10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
As we said last time, you are probably asking the question, “Why would anyone be persecuted for being merciful? Why would anyone be persecuted for being pure? Why would anyone be persecuted for working to make peace?”
The answer is found within The Beatitudes themselves, but also in additional passages of Scripture, and we will get there momentarily. But there is also something fundamentally human that makes this true.
It is fundamentally human to loathe a standard that necessarily exposes your inability to keep that standard, and sometimes that loathing can turn toward active hatred, or “persecution.”
Let me illustrate this principle for you in a lighthearted way, but then in a more serious way.
My college friend (and roommate for one year in grad school) was a phenomenal musician, and particularly on guitar. It was mesmerizing to watch him play and listen to the sounds and rhythms he could play on the guitar, which inevitably introduced me to a lot of the recording artists that had inspired him. And I’ve yet to forget what he said to me when I asked him about who to listen to so I could learn to play the guitar better.
“There are two kinds of guitar players: the kind that make you want to play, and the kind that make you want to throw your guitar away because you’ll never, ever, ever be as good as them.”
Now, in that illustration, there is fundamental loathing of a standard that exposes my own inability to reach or keep it, but there’s no persecution of the person who does aspire for it. There’s just abandonment on my part. I quit. Jolly for that guy, but not for me.
Now, more seriously, think about it this way. Suppose you come into a relationship with someone who aspires to be incredibly generous … absurdly generous … with their finances. I was in a conversation recently in which I learned of a man who lives on 20% of income and gives more than 50% of it to charitable causes. It would be quite natural, as a human being, to not really want to be around that guy if you were living on 110% of your income and giving nothing. His generosity (a very high standard) naturally exposes your less than ideal giving situation, and so you are quickly tempted to loathe that person because they expose something in you that you don’t like and that you don’t want to deal with.
I could go on, but I hope you see the point. Being around humble people exposes our pride. Being around hard-working people exposes our laziness. And so on. As a result, we are quickly tempted to loathe them. Righteousness exposes unrighteousness.
And loathing … when acted upon … can become a form of persecution.
But there’s another reason persecution happens when that is more immediately found in the text. Look at the subtle differences between v. 10 and v. 11.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness …
11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me.
Do you see how “because of righteousness” and “because of me” are in parallel? They are essentially used as synonyms, but the latter (“because of me”) also amplifies or elaborates on “because of righteousness.” The kind of righteousness that makes us blessed when we get persecuted for it is the kind that includes a relationship with Jesus. It’s righteousness that is done for Jesus’ sake, not for its own sake.
“The mercy and the purity and the peacemaking of a disciple of Jesus comes from Jesus and is done for the honor of Jesus. It’s this attachment to Jesus that gives our righteousness its distinct character” (John Piper, sermon, 1986), and that makes it worthy of persecution from the world.
Rob is Teaching Pastor at Blackman Baptist Church.