“Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake”

“PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE”
by Wayne S. Walker

     New Testament Christianity, to those who are not acquainted with its real nature, must appear full of paradoxes. In the Sermon on the Mount we are told what practical religion is. If some uninspired person should make such statements, we would be ready to pronounce him insane because in the Beatitudes everything which we regard with dread has a blessing attached to it – the poor, the mourning, the hungry, and the reviled are congratulated. Yet, throughout the Scriptures, those things which we consider as desirable have woes denounced against them – the rich, the full, the laughing, and the honored are all represented as in a truly pitiable condition.

     But perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that persons possessed of true Christianity should be the objects of persecution; and that, on this very account, they should be esteemed blessed. But so it is, for Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12, NKJV). Jesus does not affirm here that anyone who suffers and is persecuted will be blessed because this is not true. But He identifies several attributes of the persecution to which He ascribes these blessings when He talks about being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Undeserved

     I. It must be undeserved. The Lord predicts that His followers will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It must be evil said or done against us falsely. There can be no blessing in merited suffering. 1 Peter 4:14-16 reads, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

     On the surface, this seems to be a very improbable case. The very character of God’s people ought to preclude the idea. If the disciples of Jesus were the exact reverse of what they are, we could expect them to be the objects of hatred and contempt. But who can hate the meek, the merciful, the pure, or the peacemakers? What connection is there between the verses of our text and the whole preceding context? One would imagine that the premise was altogether contrary to fact.

     That their very righteousness should be the ground of their sufferings appears still more strange. If they were guilty of rebellion, theft, murder, or anything else that rendered them bad members of society, no one would wonder that they should receive such evil treatment on those accounts. But that their conformity to Christ and His principles of goodness should be the true reason for the world’s enmity against them seems incredible.

     But we are taught to expect such enmity on the part of the world. Christ Himself warned the disciples that they would receive the very same treatment as He received (Jn. 15:18-21; 16:1-4). And His apostles guard us against being surprised or offended because of it (1 Pet. 4:12; 1 Jn. 3:13). Nor should we think that our enemies will reveal the real reason for their aversion. They will not say, “I hate you for your piety.” They will give some other name to it; they will call it fanaticism, hypocrisy, or narrow-mindedness. And under that charge they will raise up their voice against it (see Jn. 10:31-33).

     Furthermore, experience proves that such enmity exists. Look at the holy men of old; which one of them was not persecuted for righteousness’ sake? “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Gal. 4:29). Surely Christians are not dragged as they once were to prison and to death. But can we therefore say that they are not persecuted? Are not they reviled? Do not they have all manner of evil spoken against them falsely? Have not men separated them from their company to reproach them and cast out their name as evil, for the Son of God’s sake? It is as Paul promised, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Godly living will bring suffering.

For righteousness’ sake

     II. It must be for righteousness’ sake. ” It must be inflicted because of our faithful attachment to right and to Christ. It must be “for Christ’s sake.” When persecution comes – undeserved and for His sake – its endurance is, indeed, a great blessing. It connects us with the highest system – the kingdom of heaven. Paul and Barnabas went about, “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

     It also ensures for us the highest reward – heaven. John encouraged the saints at Smyrna, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2: 10). And then it identifies us with the greatest men of all ages – “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Hebrews 11:32-40 mentions some of them, their sufferings, and their rewards. Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and Daniel are a few of the great examples. Their suffering lifted them to a worldwide and lasting renown because it was for righteousness’ sake.

Viewed as a blessing

     III. It must be viewed as a blessing. To the world suffering is to be abhorred. But to the eye of faith, it is not so; the believer views his persecution in light of Jesus’ affirmation, “Blessed are ye.” It is a badge of honor. Look back on all the prophets, on Christ, and on the apostles. The latter “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). When Paul spoke of sufferings for Christ’s sake, he represented them as an honor bestowed upon us in behalf of Christ (Phil. 1:28-30). Indeed, of Jesus Himself it is said, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Thus we may consider ourselves partakers of Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 4:13).

     It is a means of good. Even at present the Christian feels that his trials are productive of spiritual benefit in his life and bring to him manifold blessings – patience, experience, and hope (Rom. 5:3-5). And when he looks forward to the eternal world and considers how rich a recompense of reward he will receive there for every sacrifice which he has made here, he can see his persecutions in a different light (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Such gives us the strength and hope to endure (Jas. 5:10-11).

