Tag Archives: kingdom living

Persecution for Righteousness’ Sake

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (NKJ)

It’s been said that this beatitude is the most searching of all the Beatitudes.  This is because it forces believers to evaluate their “spiritual impact” on the world around them.  Persecution by definition is not desirous in that it includes harassing or oppressive treatment because of what one believes and/or how one lives.  Are you experiencing persecution for being a follower of Christ and His teachings?  If not, perhaps this beatitude will help you “let your little light shine more brightly” (Matt. 5:14-16).

What did Jesus mean when He spoke of persecution “for righteousness’ sake”?   As discussed earlier in this study, righteousness (dikaiosune) (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) means “to be in right standing and acceptable to God”.  This is reflected in godly thinking, feeling and acting.  To live righteously requires a “new nature” that God provided for us (2 Cor. 5:17)—a nature that is being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). To be persecuted for righteousness’ sake infers that we are oppressed or suffer for being like Christ.

Righteousness is when we are “like Christ”.   Jesus was the supreme example of righteousness.  While we may desire to be righteous like Christ, we would prefer not to experience the persecution part of this beatitude.   But persecution was a frequent topic of Jesus as He prepared His disciples for what lie ahead. (John 15:18-20).

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Kingdom living is righteous living.   The Beatitudes, as with all of Jesus’ teachings, turned the world upside down and challenged the status quo with all its sin and injustices. Jesus would reward the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake with the kingdom of heaven.  For those who recognized their brokenness and sinful natures—those who mourned, were meek and hungered and thirst after righteousness, God offered through Jesus Christ an eternal inheritance, spiritual comfort and complete satisfaction.  Their new nature in Christ would cause them to be “Christ-like”—pure in heart, merciful, and peacemakers in an aggressive and unfriendly world.  Kingdom living, as outline in the Beatitudes, would result in persecution by the world.          

Those who choose to live godly in Christ Jesus can expect to suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).   Jesus’ teachings were not only controversial in the context of the 1st century but they continue to create major discomfort for those living by the world standards (which are no standards) in the 21st century.  The principles of kingdom living outlined in the Beatitudes represent a way of living that is counter culture. They call to question the way the world deals with life and with those who exist within its boundaries.  The Beatitudes evoke anger and hostility from those who choose to remain in sin (John 8:21)  The Apostle Paul can attest to the true cost of righteous living as he personally suffered imprisonment, beatings, and danger from his own countrymen all because He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

Even in the technological age of the 21st century, Jesus’ teachings are relevant and pertinent for living.     The topics of our daily news never change—murder, corruption, and sufferings perpetrated by mankind upon mankind.  These signs of the time reflect the need for Jesus Christ.  The believer’s life, kingdom living, is an opportunity to share what righteousness looks like.  As believers do this, they can anticipate the same treatment Christ received from a hostile and sinful world.  The possibility of persecution should not silence righteous living.   Beware of teachings that steer you away from the reality of suffering and persecution.  Such teaching lends itself to “silencing” the true Gospel and “undermines” the glory that is to be realized in suffering with Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).

Good to the Last Byte…

In these last days before the return of Christ, the Church and Christians must learn to expect and embrace persecution for righteousness’ sake.  Persecution for righteousness’ sake has its outworking throughout the Bible with examples including Abel, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah and Jeremiah, just to name a few.  Their righteous living caused others to hate and mistreat them.  Don’t feel bad when you are persecuted for righteous living—you are in good company.

The Practice of Peacemaking

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Matt. 5:9 (NRS)

What adjective do people use to describe you?  Do they portray you as a bridge builder or a wrecking ball?   Do they see you as one who encourages others or as a dream crusher?  As silly as this exercise may seem, it is important that believers daily exhibit behavior that reflects God’s nature, especially behavior that demonstrates kingdom living.  Today’s beatitude examines God’s peace as it is revealed by those called by His name.

In the beginning man enjoyed a special relationship with God in the Garden of Eden.  But with the introduction of sin, man became estranged from God.  The fellowship and peace once enjoyed by the Creator and His beloved creature was broken.  But because of His great love God reconciled Himself to man through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19) thereby once again making peace possible between Himself and man.  Through the act of reconciliation, God has also created the opportunity for man to share with his fellow man God’s ministry of peace (2 Cor. 5:20).  Peacemaking found its genesis in the heart of God.

Peacemakers (eirenopoios which means “make peace”) are intentional in creating opportunities that mirror God’s heart of peace in the world. Those who are peacemakers are first and foremost people who understand and embrace God’s provision of peace.  They understand that peace is not the result of external factors or human effort but is the internal “heart work” of the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming believers to the image of Christ, the Ultimate Peacemaker (Rom. 8:29).   Peacemakers strive to promote the kingdom of God.  They look for opportunities to both prevent potential conflicts and encourage peaceful relationships even if it means personal sacrifice and self-deference (1 Cor. 9:22).  As Christ demonstrated God’s peace in His ministry, believers become peacemakers in this present age (Phil. 4:7).

Who are children of God?

(1) Those who by faith in Jesus Christ have accepted God’s offer of salvation (Gal. 3:26).  The peace that Jesus speaks to in this beatitude is not a “natural” habit or disposition of man; nor is it something one can strive to achieve.  This peace is part of the new nature imparted to man during the process of salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  This new nature changes the perspective of how man views himself, others, and the world.  He no longer lives for himself but for the glory of God (2 Cor. 5:15).  To practice peacemaking is not easy (in the natural)—that’s why a new nature is required.

(2) Those who are led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14).  In contract, those who are not led by the Holy Spirit are directed by the mind and the flesh which are at enmity with the things of God (Rom. 8:6-8). Those who choose not to accept the offer of salvation, live as children of disobedience, guided by their fleshly nature, instructed by the ways of the world, and servant to the god of the air (1 John 3:10). How can there be peace on earth when mankind is consumed by greed, lust, pride, and hatred.  These are the root of peacelessness.

