As recorded in Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said, “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.” From an earthly perspective, these words appear to be contradictory since all suffering is typically viewed negatively.
However, the fact is that all suffering is not to be viewed negatively. Peter wrote, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet. 4:16). The suffering that is to be viewed positively is that which we receive as a result of living the Christian life (“for righteousness sake”). This is the response seen in the apostles, who after being persecuted for their faith, went about “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Being persecuted as a Christian shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Elsewhere, Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22a.). Therefore, suffering is an earthly reality for those of us who follow Jesus. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Coming to terms with the fact that suffering is a reality for Christians is one thing, but having an attitude in which we “rejoice and be glad” is another. How can we develop this attitude? First, we remember that our faithfulness even in times of persecution will be rewarded with “the kingdom of heaven.” As Paul wrote, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). He also wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). As Jesus said, “Your reward is great in heaven.”
Second, our faithfulness during times of persecution places us alongside other faithful followers of God mentioned by Jesus, who said, “For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We often look back at the prophets of old, like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, as heroes of the faith. Sometimes, we think that they had qualities that we don’t have. In reality, we have the ability to be just like them as long as we have a faith that will persevere even during times of persecution.
Third, being faithful even during times of persecution helps us to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Peter wrote, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:14). In such times, we demonstrate to others that nothing will stop us from following God as we are wholly committed to him. Our commitment includes being willing to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).