Recently, I saw a meme with a picture of a Bible and the words, “This is not a bag of trial mix. You can’t just pick out the pieces you like and ignore the rest.” I smiled to myself because I am one of those people who eats the chocolate and leaves the raisins. I imagined myself approaching the Bible in the same way. I’d devour the sweet parts about God’s love, mercy, protection, and provision but ignore the hard to swallow parts, like the final beatitude.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.” Matthew 5:10-11 (MSG)
I struggle accepting these verses because I like to be liked. I know I am not alone in this because we have a whole industry based off of “likes.” How many likes can you get on your Facebook post? What about your Instagram photo? But as a follower of Christ, being liked is not our goal.
When Being Hated is a Good Thing
In John 15, Jesus explains why we will be hated as Christ followers: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 ESV
The world hated Jesus. The Pharisees constantly tried to trap Him in heresy (Matthew 12). In His home town of Nazareth, the people drove Him out with the intent of throwing Him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-20). And He was given the death of a criminal even though He committed no crime (John 19).
As Christians, we are continually being shaped into the image of Christ; and if the world hated the one whom we reflect, they will hate us as well. Jesus even tells us, since the world persecuted Him, it will persecute us.
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” John 15:20-21 ESV
Notice the persecution being discussed here is not actually about us, but about Jesus. This is why Matthew 5:10 says “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (NKJV, emphasis added). Remember, righteousness comes from Christ alone. (Check out the series on righteousness here.)
With this clarification, we can understand the blessing we receive is not from the persecution itself, but from our commitment to God. We are blessed because we are humble, we mourn sin, we are meek, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are compassionate, pure in heart, and work for peace. We are blessed when our character looks so much like Christ’s that we are persecuted in order to discredit Him.
Even though these verses are hard to swallow—even though being put down, thrown out, and lied about will hurt—Matthew 5:12 tells us to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,” and those are indeed sweet words.