“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:10
That must have been very encouraging for a first century christian to hear, but does it really matter for us here in the modern western world? After all we have a government that allows us to worship as we choose, no one is throwing us to lions or stoning us to death, and being made fun of on sit-coms hardly seems comparable right? So how does this passage apply to us in our comfortable homes with our hot and cold running water?
While martyrdom is the ultimate form of persecution, it is not the whole definition of it. Scripture describes persecution as any suffering for righteousness sake.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. -1 Peter 3:13-17
Seasons of pain are normal and expected parts of christian life
Is a relative refusing to speak to you because you stood up for righteousness? Are co-workers excluding and mocking you for refusing to act against your conscience? Are you being sued or slandered by unbelievers or the pharisaically religious for advancing gospel truths? If so, you may be hesitant to think of this as persecution in comparison to the great suffering of christian martyrs in history and around the world. It is right to be grateful that our suffering is less, maybe much less, than when it could be, but suffering is suffering. God is big enough to have compassion for all the hurts that come in the lives of His children. Seasons of pain and seasons of joy or contentment are both normal and expected parts of christian life.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. -Ephesians 6:10-13
We are instructed to prepare our hearts and our minds, using the armor of God, to withstand the trials of the enemy that are to be expected for those who share in the suffering of Christ and will be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16-17)
We can take joy in the knowledge that we have been chosen to run such a race
As Christians, whether we live in times and places of plenty and prosperity, or times and places of darkness, oppression, and fear, we were not made for ourselves alone. We have been given a race to run and a commission to fulfill. There will be hurdles, there will be resistance from the princes and principalities against whom we wage war - yes even in the comfort of our warm and well-lit kitchens! We can take joy in the knowledge that we have been chosen by such a king to run such a race, and we can face all obstacles with confidence as we keep our eyes fixed on the author and the finisher of our faith.