“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. -Matthew 5:11-12
Truly these words are of such comfort to any whose hearts are weary from being spoken of unjustly. And they should take such comfort! When you truly are reviled for righteousness sake, what sweet relief and hope there is in knowing that God sees the truth and will reward your faithfulness in the fullness of time.
However there is a temptation here too isn’t there? A temptation to flip this on it’s head and use this passage as an excuse to ignore any criticism of oneself, writing it off as evidence that we must be righteous, since after all they hated Christ too! The christian walk is truly a narrow path, and lined with pitfalls on every side. How tempting it is in the flesh to counterfeit all manner of spiritual truths. Just as we discussed the temptation to pursue a false peace in a previous article, so there are also temptations to present ourselves as falsely righteous, refuse to lay down our pride, and claim the moral high ground, appealing to our feelings of persecution as evidence.
How tempting it is to counterfeit spiritual truths
So then how do we differentiate between true persecution for righteousness sake and the pride of man that elevates oneself and clings to a false piety as justification? As with all things the only true measure is the word of God and we must weigh all things according to it.
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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
1 Peter 4:12-13
Here is our test. We can rejoice if we are sharing in the suffering of Christ. What were Christ’s sufferings? He took on blame that was not his own. Are we doing likewise? He gave no answer to his accusers. Are we consumed with a desire to defend ourselves? Or are we offering our arguments in defense of Christ and in the interest in having an answer for everyone for the hope that is within us? (1 Peter 3:15). He was humiliated and downtrodden. Are we sharing in his humiliation or are we using opposition as stepping stone upon which to elevate ourselves, broadcasting our suffering so as to justify ourselves? Christ sacrificed himself on behalf of others. Are we motivated by sacrificial love that gives no thought to our own desires? Are we suffering as a result of being poured out for others? This is the standard against which we are being tested. 1 Peter continues:
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (v. 15-16)
Persecution for the sake of Christ finds comfort in sharing in His humiliation
In our suffering are we hating our opponent or others (murdering them in our hearts)? Are we meddling in things that are not our concern where there is no scriptural mandate that requires us to interfere? Are we returning evil for evil? Paul says here that this is not suffering for Christ but indeed that those who do these things in the house of God will be judged even before the lost of the world.
Persecution for the sake of Christ is persecution that finds comfort in sharing in His humiliation. It is not self-seeking or self-aggrandizing but is the result of imitating and aligning oneself with the ultimate martyr who gave Himself wholly that we might find life. True persecution is not sought as an end in itself and does not result in vainglory but in an increasing humility that disarms and points all attention away from self and toward Christ. It is suffering endured in the service of what is good.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. -1 Peter 4:19