Persecution (Part 3)

As we continue to examine persecution in the lives of Christians, a biblical perspective yields some seemingly contradictory insights.  One such insight is that persecution is a blessing.

As counter-intuitive as that may sound, remember that Jesus said that suffering for the faith showed approval by God.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated the following, found in Matthew 5:10-12:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The blessing of persecution is knowing that you are identified with God’s kingdom, being seen as a follower of Him.  This is not new; Jesus said the prophets of God were treated the same way.

Yet another blessing is the intimacy with Christ that suffering for the faith affords.  Paul recognizes this in Philippians 3:4-11.  He writes,

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul’s acknowledges that his “gains”–his birth, heritage, training, and drive–are “loss” now, compared to knowing Jesus, sharing in His righteousness and suffering.  To put this bluntly, the Greek word for “loss” here means “dung” or “garbage.”  That is how little Paul thinks of his achievements and pedigree compared to identifying with Jesus.  That intimacy with the Savior overshadows everything else, reducing our trophies to trash.

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