Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness

Painting by Hyatt Moore

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort, and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even! —for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message)

No matter our vocation or avocation, what we do, or don’t do, what we say, or don’t say, we will not avoid insult and persecution. Just ask Jesus.

The issue is not if we will suffer but why we suffer. The Apostle Peter devoted his first epistle to helping Christians deal with their suffering. He made his point clear about suffering: 

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:15-16, NIV)

That’s Peter’s way of saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”  We will endure abuse, in some form, from others. So, let’s make sure it’s for being characterized by Christ’s Beatitudes, and not for being obnoxious.

Christ’s followers take up their cross and share with him in the world’s hatred directed toward us. This kind of living is blessed and receives the approval of God.

What is persecution?

Persecution is not only physical abuse. It is also verbal abuse, ridicule, slander, discrimination, and generally making one’s life harder just because of a commitment to Christ. Persecution is not necessarily a sign of doing something wrong. It could be that something right is being done. 

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) wrote what has become one of the best-selling Christian books of all-time, The Imitation of Christ. Thomas had the right perspective on the subject of persecution:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world.  And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention.  Such occasions are aids in keeping us humble and shield us from pride. When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment.

Therefore, we should so firmly establish ourselves in God that we have no need to seek much human encouragement. It is when a person of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil thoughts, that they best understand the overwhelming need for God, without whom we can do nothing. While enduring these afflictions they take themself to prayer with sighs and groans; they grow tired of this life and wish to be undone in order to live with Christ. It is in such times of trial they realize that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”

Insult, negativity, and verbal abuse can trip us up and discourage us. It doesn’t feel good to be disliked. Trouble and conflict is something most of us would like to avoid, as much as possible.

We might be able to steel ourselves for a large persecution against denying Christ and would be willing to die a martyr’s death to hold on to our faith. Yet, conversely, we may:

  • Crumble in a heap if we think someone is mad or displeased with us.
  • Worry that our lives will get complicated and difficult if we uphold the righteousness and justice of God.
  • Be afraid of others who might think bad of us if we showed mercy by standing with the unpopular person or if we actively and overtly engage in peacemaking.
George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

It is the “small” abuses which can cause us so much grief. We are determined to stand tall when the bullets of blatant, oppressive, and systemic persecution comes. Then, when the gun is thrown at us, we may flinch, duck, and fret over one person being upset.

Back when I was a kid, I watched old reruns of the original Superman television series. In more than one episode, Superman stood tall and faced the person peppering him with bullets. Then, when the bullets ran out, the villain threw his gun at Superman, who then promptly flinched and ducked the gun!

It is not our job to ensure that everyone is happy – it is our business to do God’s will and to embody Christ’s Beatitudes. Our calling as believers in Jesus is not to worry about what people (including family) are going to think if we live a humble, righteous life of mourning over the world’s sins, exhibiting a meek and gentle spirit, standing for grace when others want blood, refusing to defile our hearts with impure thoughts and actions, and standing up to do something about the injustice around us.

How and why do respond to persecution?

            The proper response to persecution is joy! There are two reasons why we can face persecution and come away glad instead cringing and discouraged:

  1. Because being characterized by the Beatitudes of Jesus brings heavenly reward. Show me a person who puts all their eggs in the earthly basket, and I’ll show you a person who is never satisfied and constantly unhappy. Show me a person who lives to please God and pursues the blessing of Christ, accepting any flak from others, and I’ll show you a person who is inwardly rejoicing that they are a Christian, loved by God, and counting it a privilege to suffer for the Name of Jesus. (Acts 5:27-29, 40-42)
  2. Because we are in good company. God’s people throughout history have endured the same kinds of sufferings and received a Christian purple heart award. We are not just to face persecution with a stoic, grind-it-out mentality, but with rejoicing! (Hebrews 11:36-40)

Who does the persecuting?

            The ones who persecuted the prophets were religious folks. I wish I could say the worst persecution I ever received was from evil people who live ungodly lives. However, the most insult, hardship, and slander I have ever endured has come from the lips and the efforts of people who claim the name of Christ. The reason abuse happens is because there are people not characterized by the Beatitudes of Jesus, so they become the persecutors, instead of the persecuted. 

            All the sufferings and hardships of Jesus, all the persecution he faced did not come from the world, but from his own people, including a person from his inner circle of disciples. Although the church, throughout its history, has done immense good, it also has had a chronic problem of shooting its wounded.

Far too many people have adopted a legalistic form of righteousness that focuses on outward conformity and myriad rules and regulations. Abundant grace is needed. Not judgment.

