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Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake

Blessed are they who are per­se­cut­ed for right­eous­ness’ sake for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en. Blessed are you when men revile you, and per­se­cute you and utter all kinds of evil against you false­ly for my sake.” (Matthew 5:10–11) In say­ing these words, Christ promised that those who would fol­low Him would cer­tain­ly be per­se­cut­ed. This is a cen­tral pre­dic­tion of the Gospel and an essen­tial con­di­tion of those who accept it.

Remem­ber the word that I said to you, ‘A ser­vant is not greater than his mas­ter.’ If they per­se­cute me, they will per­se­cute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him who sent me. (John 15:20–21)

True Chris­tians will always be per­se­cut­ed for Christ’s sake. They will be per­se­cut­ed with Christ and like Christ, for the truth that they speak and the good that they do. The per­se­cu­tions may not always be phys­i­cal, but they will always be spir­i­tu­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal. They will always be mind­less, unjust, vio­lent, and “with­out cause” (Psalm 69:4, John 15:25) They will always be painful and the cause of much suf­fer­ing. For “indeed all who desire to live a god­ly life in Christ Jesus will be per­se­cut­ed.

(2 Tim­o­thy 3:12) A per­son embark­ing on the spir­i­tu­al life must expect per­se­cu­tion and slan­der. He must be wary, how­ev­er, of any false per­se­cu­tion com­plex, and must be absolute­ly cer­tain that the suf­fer­ing he meets is sole­ly “for right­eous­ness’ sake” and not because of his own weak­ness­es and sins. The apos­tolic scrip­ture makes this pre­cise warning:

For one is approved if, mind­ful of God, he endures pain while suf­fer­ing unjust­ly. For what cred­it is it, if when you do wrong and are beat­en for it, you take it patient­ly. But if when you do right and suf­fer for it you take it patient­ly, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ suf­fered for you, leav­ing you an exam­ple, that you should fol­low in His steps.

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spir­it of glo­ry and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suf­fer as a mur­der­er, or a thief, or a wrong­do­er, or a mis­chief-mak­er; yet if one suf­fers as a Chris­t­ian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glo­ri­fy God. (I Peter 2:19–21, 4:14–16)

The suf­fer­ing of Chris­tians must be accept­ed glad­ly, with mer­cy and love to those who inflict it. Here once again is the Lord’s own exam­ple, as well as that of His prophets, apos­tles, mar­tyrs and saints. As Christ said, “Father, for­give them… ” (Luke 23:34), while hang­ing on the Cross; and as the first mar­tyr Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60), while being stoned, so all those who fol­low God’s right­eous­ness must for­give their offend­ers “from their hearts.” (Cf. Matthew 18:35)

But I say to you that hear, Love your ene­mies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the oth­er also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not with­hold your coat as well… Love your ene­mies, and do good, and give, expect­ing noth­ing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrate­ful and self­ish. Be mer­ci­ful, even as your Father is mer­ci­ful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; con­demn not, and you will not be con­demned; for­give, and you will be for­giv­en; give, and it will be giv­en to you… (Luke 6:27–38)

The gen­er­ous and lov­ing for­give­ness of the per­se­cut­ed for the per­se­cu­tors is an essen­tial con­di­tion of the spir­i­tu­al life. With­out it, all suf­fer­ing “for right­eous­ness’ sake” is in vain, and does not lead to the King­dom of Heaven.