Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
A longtime acquaintance recently “unfriended” several people — including me — on Facebook as part of an apparent effort to insulate himself from criticism where his political views are concerned.
This individual had developed an unfortunate habit of posting ill-researched political screeds and incendiary comments which could be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of violence. If anyone questioned his statements, one of his supporters would immediately respond by assuring him that he was merely being persecuted for “taking a stand for Christ.”
This kind of nonsense is obnoxious and offensive, but it’s not particularly unusual. There is a species of error that loves to go around calling names, inciting arguments, and preaching hatred and division in the name of Jesus.
I’ve often wondered why a self-professed Christian would want to act like that. In considering the question, I think I’ve found the answer in the fifth chapter of Matthew.
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with some pretty sound spiritual advice: Look to God for inspiration when you’re feeling down; know that heartaches can’t last forever; don’t get too full of yourself; try to do the right thing; cut people some slack; keep your mind out of the gutter; be nice to each other.
It’s pretty straightforward until we get to Matt. 10-11, where Jesus starts talking about being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
Righteousness is, in essence, a tendency to obey the rules. Thanks to our Constitution, precious few people in this country can honestly claim to have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And I think that worries some people. If we’re not being persecuted, maybe that means we’re not being righteous enough — so we panic and try to provoke some kind of confrontation that will allow us to feel persecuted (and, thus, assured of our own salvation).
There’s a difference between being persecuted for righteousness’ sake and being persecuted for self-righteousness’ sake. Jesus promised us blessings if we endure the former. He didn’t say anything about the latter. Do we understand the difference?