"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
This particular Beatitude prompted Jesus to go a little further in his teaching. Matthew 5:11-12 continue the thought of 5:10. In vv.11-12 Jesus continues:
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Sometimes it is verses like these that are hard to hear. I mean...does God really want me to give up everything? Is persecution really necessary for me to follow Christ? Really?
In his book on the Sermon on the Mount, R. Kent Hughes recounts a story about the church father Tertullian and a man that essentially asked the same question I asked above. Here is how Hughes tells the story:
The early church had no doubt about where a believer's duty lay. One hundred years after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, a man approached the great church father Tertullian with a problem--his business interests and Christianity conflicted. He ending by asking, "What can I do? I must live!" Tertullian replied, "Must you?" When it came to a choice between loyalty to Christ and living, Tertullian held that the real Christian chooses Christ.
I am not advocating that Christians should go looking for trouble and persecution. That would be something other than what Christ and the scriptures are saying. Also, I think we need to be clear on what persecution is. If I "harass" people with the message of the cross and the police come to me for harassing the public, that is probably not persecution...that is me dealing with a consequence of my method not my message. But why do we see so little persecution in the church (particularly in America, I know that persecution is widespread in other countries)? "By far the greatest reason there is so little persecution," writes Hughes,"is that the church has become like the world."
My prayer for Jesus' church, as well as for me personally, is that we will be able to say and live out along with the Apostle Paul, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:12, NIV).
We need to lay all of our dreams, desires, faults, opinions, ministries, programs, etc. at the foot of the Cross! Sometimes I feel that I have done that. Other times I feel that I have so far yet to go. Thankfully He is not finished with any of us just yet.