Conclusion

If we are persecuted, let’s make sure it is because we are advocating for others who need mercy and are facing injustice; addressing the brokenness of this world through specifically Christian lenses; and desiring the applause of heaven.

See if you can hear the Beatitudes in what the Apostle Peter, had to say about persecution:

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21, NIV)

Be like-minded and sympathetic. Love one another. Be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.

 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12, NIV)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12-14, NIV)

May you know the blessing of solidarity with Christ through the afflictions of this present life.

Matthew 5:9 – Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God. (NIV)

Why peace?

A lot of people just want some peace… peace of mind, peace in their families and at their workplaces, and peace in their nation and in the world. Racing thoughts, disharmony at home, conflict on the job, constant national disturbances, and the wars, takeovers, coups, assassinations, and oppressive regimes of the world sometimes might lead us to believe there might never be peace – either in our personal lives or on this earth.

What is peace?

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is harmony with God, others, and self. To be at peace involves more than simply getting along with others or being able to sleep at night. Peace involves wholeness and integrity, having unity of mind and purpose, so that people can live beyond surviving to thriving and flourishing in settled peaceful relationships.

How does peace happen?

For peace to be truly realized, there needs to be a peacemaker. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker. He achieved peace by provoking and challenging the establishment. Jesus brought on conflict in order to bring real and lasting peace.

The cross of Christ became an act of subversion to the existing religious system. Jesus championed the common good of all through his death. The violence of the cross brought the serenity of peace. Christ has abolished all barriers and divisions so that people can come to God and come together.

So, remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. At that time, you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22, CEB)

Peace has been accomplished through Christ. We now are to live into that peace by being peacemakers. So, how do we do that?

What characterizes a peacemaker?

Peacemakers demonstrate and show how to relate to God and others because they know the process of being humbled before God and being filled with righteousness. Peace doesn’t just happen. It must be attended to and cultivated.

  • Peacemakers don’t merely try to smooth things over but actively promote and put energy into unity and harmony.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Peacemakers are careful to not use their speech for gossip or slander but help others with forgiveness issues.

Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32, MSG)

  • Peacemakers do not create problems but purposefully facilitate all around good relations by seeking to listen and understand, then gently applying truth.

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NRSV)

  • Peacemakers do not avoid conflict but seek reconciliation.

God’s kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness. All this comes from the Holy Spirit.If you serve Christ in this way, you will please God and be respected by people. We should try to live at peace and help each other have a strong faith. (Romans 14:17-19, CEV)

  • Peacemakers do not keep quiet but spread the gospel because they know that through Jesus there is true harmony between God and people.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1, NIV)

  • Peacemakers will be called “children of God” because their character reflects the character of God.

Jesus said, “I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 14:27, MSG)

  • Peacemakers do not encourage divisions between people but promote and enable relational connections which foster everyone getting their needs met.

When peacemakers plant seeds of peace, they will harvest justice. (James 3:18, CEV)

  • Peacemakers don’t give up but continually keep making peace.

Stop doing what is wrong and do good. Look for peace and do all you can to help people live peacefully. (1 Peter 3:11, ERV)

Conclusion

Peacemakers are people who occupy a middle space between persons or groups at odds with each other. They desire to live righteously with the mercy and purity God has provided for them. 

People dedicated to peacemaking understand there is so little peace in this world because there are so few peacemakers. There are so few peacemakers because so many people in this world have not availed themselves of God’s justice and righteousness.

And precious few people have availed themselves of God’s righteousness because there are so few truly humble people. There are so few humble persons because, so few individuals realize their poverty of spirit. 

In order to achieve peace, one must first be at peace with God. This is why we desperately need the cross of Jesus Christ because through his blood peace has been achieved.  There is now no wall of separation because Christ’s cross has torn it down.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV)

*Above painting by Hyatt Moore

Matthew 5:8 – Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.” (NIV)

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (MSG)

“What bliss you experience when your heart is pure. For then your eyes will open to see more and more of God.(TPT)

“A pure heart means a single heart, a heart in which only one desire lives: love.”

Peter Kreeft

An Impure Scenario

Suppose a young man courts a young woman. They get to know one another, fall in love, and get married. On their wedding day, as they leave the church building and speed away, the young couple reminisce about love and life.

