Sermon: Persecuted for Christ
Scripture: Matthew 5:10-12
In this week’s lessons, we learn that persecution is to be expected when we live a distinctively Christian life after the pattern of our Lord.
Theme: For Righteousness’ Sake
Thus, there is no promise of happiness for those who are persecuted for being a nuisance, for Christians who have shown themselves to be objectionable, difficult, foolish, and insulting to their non-Christian friends. This is not the thing about which Christ was speaking.
A humorous example of this non-sanctified type of persecution is given by Joseph Bayly in a fictional story about Christian witnessing called The Gospel Blimp. It is a satire, of course, and it is wildly exaggerated. But unfortunately the attitudes represented in it are all too accurate for much of so-called Christian activity. The believers in an imaginary town conceive the idea of witnessing by means of a blimp that is to fly over the town trailing gospel signs and dropping tracts and leaflets called “bombs.” It is a silly idea; no one is ever converted by it. But for a while at least the town is tolerant. Tolerance changes to hostility, however, when the promoters of the project add sound equipment to the blimp and begin bombarding their neighbors with gospel services broadcast from the air. At this point, according to Bayly, the “persecution” begins, and the town newspaper prints an editorial that reads: “For some weeks now our metropolis has been treated to the spectacle of a blimp with an advertising sign attached at the rear. This sign does not plug cigarettes, or a bottled beverage, but the religious beliefs of a particular group in our midst. The people of our city are notably broad-minded, and they have good-naturedly submitted to this attempt to proselyte. But last night a new refinement (some would say debasement) was introduced. We refer, of course, to the air-borne soundtrack, that invader of our privacy, that raucous destroyer of communal peace…”1
That night the sound equipment of the blimp is sabotaged, and the Christians call it persecution.
Well, it is not persecution. That is Mr. Bayly’s point. It is a provoked response to an unjustified invasion of privacy. Similarly, it is not persecution today when Christians are snubbed for pushing tracts on people who do not want them, insulting them in the midst of a religious argument, poking into their affairs when they are not invited, and so on. Christ spoke of a persecution of those who are abused for the sake of his righteousness.
Moreover, the beatitude does not mean, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for wrongdoing.” This should almost go without saying. But it cannot be left unsaid for the simple reason that most persons (including Christians) will always attempt to justify a wrong act by loud cries of unjustified persecution or prejudice. Peter wrote, “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” (1 Peter 4:15). He knew that Jesus was speaking of a persecution for the sake of righteousness.
Then, too, it is not a persecution for being fanatical. When the Jewish court in Jerusalem tried Michael Rohan for attempting to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the temple enclosure of the city, it was not persecuting him. His act was a fanatical act, and it was not performed for the cause of Christ’s righteousness and for the sake of conformity to him.
Finally, the persecution about which Jesus spoke is not persecution evoked by following a cause, even—and you must understand me rightly here—for following Christianity. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones has written correctly on this point:
I say that there is a difference between being persecuted for righteousness’ sake and being persecuted for a cause. I know that the two things often become one, and many of the great martyrs and confessors were at one and the same time suffering for righteousness’ sake and for a cause. But it does not follow that the two are always identical…I think that in the last twenty years there have been men, some of them very well known, who have suffered, and have even been put into prisons and concentration camps, for religion. But they have not been suffering for righteousness’ sake…This is not the thing about which our Lord is talking.2
1Joseph Bayly, The Gospel Blimp (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1966), 32.
2D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), vol. 1, 131-32.
What are some areas or examples where Christians might experience some form of suffering, but are not in the category of persecution Jesus is talking about?
How does the kind of persecution in Jesus’ beatitude differ from what some Christians might consider persecution?
Application: In your relationships with unbelievers, are you thoughtful and careful about such interactions so that you will not reflect poorly on your Christian testimony?