Monday, March 21, 2011

The Beatitudes - Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake

Hello and happy Monday everyone.  Today we are continuing our tour through the beatitudes.  We are coming into the last section of the beatitudes.  We covered our response to God when we come to the realization of who He is and who we are, we covered how that relates in our response to the world and others, and today we are covering how the world and others respond to us.  When we come to the end of ourselves and empty ourselves before God, God fills us.  We are filled with joy in all that God has done with us and we can not help but to share the reason behind our hope and joy to the world.  We live for God and think that others will be happy with our new found righteousness and support us as we leave our pasts of sin behind us.  And with that we have the first oft the last two beatitudes.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:10 NKJV
Blessed are the persecuted?  Now that doesn't make sense.  Happy are those who live righteously and are harassed, abused, and put down because of it?  This almost does not make sense from our earthly eyes, but from God's point of view it makes perfect sense.  First of all, we need to define what it means to be persecuted for righteousness' sake.  It does not mean self-righteousness' sake.  Many are persecuted for having the attitude that they are better than everyone else.  That is not the kind of persecution spoken of here.  Some Christians are purposely loud and boisterous in order to draw attention to themselves.  That is also not what is spoken of here.  Some Christians choose to be, well, freaks.  Again, that is not what is being spoken of here.  What is being spoken of is someone who is not filled with the pride of self righteousness but with the humility of the righteousness of God. What is being spoken of here is being like Jesus.  Just as Jesus was rejected by the world for who He is, we will be rejected by the world the more we become like Him. 

So now that we know what being persecuted for righteousness' sake means, let us discuss how we are persecuted.  First of all, the world does not like the fact that we do not join in its sin any longer.  I remember back in my early twenties and we had a friend who was a devout Catholic.  Now his behavior was steeped in legalism, but the fact is that he did not partake in just about any of the activities we reveled in each weekend.  He did not drink. He would not go see any kind of movie or live show that had any kind of sexuality in it.  If a scene in a movie came on that would be a stumbling block for him, he would literally cover his eyes.  He did not curse or drink and he would never raise his voice in anger.  Did we respect his abstention from our sinful behavior?  No, we did not.  We were relentless in trying to sink him down to our level.  We ridiculed him, we taunted him, we tempted him, and we rejected any bit of change in our own lives.  In other words, we persecuted him for righteousness' sake.  This is along the lines of what I went through when I came to Christ and could not longer partake in any of the things I used to revel in.  I was chided, I was ridiculed, and I was tempted and taunted just as he was.  What made it easier for me was an understanding I had that perhaps he had then.  I knew that despite my constant ridicule of how he chose to live his life, I had great respect that he was able to be happy without having to fill himself so full of liquor that reality was washed away for a time.  I had respect for his strength of character and wished I could have the same.  Knowing that those who chide me are trying to bring me down are doing so because they are jealous of what I have hardens me in my witness.  The blessing in that is in knowing that their ridicule means you are having an effect and that they do notice something different inside you.

Another lesson we can learn from my long lost friend is that being persecuted for righteousness' sake means people will take advantage of you.  Our friend was always invited out not so much for the fun he would bring to the evening, but for the automatic designated driver we had to take us home.  In fact, he would even drive us to our houses and get us to pick up our cars at his place should it be warranted.  Just like him, we Christians are taken advantage of because we do not retaliate when wronged and we are generous with what we have.  When it comes to blessing someone, we almost can not help ourselves and so despite lies and broken promises to return money or favor, we continue to be generous with what we have.  Sadly, those who take advantage of our kindness and generosity mistake those traits for stupidity.  They think the are taking advantage of us, but we know full well what they are doing.  I know for myself, when I am taken advantage of, I need to take great joy in knowing I am following God in being generous.  Note the promise given in this beatitude that ours is the kingdom of God.  They may gain some of our temporary junk, but we are inheriting God's kingdom.  They will be held accountable for the child of God they took advantage of, but we will be rewarded for our generosity.  We heap eternal rewards laid up for us in Heaven while they heap coals upon their own head lest they repent.

Another way we are persecuted is that people are uncomfortable being around us.  We are a constant reminder who who they can not be and it angers them.  They can either take this anger out on us or just ignore us altogether.  Right now, I want to talk about those who ignore us altogether.  We may not get invited out as much as we used to.  We may find ourselves having less friends than we once had.  They do not want to be reminded of the wrongness of their acts by our refusal to partake in them.  That is why those in the world try to get us to sin.  It is not so much because they want to see us fail, it is that they do not want the constant reminder of their own failure.  They feel less guilty and convicted of their fallen lifestyles when the see that those who supposedly escaped from it are again entangled in it.  They desire to make them feel better about themselves by bringing us down to their level.  They feel less guilty about getting drunk if a so-called child of God is doing shots with them.  They feel less guilty about fornication if the one they are fornicating with is a so-called child of God.  They feel better about watching a movie they should not see if they are sharing popcorn with a so-called child of God.  But for those who are truly living for God who will not fall into that sin, we are a testimony to their own failures and so they ignore us.  They fall away from us to live without the conviction our presence brings.

