Beatitudes 47: Persecute 1

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Last week I said that I was dealing with the last Beatitude. I received a phone call and decided to go ahead and deal with the next Beatitude. Perhaps down deep I didn’t want to deal with the issues that this particular beatitude raises and avoid the insults that might come. I will not deal with the more technical issues of whether there are one or two Beatitudes in verses 10-12, but will just treat them as one since at the least they are very close in meaning. This is perhaps the hardest of the Beatitudes and yet, after giving it more thought, one that is very relevant to our day in the United States in its own way and many other places too. All who are persecuted and insulted for the sake of Christ need to be reminded of the blessedness of what is happening to them. Of course that does not mean those who have zeal without knowledge and zeal from self-love that bring persecutions and insults on their own heads.

We can note how shocking it is to go from peacemakers to the blessedness of being persecuted and insulted. We know that peacemakers are blessed, but how is it that peacemakers are persecuted and insulted? How can it be that it is a blessing to be persecuted and insulted? It is shocking to our system when we think of Christ telling us that the one who mourns is a blessed person. But this one goes beyond that. We know that Jesus tells us that if people hated Him they will hate His people (John 15:18). We know that Paul told us that if anyone wished to live godly in Christ Jesus that person will be persecuted (II Tim 3:12). We know to some small degree the persecutions and sufferings that Christ went through and we have heard of some of the sufferings the apostles went through. We have heard of the sufferings of the prophets in the Old Testament. We have read and heard lectures of the sufferings of people through the centuries and during times of great upheaval when many within the visible Church were settled in to their religion with comfort and along came someone with a true love for God and was willing to stand up for it. We have heard of many who are dying for Christ even today in other nations of the world.

In the previous paragraph I kept using terms like “read” and “heard” to refer to things in the past or of happenings in other nations. We think that those things happen in uncivilized parts of the world. We might think that the United States is a Christian nation and so those things don’t happen here. We might even think that God has so blessed us here that these things don’t happen. But the text we are dealing with tells us with a great deal of clarity that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed. They are the ones that it refers to when it says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The persecuted are the ones that the text tells us “that your reward in heaven is great.” Is Scripture obsolete or archaic or both? Perhaps what we should begin to think about, however, rather than think of Scripture as anything less than the Word of God, is to come to grips with the realization that Christianity in the United States is so lukewarm at best that maybe it is being spit out of the mouth of our Lord. Perhaps the reason we don’t have many persecutions here is because true Christianity is so rare.

The United States is thought of as a “melting pot.” It is thought that all people are equal in all ways and their religions are too. It is said to be prideful if we speak out and say we have the truth. It is a sign of ignorance to say that one believes in moral absolutes. Everything that is said must be civil, winsome, kind (in a worldly way) and so on. We are not to say anything that would offend others. If a person gets angry we are speaking to we are said to be at fault. In rather blunt language, to live in a society like this and get along with all people it will effectively neuter Christianity and make spiritual geldings of us all. It is not possible to be like Christ and to be civil, winsome and kind in a worldly way at the same time. The prophets were not persecuted for being mean in truth, but by religious people for preaching the Word of God and pointing out sin. The apostles were greatly persecuted by the religious people of their day. It was the religious elite of His day that persecuted and eventually put Jesus on the cross. Are things different today or have we watered down the truth in order to avoid suffering the offense of the cross?

I think that that the visible Church is not being persecuted today because we are more like the world than we are of the real Christ. The modern conception of Christ today is of a man that walked around saying words that dripped with honey and offended no one. That is a lie. Virtually everything Christ said or did offended someone and the religious and moral people of His day tried to kill Him several times. When his apostles went out we are told that they were all martyred except for John who was sent into exile. Who killed them? Religious people did. When true Christianity confronts false Christianity and other religions, persecution will happen. There are some ways to do this that are nicer than others, but it will not be seen as nice. When we speak with clarity and true love, there will be persecution. Not many have the stomach for that. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that not many have the love of Christ in them so as to love Him more than self by telling people what they really need to hear.

