaughts of hostility, it thrives under such conditions. The same holds true for you and me in our walk with God. As we firmly commit to obtaining God’s blessing and righteousness, we will face adverse forces that seek to defeat our faith. Yet if we remain steadfast in our resolve to follow God, He will deliver us from evil. The Bible declares that you and I are more than conquerors.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
We can not interpret God’s love for us by a simple examination of our life’s circumstances. If I’m enduring real tribulation or persecution, does that mean God’s love has abandoned me? Of course not! We must be diligent and vigilant not to fall into the subtle trap of the enemy that could whisper doubts concerning God’s intentions for us.
As the scripture said, nothing in this world has the power to dislodge God’s love from our lives. Because we know, believe and experience His love, we experience the promise of being more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
God Pleaser’s Prayer
Father God, my heart’s desire is to please You with my life. I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight. I ask for your strength and grace to remain strong during criticism and adversity. I choose to rejoice in the face of pressure and persecution. I pray that You would help me become more Christ-like in every part of my life. You are everything to me. In Jesus name, Amen.