Here in the United States, we're terrified of persecution.
We have whole organizations dedicated to keeping religious persecution at bay. Our nation is built upon the concept of freedom of religion. Naturally, we believe each individual person has a right to choose their own path in life. This, I believe, is a good, healthy thing for a nation to strive for.
However, is it possible that this mindset has so seeped into our minds and hearts that we have lost the biblical way -- indeed, the Christ-ordained way -- of thinking about persecution?
I'm not saying that persecution is good, but I am saying that there is a profound sense in which persecution for righteousness is a blessing.
Have we forgotten what Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12? "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."
Have we forgotten what scripture says in Acts 5:40-41? "and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name."
Have we forgotten Paul's words to the Philippian church in Philippians 1:20-21? "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
And what about those radical words in verse 29, where it seems that God himself is the one granting us the privilege of being persecuted? "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake."
Have we forgotten what the apostle James said in James 1:2-3? "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."
The quotations could go on and on. I ask one question: how could God possibly command us to rejoice that we are suffering persecution?
Well, we know that God doesn't disapprove of mourning in our sufferings, but he does desire that we be "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10)
I believe scripture itself gives us the answer. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...for your reward is great in heaven."
In what way will our reward in heaven be great because we are persecuted? Hebrews 11:35 tells us:
"Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection."
There is the answer: Jesus is returning, and when Jesus returns, there is going to be a glorious, unimaginable reward to those who believe in Him. This is why 1 Peter 1:13 commands, "set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Herein lies the glorious truth: because persecution can only serve to increase our reward when Jesus returns, it is a blessed honor and joy to suffer for the One who suffered for us.
Do we believe this? Do we take Jesus at his word when he says we are blessed when we suffer for him? Could it be true that we lack faith in all that God has promised for us?
I think it could very well be true, because if we truly believed this, we would lay everything down. We would lay it all on the line for the gospel. Why? "Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." (Hebrews 13:13-14)
If we believed this, we would live as though we have no lasting city here. Fidelity to scriptural teaching would be paramount (Titus 2:1), even if it is offensive to the world, because we would love the glory that comes from God more than the glory that comes from man (John 12:43). Our unity would be more important than the color of the carpet or whether we have a drum set in church, because we are primarily known to the world as Christ followers by our love for each other (John 13:35). We would seek to draw people to the gospel through evangelistic ministries, not through worldly attractions, because the Word of God never returns empty (Isaiah 55:10-11). We would be sending the young and the old, singles and couples alike, overseas to reach the unreached of the world, because Christ gave us a commission to fulfill (Matthew 28:18-20).
We would lay it all down, because seeing the face of God and experiencing his presence from glory to glory -- forever -- is worth everything.
"No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the New Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:3-5)
We need not be afraid of persecution, because the gospel of Jesus and the glory to come is worth everything.