Persecution is not pleasant, yet it is part of the blessed, abundant life we are privileged to live as followers of Jesus. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus completed the Beatitudes. D.A. Carson has noted that this final beatitude is the one that binds up the other seven. He says, “If the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may fairly be asked where righteousness is being displayed in his life.”
We will never be greater than the Christ we follow. He was persecuted, and that will also be our experience along the blessed way. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The persecution Jesus refers to is not punishment for crimes we may commit or bad behavior we exhibit, but because we follow Him. First Peter 3:14 says, “If you suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Christian who opposed the Nazi regime. He was imprisoned, tortured and finally executed in 1945 at the Flossenburg concentration camp. Just before his death, he wrote, “Suffering is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master.”
The specific kind of persecution Jesus mentions in verse 11 is verbal persecution. When people talk about us, lie about us, slander us, or insult us, we feel pain. But, as followers of Christ, we must remember that Jesus was called a liar (John 8:13), a glutton and wine-bibber (Matthew 11:19), demon-possessed (John 7:30), and more. He was even accused of insanity (John 10:20).
Insults and slanders are emphasized in verse 7. Insults include scorn and ridicule. To slander someone is to attack with vicious, mocking and hateful words. When we are verbally persecuted because we believe and live the Word of truth and follow the Savior of truth, it is because we are different from our attackers.
G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.” We live in an age of so-called tolerance. Increasingly, our country tolerates everything but Christians. We cannot be tolerant of sin and wrong in this world when we have been called to be salt and light.
As we obediently follow Jesus, we will experience persecution, most likely verbal assaults. What can we do? He says in verse 12 that we are to rejoice because we are in good company. The prophets who came before us suffered persecution.
Persecution leads us to draw close to God. By drawing close to God, we can experience the fullness of His Spirit. Since a part of the fruit of the Spirit is joy, we can have the joy of God in our hearts. If we have the joy of God in our hearts, we can rejoice in any circumstance. To rejoice means to express joy. We cannot express something we do not have. Persecution can actually lead to a positive outcome. C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasure; speaks to us in our conscience; but shouts to us in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
It does hurt when people say hurtful things to us or about us. John MacArthur said, “I don’t mind if they don’t like me or what I say, but when they claim I say things that I didn’t say, that’s hard to take. Then you try to defend yourself over something you never even said.”
When we are verbally persecuted because we follow Jesus, we are commanded to rejoice. Christ also promised that our reward in heaven will be great. We have an example of this way of living in Acts 5:41: “So they went on their way from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame of His name.”
Being persecuted for the right reason is the last step in the progression of the blessed life.