Monday, November 9, 2015

Let's Define Persecution Like Jesus

"This weekend, you may have been rudely interrupted by government officials barging into your home because they wanted to arrest you for Jesus fish on the back of your car in the driveway and the cross hanging on your front door. But that would require you to be persecuted, which if you're reading this, you probably aren't."  --Ed Stetzer

These words by Ed Stetzer begin an article in Christianity Today magazine. I had a difficult time reading the article after these opening words. The problem here is that Mr. Stetzer defines persecution differently than Jesus, who said in Matthew 5:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Persecution includes reviling and malicious speech. Not every prophet was jailed or put to death, but the fact that they were hated and insulted still meant they were persecuted, according to Jesus. The word "persecution" envelops the passage as an inclusio, and it envelops the way that persecution normally takes place, which is through reviling and evil speaking.

Luke 6 is even more telling, for "blessed are the persecuted" becomes "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets."

Here there is no mention of jail or martyrdom, but only hatred, exclusion, reviling, and spurning. If Mr. Stetzer thinks that is not happening in America or any culture that has ever existed the last 2000 years, then he simply is not paying attention!

The truth is that Christians are always hated, insulted, excluded and spurned as evil if they live anything resembling a godly life, and this is why 2 Timothy 3:12 says that "ALL who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

One of the things that will happen when Jesus returns is prophesied in Isaiah 25:8:

"He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken."

Reproach is what will be taken away from the God's people when Jesus returns. Not all of Christ's people will be jailed or put to death in this life, but all faithful Christians will be persecuted as the New Testament teaches, because the essence of persecution is reproach and malice, which results in evil speaking, exclusion and sometimes even jail or martyrdom. When that sort of persecution (jail and death) occur it is simply the acting out of the reproach and malice that is always in the hearts of unregenerate men, who are the seed of the serpent and hate the seed of the woman, who is Jesus Christ and his people (Genesis 3:15).

One final note, it is important to see that the enmity goes only in one direction in Genesis 3:15, and that is from the seed of the serpent toward the seed of the woman. This is illustrated in Acts at the martyrdom of Stephen. The hatred and enmity of Stephen's persecutors, which was always there, came out in a murderous rage. But this does not move Stephen to a similar enmity in return, but to a loving prayer on behalf of those who were murdering him. We do have to be careful that we do not return the world's enmity and malice with an enmity and malice of our own! We evangelize and speak the gospel out of love in our desire to save a corrupt humanity from the wrath and righteous judgment of God.  That is a mark of love, not enmity.

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