Enduring for Christ’s Sake (Ways to Respond to Persecution)
It is no secret that we live in a world where Christians are often ridiculed, shamed and even hated for our beliefs. Why? Is this something new? How can we respond to that kind of treatment?
After giving us seven characteristics to pursue in our faith journey, Jesus offers the eighth and final Beatitude captured in Matthew 5. This particular Beatitude makes clear the two outcomes we can expect when we embrace the characteristics Christ calls us to in our faith journey; we can expect persecution and reward.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 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
When you strive to live the God-honoring life Christ calls you to, you can expect to be persecuted by the world.
Persecution for righteousness’ sake has a long history, going all the way back to the very first family. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, who did not get along; in fact, Cain killed his brother. But why? John asks and answers that question for us: 12 …And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 1 John 3:12. Abel died for the sake of righteousness. Persecution for righteousness’ sake has a long, sad history in this world. It continued throughout the Old Testament with Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and his friends.
The persecution didn’t stop in the New Testament. John the Baptist was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Peter and John were imprisoned. And Paul endured a series of persecutions throughout his ministry (2 Cor. 11:16ff)… 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, 2 Corinthians 11:24-25.
But that antagonism in the early church wasn’t just directed at the leaders; the members experienced it too! To the believers in Philippi, Paul wrote: 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, Philippians 1:29; (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 4:12)
Persecution is not new to our time; it has been a part of the Christian faith experience since the beginning of time. The reality is that, if you are committed to living a life that honors God, focused on pursuing the characteristics Jesus outlined in the Beatitudes, you can expect to be persecuted. So when you find yourself asking, “Why is this happening to me; why would people stand against me for Christ’s sake?” The answer is clear: suffering for being a follower of Jesus is normal, and to be expected. In fact, it would be abnormal if it didn’t happen. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12.
In our time, it is important to understand persecution has been, and will continue to be experienced by Believers. Christians are under pressure, as they always have been, to conform to culture in a way that conflicts with what the Bible teaches and what we value. You may even be ridiculed or shamed for your beliefs. Do not be deterred and do not cave to those pressures.
Why are Christians persecuted by the world? Persecution stems from the hearts of those hostile toward God. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:7. Sadly, we live in a world where many are hostile toward God. And the reason they are hostile toward God is because they are far from God. That distance between them and God is created by their decision to live by the desires of the flesh instead of the desires of God. I don’t have to tell you that there are many in this world who are governed, or ruled, by their own desires instead of God’s desires. We witness it everyday; and if we aren’t very intentional, we can get lured into that same mindset.
People who are ruled by sin or the flesh do not like God; in fact many will hate Him. As a result, they will hate those who seek to honor Him. Jesus warned us that this would happen… 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 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. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. John 15:20
There is a way to avoid persecution. Embrace cultural values instead of Christ-like values. Act like the world, talk like the world, live like the world. If you do that, no one will care. No one will bother you. No one will pay attention. But also know this, if that is how you choose to live your life, you will do nothing, inspire no one, nor influence anyone for Christ’s sake.
At Watermark, we are committed to making an impression and leaving a mark for Jesus Christ. When we are doing that, by pursuing righteousness, mercy, purity and peace, there will be some who will not like it and will not like you. But that’s ok; Jesus told us that would happen. But there is great news too! While persecution in this world is to be expected; reward in heaven is also guaranteed!
For much more, including five ways to respond to persecution, click here to listen to the message: Part 8 - I Endure For Christ’s Sake.