But when the groom begins to speak about a future together, the bride, with a smile on her face says, “Okay, you can pull over now.” The groom, completely smitten with his new bride, does exactly what she asks. The young woman gets out of the car and, blowing a kiss, says, “This was fun. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”

“I don’t think this is funny,” says the groom. “Hey, we had a great time, right!?” the perky bride says. “Yes, responds the groom, “and it will last forever.” “Oh, you are such a darling,” the bride says, and with a wry smile, “but I’ll be in touch.”

“Huh, what!?” the confused groom says. “Yeah, I’ll call. We’ll get together,” says the bride without flinching. The groom, now also feeling heartsick says, “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“Dear, I just need my space. It’s not like I don’t care! I have other things to do. Other men to see….”

Yes, a ridiculous and improbable scenario. Yet one which is repeated every day, multiple times a day. For the groom is the Lord God almighty; and the bride is the church….

Purity and God

Purity is a big deal to God. The phrase, “pure in heart,” is Christ’s way of upholding the biblical call to holiness. To be pure is to have no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, and no side job of moonlighting with the world while being an upstanding kingdom citizen during the day. It isn’t letting Jesus court us and marry us, only to have us walk away and do whatever the heck we want. It’s not only impure and unholy. It’s plain wrong and messed up.

Through blessing the pure in heart, Jesus was connecting us to the Old Testament ethic of being holy. The book of Leviticus, rarely the focus of any preacher or parishioner alike, is completely given to the topic of holiness. The detailed laws about daily life, including what to wear and not wear, what to eat and not eat, even who to marry and not marry, were given for a reason.

God wanted the ancient Israelites to have daily reminders that they are a holy people. So, there was to be no mixing of fabrics, no meat and cheese together, no impurities introduced into any part of life. Everything about the Jewish lifestyle was to be holy, set apart to God, reminding the people that God is their husband, committed to them with responsibilities on the part of both. It was called a “covenant.”

Leviticus 19 leaves no stone unturned on the activities of life:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’….

Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor….

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly….

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-13, 15-19, NIV)

Yes, indeed, purity is a big deal to God. The “Holy” Spirit is the Divine Person completely devoted to doing only the will of the Father and Son – never going rogue. The Spirit is the One who effects sanctification, becoming holy, within the life of the believer. Each year we celebrate “Holy” Week, a stretch of days designed to be different than the rest – devoted to journeying with Jesus and not mixing with the fickle crowd who would scream at the end of the week, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Purity and Us

To follow Jesus in true righteousness is to be pure in heart, that is, set apart wholly and completely for him. Purity of heart is a fruit from the trunk of righteousness, which grew up in the soil of God’s grace, with roots of humility and meekness – all watered by the tears of godly mourning.

The pure in heart are those who acknowledge their sin, deal with it, and live with a clear and clean conscience before God and the world. They have an awareness of their wrongs and shortcomings without succumbing to self-criticism because of an equal awareness of God’s grace. They keep short accounts with others concerning what they have done or what they should have done. They are holy. They are sanctified. They are pure in heart.

The pure in heart will see God. They know they cannot make themselves pure, so they keep looking to Jesus for their forgiveness because they hunger for righteousness.

One cannot whitewash a wishy-washy commitment with Jesus and be pure. This blessed Beatitude has to do with our motives and what takes place in our thinking and in our hearts.  What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral?  Is it coveting after things or people, or does thinking go toward what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?  Sometimes we struggle with purity of heart because we are focused not on Jesus, but on our own performance and perfection instead of letting God fill our hungry hearts.

Purity results from true righteousness.  A stalk of corn might look good, but if you shuck it and it’s filled with worms, it isn’t going to be worth much. Legalistic righteousness and empty promises of doing better are concerned to look good, not to mention they are obsessed with performance, perfection, and possessions. 

But the righteousness of God fills our hungry hearts and makes us pure and holy, set apart for divine use and divine purposes. How, then, shall we live? What will we do?

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob. (Psalm 24:1-6, NIV)

The person with integrity shall see God. Those made pure with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ will someday stand before God at the Last Judgment and there find mercy and acceptance.

So, for now, until that time, we daily have the opportunity to focus on our one true love with loyalty and commitment, enjoying God’s presence continually. Because the Lord will never leave us, nor forsake us, even when we sometimes forsake him.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are the Merciful

Welcome, friends! The world cannot stand up under judgment, criticism, and unkindness. Instead, the earth spins on the axis of mercy. Everyone needs basic human kindness, compassion, and grace. Click the videos below, and let’s explore the blessing of mercy….

Matthew 5:7, Pastor Tim Ehrhardt

We do not presume to come to you, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to receive your dear Son Jesus Christ,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.  Amen.