Finally, there are those that react in anger towards us.  This may be the most hurtful of all and something I have experience in.  People do not want to know about their sin and so they lash out in anger towards any reminder of their fallen lifestyle.  They come out in anger against us, but it is really just projected anger at their own life choices.  What is seen as anger is really just guilt and conviction.  They refuse to answer that conviction in their hearts for the choices they make and instead try to mask that conviction with anger.  They do not hate you or your righteousness, but they hate their own lives and the conviction it brings.  They would rather just have "fun" than ponder the eternal consequences of what they do.  You are the example of what they know in their hearts they should be so they try to destroy it lest they be reminded of it.  In their minds, if they can destroy you they can destroy the conviction. 

This persecution is especially hurtful when the one doing the persecuting is a brother or sister in the Lord.  Please do not think I write anything from a self righteouss standpoint.  Everything I write here applies just as much to me as anyone else.  Everything I write here is something God has or is speaking to my own heart for things God has dealt with in me or is dealing with in me.  That said, writing about righteousness is a great way to be persecuted for righteousness, especially by worldly or nominal Christians.  I have had friends and family alike take offense to something I have written and responded in anger.  Sometimes they come to me an anger and sometimes they try to spread that anger around through other friends and family.  I have had this happen very recently with a post I made that someone took offense to.  I have had it several times in the past and I have to say sometimes the temptation is just to fold this whole thing up and forget about it, but then I come to a verse like this.  This persecution is supposed to happen and, not only that,but it is a blessing.  The Bible tells us to treat worldly Christians as though they are still in the world and the reason is that because they really are, or at the very least where they prefer to be anyway.  They may have made some commitment to Christ sometime in the past, but like Demas they have fallen in love all over again with the world they were supposed to leave.  The persecution is oftentimes worse from them because the Holy Spirit is not just speaking to their hearts, but living right there inside it screaming conviction for the choices they are making.  For them, it is not just about worldly consequences for sin, but the very chastisement of God they are under.  Those Christians living for the Lord are a sure reminder of what they know very well they are supposed to be.  Sometimes it is not just a fallen Christian, but someone just struggling in an area you speak about.  The result is the same, the result is anger.  I have had several people who for a long time will tell me what a blessing it is to read what is written here, but once I cover an area they struggle in I become a legalist telling half  truths.  A wise pastor once told me that you are the greatest pastor in the world until you teach on someone's pet sin.  I am not saying that I am a pastor, but the illustration holds true here or with anyone else who teaches righteousness.  It is sad how rebellious we are to there where we would rather look to be offended by the messenger as an excuse not to be convicted by the message.  But even here we must take heart because the real problem would be a lack of any reaction at all.  The very fact that people react in anger tells me that it is having an effect.  If one did not care, one would not get angry. 

And that brings me to my final point, and that is where the blessing is.  It may seem counter intuitive to see blessing amid persecution, but there really is.  Persecution was promised by our Lord for those who believe in Him and that persecution is one sign that we are one of His.  Now keep in mind this persecution is the result of a natural rejection of righteousness from a world that is a slave to sin.  This is not saying that we are to try to be persecuted.  If we try to be persecuted, we will, but there is no joy in that.  So, if the world ridicules you for not living in sin, take heart that others are noticing the very real difference that God has created in you.  If the world takes advantage of your meekness and generosity, take heart in that instead of getting repaid with the same temporary worldly junk you gave out, you will be repaid by God Himself with eternal treasures in Heaven.  If those who were once friends now ignore you or do not invite you out, rejoice in that God is moving you into deeper and more meaningful relationships with Himself and with other brothers and sisters in the Lord, friendships that will build you up in your faith and not drag you back into the filth of the world.  If the world reacts in hatred and anger towards you, then rejoice in that they see the righteousness of God in you and that it is having an effect on their lives.  If even your brothers and sisters persecute you for righteousness, take heart that God is using your example as a means to convict them.

Rejoice in all of that because that is how it is supposed to be.  If the world accepts you, if your worldly friends feel comfortable around you, if worldly Christians feel no conviction around you, if people do not take advantage of you, and if the world loves your righteousness, then there is a problem.  Persecution is supposed to happen.  Rejection is supposed to happen.  Anger is supposed to happen.  Do not hide from it, do not run from it, and certainly do not change your message or behavior merely to make you more palatable to a world that rejects the work of God in you.  Be that example, be that light shining in a dark place, be that witness to the work of God in you, and be that testimony that the very same God who changed you can change them as well.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed is he even more when through that witness he brings others into the kingdom with him.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV

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