MATTHEW 5:10b-c(part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:10b “. . .for righteousness’ sake:. . .”
Not all the persecuted are blessed. There is no virtue in suffering “as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 P 4:15). We are not to have a martyr complex, going out of our way to seek or provoke persecution. Our suffering is blessed only as it is truly a by-product of seeking to live a righteous life.
Believers serious about their faith do not have to go out of their way to find trouble. Antagonism is inevitable between them and society. “A true Christian ought to be a standing rebuke to the world, an incarnate conscience” (Maclaren).
Pastor William Tuck makes a good point regarding the broad way leading to destruction, and the narrow way leading to life (MT 7:13-14). We generally think of believers as having left the broad path, being detoured over onto a completely separate, distinct narrow road. However, since salvation requires repentance, an about face causing us to go the exact opposite direction we were traveling, it may be more accurate to say the narrow road is smack dab in the middle of the broad road, just heading the other way. We chart a head-on collision course, traveling straight toward people of this world. Thus, crashing into lost people is inevitable.
This reality is painful. We want the narrow way to be distinct from the broad way, as Jeremiah did, “Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; that I might leave my people, and go from them!” (JR 9:2a NAS). He wanted to get away from it all, but for Christians this is not a viable option. We cannot run. Though, like Jeremiah, we want to hide, our calling is, like Jeremiah, to stand our ground and speak for right. We want to be monastics, to stand on a balcony, removed from controversy below, but we are not afforded the luxury of being spectators. “Christians belong in the middle of explosive situations, wherever they are” (Walker).
Our place is in the midst of life, in the thick of things, where no matter how peaceable we try to be, we shall at times be unappreciated. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 TM 3:12). Even the Prince of Peace was nailed to a cross, His righteousness being so absolute that it made the Pharisees’ righteousness look tacky and shabby. True goodness condemns the guilty, shrivels them, makes them unhappy. Already feeling guilt, the presence of goodness makes their conscience hurt worse, and they want the source of their irritation removed.
Thus, the incredible happens. People seeking to live a wonderful life are often tormented. However, as bad as it is to have to suffer “for righteousness’ sake,” the one thing worse is not to suffer “for righteousness’ sake.” It is better to suffer openly for righteousness than to suffer secretly for cowardice. A Christian who “refuses to suffer persecution shall never be free from suffering. . . .He that will not suffer for conscience shall suffer in conscience” (Watson). Conscience can be the cruelest taskmaster. Where can we hide from it, or flee it? As my Grandpa would say, “Son, you can hide behind the barn from everyone except yourself.” Cowardice haunts. “We cannot respect the coward in ourselves when He takes possession of our lives and drives us into the darkness of a dubious silence” (Walker).
Francis Spira, a famous Italian lawyer in the 1500s, renounced his faith to escape persecution. He ended life utterly insane, crying out he could feel the pains of the damned in his soul. He who feared the stake died on the wrack of conscience.
Dear believers, we are called to suffer persecution, and we avoid it at our own peril. Christianity fits better on a cross than it does on a cushion (Walker). Persecution is our heritage, part of our birthright, yielding evidence we are what we claim to be. When persecuted, we learn what is truly in our heart. Hypocrites suddenly see sin as small, and suffering as huge, and thus wither like autumn leaves.
“Suffering times are sifting times” (Watson), separating the true from the false. The untrue do not fare well in stormy seas. France’s King Henry IV refused to commit himself fully to spiritual things. He said he would not launch out too far into the deep, so that, if a storm should arise, he might retreat back to the shore.
The preacher Jesse Lyons tells how his seminary ethics class would debate what should be done if six people were on a lifeboat with provisions enough for only four. They argued about who should die: the sick, the old, the well, the young? Clark Poling, one of the students who heatedly debated the question along with everyone else, later served in WW II as a chaplain on the ship, “Dorchester.” When the ship was torpedoed, Clark, along with a Jewish and two Catholic chaplains, took off his life belt and gave it away. As the lifeboats shoved off, the four chaplains knelt in prayer. There on the deck of a sinking ship, Poling and the three others answered the seminary class question. As Lyons noted, “Our faith is tested, not in textbooks or in words, but when lives are committed” (see Tuck, pp. 202-3).
God grant us a faith strong enough to accept and endure the test of persecution, thereby proving to ourselves we truly are saved. As the wild beasts were being released upon the martyr Ignatius, he said, “Now I begin to be a Christian.”
Matt. 5:10c (part one) “. . .for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When the kingdoms of earth are against us, “the kingdom of heaven” is for us. There is a supreme court higher than any tribunal of earth. Luther, hearing of the decision against him at Nuremburg, said, “It is otherwise concluded in heaven than in Nuremburg.” Beyond this world is another kingdom, a loftier empire.
Nebuchadnezzar threw three Hebrews bound into the burning fiery furnace. When the king, the representative of the strongest kingdom of earth, looked into the fire, he “was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?. . . .Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (DN 3:24-25). The fourth “man” in the fire was the representative of a kingdom larger and stronger than Nebuchadnezzar’s. God grant us a furnace-faith which withstands fire and proves true, sensing in the flames the presence of a “fourth man,” the representative of “the kingdom of heaven.”
A Christian merchant once tried to justify his practice of making and selling idols to pagans. When he said, “We have to live,” Tertullian replied, “Do we?” The pointed question is well stated. Do we have to live? No, not really, but we do have to die, to give a reckoning in another kingdom, and the verdict rendered by the Judge in that other realm, “the kingdom of heaven,” is what matters.