Blessed are Those who are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake

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).

Let Your Light Shine Before Others

Jesus was born into a world of darkness in order to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12). He showed us that the way to eternal life was found by following Him. As followers, we ourselves become “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Then, he emphatically declared, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

 

From this passage, we learn three important truths about letting our light shine before others. First, we are commanded to let our light shine. This isn’t optional as a follower of Jesus. We cannot ostracize ourselves from others and live our lives in solitude. We are told to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Thus, we must interact with other people. In so doing, we must let our light shine. In every aspect of our lives, our light is to shine bright. There should never be an “off switch.” Our light is to be seen by everyone with whom we have contact. It is to be like “a city set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14) and a “lamp […] on a stand [that] gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:15).

 

Second, our light is to reflect Jesus and His life. Jesus tells us that others are to see “our good works” (Matt. 5:16). What are they? They are the life that Jesus revealed in Himself. We are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). Emulating the life of Jesus will enable us to “be blameless and innocent” in this world of darkness in which we will “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15) as Jesus is seen in us. As we mature as a Christian, we “are being transformed into the same image” of Jesus and His glory (2 Cor. 3:18). It should be the case that when others look at us, they see Jesus, whether in our words or actions.

 

Third, our light is to lead others to God. When people see our good works, they should be moved to “give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). As the “light of men” (John 1:4), Jesus came to make the Father known to the world (John 1:18). In everyway, Jesus lived a life that demonstrated God’s glory while here upon this earth (John 17:3). In like manner, we are to live lives that make God known to the world. Our lives are to point others to God and His glory. The good works we do should be designed to bring glory to God, not ourselves. At the end of the day, what matters is God and His glory being exalted in everyway.

 

As we harmonize these three lessons, we end up with a clear picture of how we are to let our light shine before others. We go out into the world so that our light is seen by others. The light that is seen by others is showing the world the life of Jesus and the life that He has called us to live. This is seen by others as we live like Jesus in every aspect of our lives. By living this way, our lives then point others to God and motivate others to glorify our Father for his amazing love and goodness.

 

Let us remember the words of a song that many of us learned in Vacation Bible School, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine. Shine around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.”

The Essentiality of Forgiveness

Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15-15). These words make it crystal clear that we must forgive others. An unwillingness to forgive others will result in our being unforgiven by God. Obviously, we need God’s forgiveness in order to inherit eternal life. Since we need God’s forgiveness, then we also need to forgive others.

 

However, forgiving others can be a very difficult thing for us. In some cases, we are quick to forgive and find it easy to do so because we aren’t deeply wounded and view the issue as minor. Nevertheless, there are times when we are deeply wounded and view the issue as something major and have a very difficult time being willing to forgive the person or persons who have wronged us. The problem with this is that we don’t get to pick and choose what, when, who, or how we forgive others. We must come to understand that forgiveness is required regardless of how we’ve been wronged.

 

With forgiving others, there is no limit on how often we should forgive others. When Peter attempted to put a limit of seven times to it, Jesus responded that we are to forgive others “seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22). “Seventy-seven times” was a common way of saying that meant “always.” In other words, Jesus is saying “that the spirit of genuine forgiveness recognizes no boundaries. It is a state of heart, not a matter of calculation.”

 

With forgiving others, there is no limit on how far we should be willing to go to forgive others. Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Instead of just simply commanding us to forgive one another, Paul defines the type of forgiveness we must extend to one another by comparing it to how God forgave us in Jesus. How far was God willing to go? He sent His Son to die for us. How far was Jesus willing to go? He came to this earth to die on the cross to shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. How far should we be willing to go? As far as necessary.

 

With forgiving others, we must be willing to “let it go.” As we think about God’s forgiveness of our sins, God said, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Heb. 10:17). The idea of God’s no longer remembering our sins is that He will no longer bring it to our account since we have sought His forgiveness and have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. Those sins are no longer held against us in any way, shape, or form. How does this apply to how we must forgive others? In forgiving someone, we must no longer hold the wrong committed against us to the person or person’s account who committed that wrong.

 

Instead, reconciliation must occur. As we are forgiven in Christ, we are “reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10). As we forgive others, we must be reconciled to them. We cannot say we’ve forgiven them and still act as though we haven’t. No, our actions must also reflect forgiveness and reconciliation. We cannot just “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.”

