In the early days of the New Testament church, the gospel was spreading rapidly. The Jewish leaders at the time were determined to stop the growth of this new church, so they went after the Apostles of Jesus Christ:
- They told the Apostles to not talk about Jesus — the Apostles ignored them (Acts 4:17-20).
- They put the Apostles in prison — an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and freed them (Acts 5:17-20).
- Finally, these bullies took the Apostles and gave them a physical beating and ordered them to stop speaking about Jesus (Acts 5:40).
What did the Apostles do after all of this persecution?
“They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”Acts 5:41-42
It should come as no surprise that these great men of God continued to preach the gospel, even after such mistreatment. Men who are called to preach Christ don’t let opposition deter them. However, the part that may seem unusual is that they actually rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name.
Rejoiced? They were happy? Happy to be beaten with clubs? Well, it wasn’t so much that they were happy to be beaten. Rather, they were happy that their representation of Jesus Christ was such that these men who hated Jesus saw them as fit substitutes to express their hatred toward. The Apostles were living examples of the final beatitude that Jesus shared in the Sermon on the Mount:
“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. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”Matthew 5:10-12
As the followers of Jesus today, we will also face persecution. And, when it happens, there is a reason to rejoice — it means that we are being recognized as a true representative of the Lord. After all, the enemy is not going to target the lukewarm followers — he’s going after the sincere disciples of Christ. So, when we are counted worthy to suffer for His name, it is a reason to rejoice.
Now, before we go off looking for ways to be mistreated, let’s make sure we understand what kind of persecution we’re talking about. What Jesus is referring to in this beatitude is being persecuted for righteousness’ sake — in other words, being mistreated specifically for doing what the Lord wants you to do.
If people mistreat you for reasons unrelated to serving God, that’s not what Jesus is referring to. There will always be people who just don’t like you or who are seeking revenge or are just plain mean. When these people treat you badly, that’s not persecution for righteousness’ sake.
Persecution doesn’t mean that you’re being mistreated while you’re serving God — it means that you’re being mistreated because you’re serving God. For example:
- You lose a job or a business because you refuse to engage in activities that are contrary to the Word of God.
- You lose people from your life and are referred to as a hateful person because you stand up for the Lord’s principles (see Luke 6:22).
- You are penalized in any way for refusing to deny that Jesus is the Christ.
If any of the above types of things happen to you, it’s OK to be upset at the mistreatment but — when you are able to reflect on what has happened — rejoice that you are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness and how the Lord is pleased that you have chosen Him rather than choosing to avoid persecution.
Persecution is not fun. It’s not something we should go looking for. However, if it means we’ve done the right thing in the sight of God, then rejoice. Rejoice for the good choice and rejoice that we are being grouped with all of the great disciples through the years who have been persecuted for the cause of Christ.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.