There is another way that people flee from persecution too. That is by preaching in a hard way in order to gain the applause of many for doing so. They preach against others but only around those that agree with them. For example, an old style fundamentalist preacher rails against certain types of folks. But he is not telling the people who need to hear that, but to people who agree with him. This happens in all theological circles. Reformed people will say many things around those that agree with them but not around those who would get mad at them. There are also those with a lot of fire and they go out and say radical things that get people mad, but that is still not the type of persecution that comes from preaching the truth in love. People can get angry at being offended by many things and even the way things are said. But the kind of persecution that comes when people speak the words of Christ that reaches the hearts and consciences of others is different in many ways. A momentary anger at an insult is one thing, but a deep abiding anger that arises from an inner hatred of God is quite another.

We really should narrow this down and look at things within Reformed circles and the SBC. What things would a Reformed person do to keep others from persecuting him or her in the SBC? What type of things would people in the SBC do to keep others in the SBC from persecuting him or her? What things could the SBC do to keep people from persecuting it? To go back to the blunter type of language, what could we do to be neutered in the world and within religious circles? I think it is exactly what is being done right now. We would find a nice Jesus and tell people about Him (him?) in a nice religious way. We would water down the teaching of sin and make it more of a mistake rather than an act of hatred against God. We would tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for them rather than that the wrath of God is upon them. We would tell people they need to pray a prayer or sign a card rather than a deep repentance of the heart. We would tell them they need to make a decision rather than they need to be born again by the will of God. We would bring in the “niceness” of the world and want everything to be civil and winsome. We would call anyone who made a profession of faith a brother or sister.

Some other things that are done would be to forget the historical distinctions between theological camps and water things down to void those. In the past the distinction between Protestant and Roman Catholic was clear. In the modern day those differences are ignored. Is it because those differences are not really there? No, it is because people don’t study their Bibles or theology enough to see the real differences. Just as long as salvation is said to be of grace and Christ it is enough to wash away the other differences. In the past the distinction between Reformed and Arminian was distinct and clear as well. In the modern day those differences are all but ignored. As long as anyone professes some major doctrines and says that he or she was saved by faith that is thought to be enough.

What is being done, then, is clear. The distinction between Protestant and Roman Catholic theologies is being blurred because the distinction between Reformed and Arminian theology has been blurred. Roman Catholicism is Arminian at heart in its teaching. The heart of classical Protestantism was Reformed theology. When that is blurred the real differences between Protestants and Roman Catholicism is blurred. The desire to be civil has taken the edge off of our theological writing and the distinctions are blurred. We are afraid that some will say something bad about us and that we are not civil or winsome. A desire to be civil and winsome has dulled our theology. We desire to be approved by men more than God. We say we want reformation and revival but ignore the fact that God will not send revival to neutered religious people no matter what theology they profess with their mouths.

The answer is a true repentance in the hearts of all who love God. We must recognize that we have bought into a worldly way of thinking which has watered our theology and preaching down to where it is acceptable to all manner of people. However, God despises it. We are so man-centered and watered down that we are more concerned about civility than the truth of the living God. We have become neutered when we are satisfied with broad statements of orthodoxy rather than precise statements from broken hearts. When we are afraid of it being said that we are not nice enough or loving enough because of strong stands, we fear public opinion more than we fear God. That calls for true repentance. When we love to be called “civil” and “winsome” and want to be so-called peacemakers with those titles, we are not like the prophets, apostles, Reformers or our Savior. It might be that we are even non-Christian if we are so unlike Christ in this way. This is not a minor issue.

Do we really love what the great Protestant and Reformed preachers preached in the past? Are we so sure? Do we really love what they preached and how they preached? Howell Harris was persecuted and insulted by the religious people of his day and the world that he preached to. George Whitefield (pronounced Whit as if without the “e”) was despised by the religious leaders of his day too. He was insulted and persecuted. We love to hear of the thrilling stories of the men of old and think we are aligned with them, but we want to be known as civil and winsome in our day. We should ask ourselves if we are more like Howell Harris and George Whitefield or the last pope. Harris and Whitefield were men who were greatly opposed and suffered persecution. The pope sought to be tolerant of all and civil and winsome. Can we have the theology that Harris and Whitefield had if we are not of the same spirit? Does the rough theology that they had speak of a likeness to Christ and His prophets and apostles or does the civil and winsome spirit of today sound more like Christ and His prophets and apostles? I fear that Harris and Whitefield are more like Christ and His prophets and apostles and we are more like the world. They were blessed, had great rewards and theirs was the kingdom of heaven along with their persecutions. What is it that our age has? We have an ability to avoid any offense and any persecution. But where is the truth of the Gospel and the glory of God?

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