 

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23-34), we read about a servant who was forgiven by a king a debt he could not pay. The response of the servant was an unwillingness to forgive a fellow servant a small debt owed to him. When word got back to the king about the servant’s actions, the king required the previously forgiven debt to be paid since the servant failed to forgive others. After telling this parable, Jesus said, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).

And When You Fast …

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that isn’t discussed much today in the church. One of the reasons for that may be that unlike the Old Testament (e.g., Zech. 8:19), the New Testament does not give Christians a command about when they should fast. However, that doesn’t mean that fasting should never be practiced. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:16-18). From this passage it is evident that Jesus expected His disciples to continue to fast, but in an appropriate manner.

 

Jesus, our example, spent time in prayer and fasting before the temptations recorded in Matthew 4. We know also that the early Christians continued to practice fasting as a regular part of their lives. For example, the church at Antioch spent time in prayer in fasting before sending off Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2). Further, as Barnabas and Paul appointed elders in various churches, they spent time in prayer in fasting during this process (Acts 14:23). Additionally, we know from the secular writings about church history that fasting remained a regular part of the life of the church.

 

Before we consider fasting as a part of our lives, let’s first understand what it is and why it is important. Fasting is something you choose to do by abstaining from food and/or drink for a specific amount of time in order to spend time nurturing your relationship with God. It provides us a unique opportunity to: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:10). It is a time in which, by abstaining from the fleshy cravings of food and drink, we strengthen our spiritual desires by only allowing God alone to be our sustenance. Too often, as Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). By strengthening our spirit, we are able to strengthen our flesh in a way that it is in submission to God’s will. Thus, in place of the fleshy cravings, we spend time in prayer and the study of God’s Word and learn to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

 

How do we do this? First, we must personally plan a time to fast. Since we have no command of when to do it, it is left up to us to make time to do it. Fasting will not happen by accident; we must schedule out a time for it.

 

Second, we must practice it privately. As Jesus taught in Matthew 6, we must not tell others and make a spectacle about it. It is a time that we decide to spend some special time alone with God. He is the reason and focus for our fasting.

 

Third, we must use the time to strengthen our relationship with God. Fasting isn’t about losing weight, sleeping, or relaxing. Fasting is about actively spending time with God. Whether we spend time in prayer, reading God’s Word, or meditating upon the characteristics of God, we are intentionally doing something to build our faith in a very special way. Think of how your faith would be impacted with 12 hours intentionally set aside just for prayer and read your Bible. Imagine being able to “delight […] in the law of the LORD […] and on his law […] mediate day and night” (Psa. 1:2).

 

This article isn’t an attempt to bind anything unnecessarily upon you. Instead, it is to remind you of the Biblical teaching of fasting and the blessings that may be found when you do fast. It is up to you to decide how and when to apply these principles. Nevertheless, I hope that you will consider taking time to incorporate fasting into your Christian life.

“Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

One of the best known religious songs is Jesus Loves Me. It is a song that most people learned as a young child and is a common staple Vacation Bible Schools. It was written in 1862 by Anna Bartlett Warner with the music later added by William Batchhelder Bradbury. When Anna wrote the words, she released it as a comforting poem to a dying child. This song continues to comfort children and adults alike today.

 

As the words of the song tell us, we know from the Bible that Jesus loves us. With that knowledge, let us consider some comforting implications of this fact. First, because Jesus loves us, we have forgiveness. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Obviously, Jesus is foreshadowing his death as John realized later, when he wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). The purpose for his dying on our behalf was to pay the penalty for sin and make forgiveness available to us. Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

 

Second, because Jesus loves us, we have a friend. We know that a true friend is priceless (cf. Proverbs 17:17; 18:24). Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Because Jesus is our friend, we: 1) Have an intercessor (Romans 8:34); 2) Have a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); 3) Are strengthened (2 Timothy 2:1); 4) Have mercy and grace to help us (Hebrews 4:16); 5) Have hope (1 Peter 1:3); 6) Will never be forsaken (Hebrews 13:5); and 6) Have “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3).

 

Third, because Jesus loves us, we have a family. God is our father       (Romans 8:15). Jesus is our brother (Matthew 12:50). Members of the church are our brothers and sisters (Colossians 1:2). We are all members of “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15).

