Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:12-13
5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:
5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
Soul Search Essay
“[You are fortunate] when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”
In the Beatitudes, Jesus has outlined important elements of the cost of discipleship. I have called these items “the Good Life” to highlight the discrepancy between what many of us Christians conceive of and live out as our good life versus what we sing about in church and what we say we do.
Unlike the modern (worldly) American concept of the “good life,” which produces interpersonally the envy of position, lust after acquisitions and affirmations of success, Jesus’ good life produces outrage among the non-believing world. The odd thing is that we as American Christians produce less outrage than Jesus did in Israel.
Yes, at the time of this writing there is increasing polarization in the USA against Christianity as a concept and as a practice, but it is still relatively rare to see this specifically directed against individual Christians. Yet, I hear talk among Bible-oriented Christians about fears of “persecution” in the US. In reality, we are only at the insult level or stage for the vast majority of us. That insult seems also generally indirect, rather than in our face.
The worldly citizens of the USA do make fun of us. They sneer at times in our face or behind our backs. They create TV shows that make Christians look stupid; but in our lifetimes only rarely has someone been killed in America for their faith in Jesus Christ (the “…on account of me…” part of the verse). Yes, it happened in recent years, but it is not a trend. There has definitely been a sustained multi-decade effort to strip Christianity from the American culture. This is blatantly true. Also, people do lose jobs (such as professors, etc.) over their faith in Christ and/or the Bible, but they are not killed.
When we label insult and economic hardship as more than insult, when we label it persecution, we skew the reality of what Jesus, Paul, Stephen, Peter and countless others faced. We equate discomfort and altered life paths with truly life threatening situations. I have experienced multiple unexpected alterations to my life path. Some where shocking. All were painful; some pain lasted decades. If I elevate that pain in my mind to equate with persecution’s pain, I belittle what others faced in Christ’s time and what other Christians across the world face today.
Jesus encouragement in this passage covers the range of Christian experience of human opposition from mild to deadly. In doing this, he acknowledges that the full range of these experiences generate rewards. To put it slightly differently, everything from insults to the death of a believer due to proclaiming Jesus in her or his actions, beliefs, thoughts and words matter. It matters. The insults we experience matter. The pain of insults matter. There is no need, however, to mislabel our experiences. Mislabeling is a way of buying into the lie of, “This is really bad.” No. It is uncomfortable to very painful. True persecution is much, much worse. Why make this point?
To make up a word, ‘uplabeling’ our experiences decreases our proclaiming Jesus in our actions, beliefs, thoughts and words. Uplabeling increases the power of the forces in our minds that stifle active, engaged discipleship. We empower the fear of mild or moderate conflict to the level of deathly fear. Perhaps we do not go that far, but we seem to empower the fear enough to hesitate. We seem to give into this fear. So, we huddle. We wait for the corrupt world to enter our church doors. That makes us feel safer since we gave into assuming persecution is around the corner when in fact it is on a different continent.
Yes, evil is all around us and harms us. Jesus, however, is speaking of human persecution of believers here. The Kingdom is tasked with loving these persecutors. If we give into this uplabeling? We live not in the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this corrupt world to save those most trapped by the corruption. We live in the “What will they think??!”and “What will they do??!” worlds; worlds we were called out of at our conversion.
Lies and fear are primary weapons of Satan. Empowering our fears by uplabeling? We are doing Satan’s work for him. We are making his efforts more effective. We have more than that.
We have a Kingdom. We have an aggressive war of love being waged by the active, engaged disciples in this world. We have a Conqueror leading the war. We have a Spirit supplying resources, motivation and means for the war.
Love (agape) wins!
The Long-Sufferer (YHWH) wins!
Remember Truth and set aside fears. Participate….