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“Beatitudes series: the persecuted receive reward”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 116

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely 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.” (Matthew 5:10–12 NIV11)

What does it mean that persecuted people receive a reward? And how is this connected to the kingdom of heaven?

In this series we are immersing ourselves in the beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12.  We’re trying to figure out what each beatitude means for us practically and how that affects our relationship with God, and in particular, our times of quiet with God.

The reason this is on my mind is because I am preparing a teaching and preaching series for the Thames Valley churches of Christ, and a teaching day for the Watford Church of Christ based on the sermon on the mount.

Join me today as I examine why the persecuted receive a reward in heaven.

Before wading in on the topic of persecution I should add that, although I have some first-hand experience of persecution, there are so many people in other parts of the world how have it tougher than me. I share what I share here today with due regard to my limited understanding of harsh persecution.

First, it’s interesting that this follows the beatitude about peacemaking.  Perhaps this is to remind us that our efforts will often not be appreciated.This beatitude serves as a test for all the beatitudes – like the first one.  The implication is that if there is no persecution, there is no righteousness.

Persecuted

This issue is so important that Jesus now expands on this issue when he did not do so for any of the other beatitudes. Persecution comes because those who follow Jesus are determined to live as he lived. Persecution because of righteousness & not obnoxiousness is in view here! 

  • “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14–17 NIV11)
  • “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:15–16 NIV11)

The cause of persecution is righteousness.  Persecution that’s the result of folly, lack of wisdom, over-zealous behaviour, self-righteousness etc. should not be justified by use of this verse.

This is not the same as being ‘good’ or ‘noble’.  The world does not persecute the good and noble because they feel that they would like to be like them and/or could be like them.  The world persecutes the righteous person because they do not want to be like them and/or sense they cannot be like them. 

Jesus taught the same thing later:

  • ““If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18–20 NIV11)

As did Paul (he knew what he was talking about!) 

  • “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12–13 NIV11)
  • “In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:4 NIV11)

Jesus was persecuted and murdered for his message.  We should expect nothing less. 

Reward in heaven

Why rejoice? 

Because means we are counted worthy:

“They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:40–41 NIV11)

Our faith is being purified:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6–7 NIV11)

But mostly because our reward is in heaven:

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18 NIV11)

Our rejoicing is not because we are glad to be persecuted (that would lead to or signify self-righteousness), but because we know we have an identity connected with that of the prophets and Jesus himself.  

Persecution, in the right sense, is a badge of honour.

It is our perspective on life, eternity and destiny that means we can rejoice, rather than a macabre delight in the experience of persecution. 

The reward, of course, is not earned by enduring the persecution.  Our reward is by grace just as much as our initial salvation.  This means that we rejoice all the more for we are looking forward to something that we do not deserve but that is promised.

What does this mean for our times of quiet with God? At least the following two things:

  1. Pray to be strong when experiencing persecution. Pray for a spirit like that of Stephen: “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59–60 NIV11)
  2. Rejoice in prayer when you are persecuted, even when in the midst of it, since you never know how God may use it: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.” (Acts 16:25–34 NIV11).

What have I missed? What helps you to rejoice when suffering persecution?


Retreat update

There are still a few places left for the spiritual disciplines retreat, “Wait for the LORD”.  You can find details on the dedicated page of my website.  If you have any questions, please drop me a line: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.  I’m working on the booklet which I will send out in advance. This will contain information about the area, the details of the schedule, some tips on how to make the most of the retreat and an exposition of Psalm 130.


Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

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God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John