 

Fourth, because Jesus loves us, we have a future. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). Jesus is coming again and will take us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice and our being washed “in the blood of the Lamb,” we are going to a place where we “shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” and will be guided “to springs of living water” where “God will wipe away every tear from” our “eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17). Here, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

A story is told about a well known theologian name Karl Barth, who wrote a fourteen volume set entitled Church Dogmatics in which he addresses many of the main doctrines of Christianity. While lecturing at the Princeton Theological Seminary, a student asked him to summarize the theological meaning of the millions of words in Church Dogmatics. Karl Barth responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This simple truth is the message of the Bible. Let us take comfort in knowing that Jesus loves us.

The Journey to the Summit

The summit of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level. The first people known to have climbed to the summit are Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who accomplished that feat on May 29, 1953. Since that time, over 4,000 people have attempted the same feat with only about 17% succeeding. If you were to attempt this feat, there are several requirements for success. You would need to train for a minimum of two years. You would need to have at least $35,000-$65,000 to cover the expenses. You would have to pack the right equipment to survive the journey. You would climb to various camps in stages, with each stage having its own life and death risks. In approximately two months from when you started climbing, you would reach the summit. Needless to say, the journey is extremely difficult, but successfully reaching the summit is an accomplishment enjoyed by very few people.

 

Most of us will never have the opportunity to reach the summit of Mount Everest. However, there is a summit that we can all reach one day that is located on Mount Zion. A metaphor for heaven, Mount Zion is referenced in Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 14:1. In order to reach the summit of Mount Zion, we must realize that the journey will not be easy. In fact, it will be very difficult. Nevertheless, just as reaching the summit of Everest, these difficulties are a necessary part of the climb.

 

First, we must make sure that we have the proper training. As Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). We must continually “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Otherwise, we are like a child, “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Heb. 5:13). As children, we may be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried above by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). We must make sure that we don’t become “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13) and thereby “fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

 

Second, we must become transformed. If we are training ourselves properly, then we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). As we nurture our relationship with Jesus by abiding in the vine, we will “bear much fruit, for apart from Jesus [we] can do nothing” (John 15:5). Like Paul, “It is no longer [us] who lives, but Christ who lives in [us]” (Gal. 2:20). We are only able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” by being “transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Rom. 12:2).

 

Third, we must be prepared for the testing of our faith. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, we are told, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). These tests are necessary to developing a genuine faith. As Peter said, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).

 

The journey to the summit of Mount Zion is difficult. Nevertheless, we must keep climbing and never quit. We must be willing to “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). We must “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). One day, when we stand on the summit of Mount Zion, we will enjoy a reward unlike anything this world has to offer, eternity with God.

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is “the act or habit of putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.” It is a problem for many people. Often, we wait until the last second to get something done and sometimes fail to get it accomplished because of our putting off what we could have done earlier. The process of procrastination generally goes as follows: 1) We have a deadline to get something accomplished; 2) We get distracted with other things that aren’t as pressing; 3) We then delay getting the original task accomplished; 4) We become discouraged as we find ourselves becoming close to not getting the task accomplished on time; and 5) We feel defeated and give up on the task.

 

In order to remind us of the seriousness of this problem, let us look to what God’s Word has to say about it. In Proverbs 10:4, the author wrote, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” In Proverbs 13:4, we read, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” In Proverbs 20:4, we are told, “The sluggard does not plow in autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.”  In Proverbs 20:13, we learn, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.” From these passages, it is obvious that procrastination will only lead to problems in our lives, both here upon earth and in eternity.

 

How do we overcome this problem? First, we must learn to prioritize things in our lives. Obviously, the most important thing is our relationship with God.  Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). We have very little time and must not waste it. The truth is our lives “are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Therefore, as Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

 

Second, we must have a plan in place to accomplish these priorities. Paul wrote, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). As Moses said years ago, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).

Third, we must produce results of our plan. Having a plan is necessary, but a plan without execution is useless. Therefore, as Solomon said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc. 9:10). Similarly, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work heartily” (Col. 3:23).

 

Fourth, we must persist in producing results. Many people start a project but fail to finish it. This must not be us. Instead, we must “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). We “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). In a gentle rebuke to the Corinthians about their failure to be persistent, Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have” (2 Cor. 8:10-11).

 

Fifth, we must procure the finished product. Only by seeing it through until the end can we say, like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

 

Ordering our time using these five steps will provide great strength in overcoming the pitfalls of procrastination. We will be better able to accomplish what God has asked of us here on earth. Our time will be better utilized to develop our own walk with God as well as reach out to those who do not yet know Him.