February 18, 2020 – Tuesday
AGAIN: Matthew 5:10-12 NIV
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.
Monday I wrote about how I ended up choosing persecuted for my new topic and the related book about persecution The Insanity of Obedience subtitled Walking With Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripken with Barry Stricker. Near the end of Monday’s comments I wrote “So what kind of life are we living if we are not being persecuted?” Not a bad question, but one best suited with a cautionary note from the book on page 28 where the author wrote “One does not run away from persecution due to fear, nor does one run toward persecution due to pride or psychological imbalance.”
Returning now to our three verses above it turns out all three versions of persecute derive from Strong’s G1377 transliteration diōkō which is defined by Strong’s as a prolonged (and causative) form of a primary verb (to flee); to pursue (literally or figuratively); by implication, to persecute:—ensue, follow (after), given to, (suffer) persecute(-ion), press forward. The Outline of Biblical Usage provides a more in-depth definition to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away; to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one; to persecute, to be mistreated, suffer persecution on account of something. The Pulpit Commentary quotes Wetstein who defines those who are persecuted as Those who are harassed, hunted, spoiled. The term is properly used of wild beasts pursued by hunters, or of an enemy or malefactor in flight. Finally in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon we find the following to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away; to pursue (in a hostile manner), in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one; to persecute, to be maltreated, suffer persecution on account of something. Thus we can see the use of persecute fits with our modern day usage of the word as it is found in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief.
With the above in mind looking at our three verses, we must be aware Jesus is not talking about any form of persecution, but specifically first because of righteousness, second because of Jesus’ sake (Me), and third (back to the first) great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you – following Jesus. Clearly the cause for which a man suffers is everything. Many zealots of Jesus’ time were persecuted when they rebelled against both or either Herod or the Roman occupation – they would not share in the blessedness Jesus is describing. Note how Jesus describes persecution to come for His disciples – and for those among us who are practicing our faith – will happen. And it did happen and today continues to happen. Paul also spoke of the future in 2 Timothy 3:12 when he wrote In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted – will be.
Reading further in The Insanity of Obedience a few observations. First not all persecutions are as they seem as some Christians were persecuted not for Christ’s sake, but for associating with westerners of all things. Second are the sequence of reactions of believers when facing persecution – a) Save/Help me, b) Judge/Condemn them, and c) Forgive them. Of course the last being the most difficult. Here the author relates how four believers he personally knew and were his friends were murdered for their faith in Jesus. He then cried out to God for judgment on the murderers, that they did not deserve the grace of Jesus’ blood. To his surprise, God spoke to him, telling him neither was he worthy of the blood of Jesus reminding him, even while he was a sinner Jesus died for him (Romans 5:8).
When the author objected (!) to God that his sins were not comparable to the murderers, he was quickly corrected by the Holy Spirit that it was a fair comparison. Then the Holy Spirit reminded him, his family had been exposed to the gospel of Jesus for generations while the murderers had not yet been exposed to the same knowledge. So that even now they had not had a chance to say yes or no to Jesus.
Persecution is real today for many of our brothers and sisters who are practicing their faith. Let us continue to pray for them and pray that when our time comes, we too will be found practicing our faith.
Riley D. Driver – Pastor, Calvary Chapel of Dayton