Be-attitudes: Those Who Suffer Persecution
By Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
Jesus declared in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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 the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As Jesus concluded His sermon of the “Beatitudes,” He gave a final warning for anyone who takes up his/her cross and follows Him. Those who choose to follow Christ as Lord and Savior can expect countless numbers of blessings from the Lord, both here, now, and for all eternity. But one who really sells out to follow Christ can also expect that this life journey and walk of faith will be (not might be) both dangerous and costly. Living as a Christian is going to cost you something! But the blessings far outweigh the costs. The writers of the Salt and Light devotional (from the YouVersion Bible app) state, “The very fact that we are meek, peace-loving, hungry for God, pure in heart and compassionate will cause us to become prime targets for subtle and not-so-subtle persecution at work, school and your neighborhood.”
Listen to the following indisputable facts! An average of 833 Christians will be martyred daily. That is, they will be killed because of their faith in Christ. That’s more than 300,000 Christians martyred each year! These staggering statistics come from David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia and a leading authority on Christianity worldwide. He concludes that the worldwide statistical chance of becoming a martyr in your lifetime if you are a Christian, is one in 200. If you are a missionary, it is one in 50. If you are a national or native full-time evangelist, your chances are one in 20. Talk about some serious commitment to following Jesus and preaching His gospel of love and salvation in none other than Jesus.
A report released by the International Society for Human Rights claimed that more than 25,000 Christians worldwide are imprisoned for their faith in Christ. Christians are being held in penitentiaries, hard labor camps, and other detention centers in several nations. Particularly cited as violators of Christians’ rights were Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Burundi, all Marxist-leaning African states. In Mozambique alone,12,000 believers are being held in agricultural work camps. In Ethiopia, 10,000 Christians are imprisoned, some for nothing more than wearing Christian symbols in public. Not only communist countries, but also Islamic countries and regimes are constantly imprisoning, murdering, and executing Christians and routinely destroying churches, homes, and properties of pastors and priests. Few American believers are aware of how pervasive religious persecution is around the world.
The early followers of Christ were fully aware of the threats of persecution that surrounded them. Each of the apostles and disciples knew that their lives hung in the balance every day that they served the Lord and shared the gospel message. They likely both knew and expected that they would both suffer for the cause of Christ and quite likely meet a horrible death just like their Master and Savior. And yet, they remained committed!
Our Lord and Savior certainly recognized the impact of sin and evil in the world. But here in this final beatitude, He was talking about specific persecution that would arise and be leveled against any who committed themselves to follow Him and His way. You don’t have to go looking for evil and persecution, evil and persecution will usually find the one who follows Christ. Jesus warned us, “Don’t be surprised by it!” Then our Redeemer declared, “But know this, that when it does arise and you are willing and able to stand for Christ through it, then your certain reward is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you on account of Me” proclaimed the Master in verse 11. The three most important words are those last three—“…because of Me!” When the focus of insults, persecution, or slander is Jesus, then is it clearly not about you and me! It should never be about us! Your life is to be offered as a living sacrifice to the Lord. Your life is about Him living in you. And when we hide ourselves in Christ, the motive of the persecution will be about the opposition of sin and the flesh against the Lord. Frank Stagg wrote (Broadman Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 106), “The mark of the redeemed is that they are redeeming. True Christians are not only saved but saving, not of themselves but as Christ lives in them.”
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” You see! There is an eternal purpose in the afflictions and persecutions that we suffer for His sake. It is producing righteousness, goodness, and trust. And earlier in the chapter (verses 7-9), the Apostle Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen containers so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed;” What a mighty and wonderful promise from God! He is readying us for His presence for all eternity. He is burning away the chaff of selfishness and self-reliance—so that we will live solely and completely for His glory. He is asking us to place our lives on the altar of life—so that He can display His power and might. He is pleading for you to place your life on the line because you can trust Him completely.
Peter would also echo this eternal truth (1 Peter 3:14), “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be in dread…” Psalm 34:19 declares, “The afflictions of the righteous are many, But the Lord rescues him from them all.”
The Master spoke eight “Be” attitudes on that little hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. He declared that each of them is an absolutely essential characteristic of someone who is sold out to Jesus. They are eight fundamental choices that each of you should and must make to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Master of your life. Jesus promised that you are truly and supremely blessed as you choose His spiritual way of life. “Be” (live as): (1) the spiritually poor, (2) those who mourn; (3) the gently and meek; (4) those who hunger for God; (5) the merciful; (6) the pure; (7) the peacemakers, and (8) the persecuted. May God bless you and keep you as you live in Christ.
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor, and an International Mission Board missionary.
Read more from Dr. Hodges here.