     Finally, it is a ground of joy. Our Lord says to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.” Paul was certainly a very competent judge. While living a life of constant pain and suffering he wrote, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). To the same effect also James speaks, congratulating every persecuted saint and encouraging him to glory in all his tribulations (Jas. 1:2, 12). However painful they may be, if only they work for our eternal good, they must, and will, to every believing soul, be an occasion of real joy.

Conclusion

     Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “The only homage wickedness can pay to righteousness is to persecute it.” However, the Scripture gives us a word of warning. We must take care that our suffering is indeed for righteousness’ sake. If it is brought upon us by our own fault or foolishness, it is our own and not that of Christ. “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing” (1 Pet. 2:17). Yet, we also have a word of encouragement. Our merciful Savior, who has trod the way before us, will sympathize with us in our trials, will work them for our good, and in due time will put us safely and forever beyond the reach of them all. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

     (Credit is here given to Homiletic Thesaurus on the Gospels. Matthew by Herald F.J. Ellingsen, published by Baker Book House in 1949, for many of the thoughts included in this article.)

     —Taken from Guardian of Truth; May 3, 1984; Vol. XXVIII, No. 9; pp. 266-267

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“Encouragement in Running the Race”

ENCOURAGEMENT IN RUNNING THE RACE

(Hebrews 12:1-11)

By Wayne S. Walker 

     I have ever been involved much in sports.  My brother played little league baseball and I practice with him a little but was never on a team myself.  The only football, basketball, and soccer that I ever played were in high school physical education classes.  However, I did run track in high school and college.  Imagine that you are a runner at Olympic games.  Your coach is on sidelines to watch you.  The stands are full of friends and relatives cheering you on.  You have trained, practiced, and are now ready to run the race.  Bible uses this picture to illustrate life of Christian.

     “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).  Training for and running races are not easy.  They are hard work.  There is a great deal of effort in building up one’s strength in preparation, and the actual race is draining.    It is so easy to become discouraged and quit.  The life of a Christian is also like that, with lots of hardships and difficulties along the way.  It is also easy to become discouraged and quit.  But Hebrews 12:1-11 offer us encouragement in running the race.

The great cloud of witnesses

     One source of encouragement is the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in verse 1.  Who are these witnesses?  In a regular race, these would be the spectators in stands, but in the race of Hebrews, it refers to a special group which includes the great heroes of faith in chapter 11.  For example, there is Abel (Heb. 11.4).  He was tempted to follow older brother’s example and offer something besides what God said, but he offered by faith and even though lost life as result, he still speaks to us today.  Then there is Enoch (Heb. 11.5).  He was tempted to be like the wicked people of his day, but he chose to walk with God and was translated.

     Also, there is Noah (Heb. 11.7).  He preached 120 years while building ark and saved only family.  No one else listened, and many maybe even made fun of him.  Can you imagine churches supporting a preacher for twenty years, let alone 120 years, with no “visible results”?  However, he saved his household, and God seemed pleased with that.  In addition, there is Abraham (Heb. 11.8).  He was told to go to a distant land, and he was not a young man.  The older I get, the harder it is to pick up stakes and move.  Where? Basically God said, “I shall tell you when you get there.”  Yet, there was no arguing, just an attitude of “OK, Lord, if that’s what you say,” and he was called friend of God.

     Moreover, there were Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Heb. 11.24-27).  Moses could have had treasures and pleasures of Egypt, but he chose to give it all up to serve God and suffer in wilderness; yet with Abraham and David considered greatest heroes of the Old Testament.  And there were others (Heb. 11.32-34).  These are the people in the stands cheering us on

“His banner over us is love, Our sword the word of God. 

We tread the road the saints above, With shouts of triumph trod. 

By faith, they, like a whirlwind’s breath, Swept on o’er every field. 

The faith by which THEY conquered death Is still OUR shining shield.”

They have gone on before us, already lived their lives, suffered for their faith, and remained faithful, and now they want to encourage us.  They are telling us that it will not be easy, but if they could do it, we can do it too.  Yes, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”

Our Savior

     Another source of encouragement is our Savior.  “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:2-3).

