Are you being insulted for righteousness? Rejoice and be glad!
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
My guess is that you’ve read this passage 500 times. And only now is it coming to life.
You said something about marriage on social media, and people defriended you, or some stranger slapped you down. Old schoolmates tell you that you’ve changed for the worse, that your thinking is “scary” and they can no longer talk to you. Your work colleagues treat you as though you’re mean. A sister has sent you a long and angry text message. A husband has lashed out with angry words when you try to talk about things.
None of these examples are hypotheticals, I have seen them all.
How do you respond?
You feel ashamed. You second-guess yourself, “Maybe they’re right?” You wake up in the night with that gnawing feeling, and there’s no getting back to sleep.
Shame turns to anger. “They don’t know me!” “They’re the ones who have changed. I believe what I’ve always believed!”
Anger turns to anxiety. You are worried. You have lost your joy. And you are sorely tempted to find refuge in prideful superiority over others.
Listen to Jesus!
If you are persecuted for righteousness sake (the word persecute can mean to pursue, or hunt down), then you are blessed. You are to be congratulated. You of all people on earth are one of the happy ones. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is yours.
In Jewish writings at the time, “heaven” was a beautiful way of referring to God Himself. Are you persecuted? You are blessed because it shows that heaven is yours: that you belong to God, and that God belongs to you. You have God, and so you have everything: abundant light and life, joy, peace, and eternal security.
Do people revile or insult you, because of your Christian convictions? Do they lie about you? Do they think of you as a bad or mean person for believing what Jesus says?
Jesus does not just say, “Do not be anxious or angry.” Listen carefully to Him. He goes far, far beyond “not being angry”.
He says “Rejoice!” “Be glad!” “They treated my beloved servants of old like that. And the fact you’re getting the same treatment means that you have the same Spirit as them, and the same glorious destiny as them.”
Positively rejoice. Rejoice on the inside, and rejoice on the outside. And when people want to know why you rejoice when you’re under pressure and attack, then you get to tell them the best thing they’ll ever hear:
“I’m happy because I belong to Jesus. He died and rose for me. He is looking after me now, and forever. You can know Him too.”
Jesus knows us and our suffering far better than we do. Let us confess to Him that we are prone to becoming anxious, upset, and even proud when people attack us with their words. Let us repent and turn our back on this.
Let us pray that He will fill us with His Holy Spirit, and help us to respond to these attacks in the same way that He did: with patience, visible joy, and love.
And let us be ready to explain the source of our joy.
Campbell Markham is pastor of Cornerstone Church in Tasmania.