Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Increasingly even in America, Christians find themselves the target of isolation, discrimination, persecution, and shootings. Few will forget the shooting of young, female, high school student in 1999 for professing faith in Jesus Christ, yet it happened again in 2015.1 During 2015 alone, a woman was jailed for publicly espousing Biblical views on marriage (Ellis and Payne 2015); a church was the site of a mass shooting (Wikipedia 2015a); and Christians were publicly beheaded by Islamic extremists. From the cross, “Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Like the crucifixion, persecution reminds us of who we are, who we belong to, and what we are about.
Who We Are
Persecution links our identity to Christ, as Jesus reminds us: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:12) Persecution for righteousness sake validates our faith and places us in the company of prophets.
Who We Belong To
Like the prophets, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and undocumented aliens here on earth, as the Apostle Peter writes:
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:10-12)
Honorable conduct and good deeds mark us as Christians so as the body of Christ people should see something different about us, especially in persecution (Isa 51:1).
What We Are About
Persecution is part of the mix of trials that we should expect to experience (Rom 8:34-39), as the Apostle Peter writes:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet 3:13-17)
Are we zealous for what is good? Do we suffer for righteousness sake? Persecution trains us to lean on Christ—the source of our goodness and righteousness— and not our own abilities, prejudices, and strength.
When Jesus teaches us about being salt, it is attached to a warning: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13) If we lose touch with Christ, we are like an unplugged vacuum cleaner showing potential, but no power—trampling is a good analogy for the persecution of a church that has lost its way.
1 http://www.CassiereneBernall.org. Also: (Saslow, Kaplan, and Hoyt, 2015).
Blessing Those that Persecute
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com