Today I would like to muse on two verses at the close of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We do not tend to think of ourselves as being blessed when we are persecuted or reviling (something I tend to find particularly offensive), and sometimes we are all a bit too quick to consider ourselves as being reviled for the sake of Jesus Christ when we are merely being called to account for our own shortcomings. Nevertheless, these words remain a beacon of inspiration for believers, because those who do the will of God will find themselves reviled by those who have deliberately rejected God’s ways.
In certain circles it is fashionable to claim the mantle of the prophets of old. Some people have sought to consider themselves prophetic authorities blessed with insight into end-time events, while others believe that their partisan invocations against social or personal sins has divine favor and makes them privileged commentators and critics of some aspects of contemporary society and religious culture. Few people who claim to be the successors of such prophets, though, have actually taken a serious look at the prophets of old to ponder on what lessons their lives have for us. After all, prophets of God have typically not been particularly loved by their times, but neither did they relish the role of speaking evil about their contemporaries. Indeed, any genuine servant of God will desire the best for his people and his society, will desire them to face their evils and repent of them so that they may be restored to God’s good graces and avoid judgment, but prophets are traditionally sent in times of great evil where there is much hardness of heart among those who reject God’s ways, whether that is in a religion that rejects God’s Sabbath rests, exploits the poor and the vulnerable, or engages in sexual immorality, or whatever other sins a society is drawn to like a moth to the flame.
There are some people who claim to be prophets nowadays who relish in preaching evil against their societies because they feel alienated from those around them. There are others who selectively preach against evils, perhaps speaking against our social evils while softpedaling the personal sins that have become so rampant in our lands to the point where they are now becoming protected by law so that any who speak against them become vulnerable to being prosecuted for hate speech, while others speak harshly against personal sin while remaining blind to the moral evils of exploitation and the rapacious greed of corrupt political and economic elites. Those who are true servants of God must hate all that God hates–all sin–and combine that fierce hatred of sin wherever it may be found with a longing for the repentance and restoration of all who have fallen into judgment for their unbelief and for their wickedness. We do not hate sin because we hate sinners, but we hate sin because of the damage it does to those created in God’s image and likeness and for the pain and sorrow that it brings to God’s creation.
Yet those who passionately hate sin, no matter how much they love sinners and desire their repentance, will be slandered and reviled because those who are hardened in rebellion against God will not often be able to distinguish between a hatred of the sins that they practice and endorse and the hatred of themselves that they may feel, perhaps tinged with a bit of guilt that they are really doing wrong that they wish to eradicate by silencing all who would speak against their wicked ways. People that are generally self-reflective about their ways and genuinely repentant about their sins and shortcomings will not tend to be a people that will persecute others. It is rather those who have a guilty conscience, however they ignore it and justify themselves, that hate and revile and curse others personally, unwilling to turn from their own ways and follow the Eternal. As every fallen and corrupt society throughout human history has indulged wholeheartedly in certain sins, tolerated a host of other evils, and vigorously hated other sins, those who see sins in the broad context of the whole biblical worldview will inevitably find themselves at odds with some aspect of their society, and for that will suffer some degree of persecution, be it as mild as social exclusion or as serious as imprisonment, exile, and death.
So much time and effort are spent by people justifying a current sinful practice by pointing to the supposedly obsolete nature of some aspect of God’s word, even while those same people often have a passionate hatred of other types of sin that they justify pointing to those same texts as authoritative. None of us is entirely immune from a selective vision that sees some matters clearly and remains somewhat curiously blind and insensitive to other matters of equal importance (for in the grand scheme of things, every sin merits death, no matter how minor it may appear to our eyes). If our primary efforts are dedicated to the eradication of sin that is outside, we will forget that we battle with sin most fiercely and most importantly within ourselves. It is our own struggle against the sins inside of us, even if we do not act on those sins, that gives us the self-discipline to live a godly way and to set a good example for others in all walks of life. Likewise, if our battles of sin are directed against the evils of others and we have paid little attention to the evils that we struggle against ourselves, whether those evils are an insufficient passion against evil or passion for the good, insufficient knowledge in God’s ways or a lack of the heart and desire to obey and follow the Eternal, we will be seen (with justice) as being hypocritical and without value as moral guides to a blind and sin-obsessed world.
Yet those of us who are slandered falsely and have had all kinds of harsh and evil things said against us because of our passionate devotion to God’s ways and our hatred of the sins which so easily ensnare us all (and from which none of us are immune) should rejoice because it places us in the company of God’s most exemplary servants throughout history. People are not persecuted unless their voice threatens the systems of evil that are dominant in our world. Our biblical worldview will alienate us from all kinds of political partisans, and for making others uncomfortable and insecure through the example of our openness and our integrity and the honorable nature of our character, we will suffer all kinds of slander and libel as a result. Those who seek to use power to abuse and exploit others, or to gratify their own lusts, will be driven to great fury against those whose self-discipline does not lead them to view themselves above other people, but rather instead leads them to speak out against the evils that are tolerated and widely practiced in any time and place. For suffering these evils and enduring in our love for others without being poisoned by bitterness over the injustice of this life, we will be exceedingly blessed. May that blessing come quickly.