     Jesus is like our coach.  Yes, He was and is the divine Son of God, but He did not come to earth as a super human being who walked a few feet above the earth on a cloud, or lived as a king in a palace with special privileges, but He came as one of us, “taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).  In fact, the writer of Hebrews has already pointed this out to emphasize that Jesus lived on this earth and suffered as we do.  “Inasmuch then the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same….for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Heb. 2.14-18).

     For this reason, He is qualified to be a “great High Priest who has passed through the heavens;” not “a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” but one who “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin,” so that we may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4.14-16).  Thus, we need to consider what Jesus endured lest we become weary and discouraged.  But we also need to consider the example that He left us in the way He conducted His life (1 Pet. 2.21-23).  So Jesus wants to encourage us in running the race, not only by offering us help as a faithful and merciful High Priest, but also by leaving us an example to show us how we can victorious; therefore, we need to be “looking unto Jesus…”

The Scriptures


     Still another source of encouragement is the scriptures.  “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:4-6).

     In seeking to encourage readers, the inspired writer quotes from the Scripture (Prov. 3.11-12).  Jesus often used the Scriptures.  Remember how He encouraged Himself in temptation by constantly appealing to what “is written” and drawing strength from it to resist the devil.  And He cited Scripture to encourage others.  After His resurrection, He met with His disciples.  “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Lk. 24.44-45).

     Of course, the Scriptures which Jesus and even the New Testament writers had for encouragement were the Old Testament Scriptures, and while they are not God’s law for us today, we can still find encouragement from them because “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  The accounts of all that great cloud of witnesses mentioned earlier are found in the Old Testament Scriptures.  But in addition, we have the New Testament scriptures in which God reveals His will for us today, knowing that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3.16-17).  “Every good work” includes running the race set before us.  The Hebrew writer sought to encourage His readers in running the race by pointing them to the Scriptures, and we can find encouragement to run our race from the Scriptures as well.

God’s chastening

     One other source of encouragement mentioned by the Hebrew writer is God’s chastening.  Having quoted from the Scriptures about God’s chastening, he goes on to say, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?…Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:7-11).

     There is a lot about God’s chastening that I do not pretend to understand, but one thing I know.  The Hebrew writer says that it is proof of God’s love.  The father who chastens his son loves him; but the one who does not chasten, really does not love.  And, of course, we know that God loves us because of all that He has done for us (Jn. 3.16).  One possible way that God chastens us is by allowing the very hardships, difficulties, and tribulations which make running the race seem difficult.  That is why Paul writes, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope” (Rom. 5.3-4).

     Unfortunately, some react to tribulations by blaming God and turning away from Him; but when we understand that God’s chastening is proof of His love, we shall not let them separate us from Him, but like Paul glory in our tribulations.  With this kind of attitude, we can actually use our tribulations as stepping stones to draw closer to God and ultimately gain the prize (Jas. 1.2-3, 12).  The fact that God’s chastening is a demonstration of His love for His children and that He allows tribulations not to harm us but to strengthen us should be a source of great encouragement in running the race

Conclusion

     Philip Doddridge, an eighteenth century preacher and author of “O Happy Day,” wrote another hymn based upon this passage (with some hints from Phil. 3:13-14 as well):

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve, And press with vigor on;

A heavenly race demands thy zeal, And an immortal crown.

A crowd of witnesses around Holds thee in full survey;

Forget the steps already trod, And onward urge thy way.

‘Tis God’s all animating voice That calls thee from on high;

‘Tis His own hand presents the prize To thine aspiring eye.

Blest Savior, introduced by Thee, Have I my race begun,

And crowned with victory at Thy feet I’ll lay my honors down.

     The apostle Paul often used athletic metaphors to make spiritual points.  “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run this: not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9.24-27). 

     All of us are in a race from here to eternity.  Either we are running down the broad way that leads to everlasting destruction or we are running the strait and narrow way that leads to everlasting life (Matthew 7:13-14).  The strait and narrow way can be difficult at times with various hardships hat discourage us; but God offers us encouragement through the great cloud of witnesses, the example of Jesus His Son, the comfort of the scriptures, and the knowledge of His love in His chastisement.  With this kind of encouragement, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

     —Taken from Expository Files; Nov., 2011; Vol. 18, No. 11; pp. 6-8