(3) Those who love God and obey His commandments (1 John 5:2).  I was once told by a fellow believer that in life they simply follow the “10/2” rule—the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:6-21) and the Greatest Law (Mark 12:28-34). Evidence of being a child of God is seen in how one lives.  Giving little attention to self, the child of God focuses on the things that glorify God and serve others.

What an honor it is to be identified as part of such a holy and righteous linage.  No longer sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2), we now are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).   We thank God for life and the name change—from children of darkness to children of God.

A Heart to See God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 (NKJ)

 

As a little girl, the second memory verse I learned (after “Jesus wept”) was the beatitude that we will examine today. I learned it quickly and adopted it as my favorite verse to recite at family dinner gatherings.  I can’t explain how the choice of this verse came to be; perhaps my mother felt it would help in calming my mischievous spirit.  Little did I realize that my mother’s teaching would lead to a fuller vision of God and His Kingdom.

Jesus was intentional in His teachings.  His purposefulness is seen in His presentation of each of the beatitudes especially with the placement of this sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Jesus has to this point shared with His disciples key behaviors of those who enjoy the “happiness and satisfaction” of living by kingdom rules.  The Beatitudes in unity and individually, radically flew in the face of how the world defined happiness, satisfaction, and success—poor in spirit, mourners, meek, merciful, hungry and thirsty.  Today’s beatitude is no exception to this teaching pattern as it redefines purity and the resulting blessedness of “seeing God.”

In reading this beatitude today, one might comment on its simplicity in meaning and presentation.  However, in the context of the 1st century, Jesus’ statement was revolutionary, for he presented it to a nation literally obsessed with purification laws and procedures (Lev. 11-15).   Imagine the shock of hearing Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  “What does He mean by, “See God?’  No one, not even Moses, has ever seen Jehovah God!”   The listeners’ minds must have raced to understand this new teaching, “Purity of heart and nothing else?  No Jewish legal system or codes?”   This alone was sufficient reason for the scribes and the Pharisees (who benefited from the current religious system) to desire Jesus’ death.

The importance of the heart in sustaining a relationship with God was not a new concept.  In the Old Testament, the Lord described the heart, the seat of man’s affection, as “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  David understood the importance of purity of heart as he pleaded with God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him (Ps. 51:10).    Who are the “pure in heart”?  They are those who mourn the impurity of their hearts to the extent that they do what is needed to cleanse and purify it (Matt. 4:17; 1 John 1:9).  When standing in the presence of Holy God, they understand their personal depravity and the need for forgiveness (Rom. 3:23); confession followed by repentance is the proper response in order to receive the blessedness of God’s kingdom.  Purity of heart is only possible through a “contrite and meek” heart (Ps. 51:17; Is. 57:15).

Jesus’ stipulation of a “pure heart” as the requirement for “seeing God” was a challenge for a religious system that was founded on its outward practices.  “Seeing God” in this beatitude is, to be sure, a reference to what will be achieved in future eternity when the saints, the pure in heart, are able to perceive the holy, righteous One enthroned in heaven (Rev. 5:11-14).    However, like Moses who desired to see God’s face (Ex. 33:17-23), the pure in heart begin to have a glimpse of God even in this life.  God is seen in His sovereign acts of mercy and grace in the life of both believers and nonbelievers (Matt. 5:45).  God’s hand is seen in His providential work within the physical world—in its creation and its sustenance (Acts 17:28).  God is seen in His transforming work in the hearts of sinners as God restores them to newness of life (Rom. 6:6-9).

Seeing God is a challenge for people living in the 21st century—both nonbelievers and believers.  For nonbelievers, this is not surprising.  Satan has blinded them from seeing the possibilities that Christ offers (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 4:4).    Kingdom living is at enmity with a world that neither recognizes nor accepts the authority of God, the lordship of Christ, or the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, believers aren’t always the best witnesses for kingdom living. For some believers the ability to achieve purity of heart seems impossible and unattainable.  This thought is fueled by the incorrect belief that God is seeking external perfection and flawless behavior from believers.  This is a trick of Satan to frustrate and discourage the believer’s efforts to live holy. For other believers, they simply choose to stay in their sin, unrepentant and spiritually impotent.

As children of God, we have everything we need to live pure and holy lives (2 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 3:2-3).  The vision of God is clearly in our view (1 John 3:2-3).  As we daily renew our minds through study of God’s Word, faithfully pray, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, our pursuit of purity becomes “second nature” and part of life lived in the kingdom of God.  To those who pursue purity of the heart belongs the unclouded vision of God right now which will reach consummation when Christ returns (1 Cor. 13:12, 1 John 3:2).  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Prayer:  Father God, we thank You for the simplicity of salvation and that we, through confession and faith, may see You in all your glory and majesty.  Give us clean hearts that we might see You and witness to Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy.

The Blessedness of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7 (NRS)

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Are you merciful?  Are you moved beyond mere pity to the point of action in resolving pain and distress?  This fourth beatitude, moves to an area which requires self-examination as to the type of “kingdom behavior” followers of Christ are expected to exhibit once having experienced the blessedness of mercy.

Mercy, rendered “steadfast love” in some Bible translations, denotes more than just feelings or emotions.  It indicates a passionate need to relieve the situation that is causing pain to others.  Mercy is a concept integral to our understanding of God and His dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, God’s mercy is expressed in phrases such as “to be merciful” (Deut. 21:8), “to have mercy on” (Luke 18:38), or “to show mercy toward” (Ps. 103:11).  Merciful is used to describe a key attribute of God and can be observed in both His giving of grace and in His withholding of punishment.  (Lam. 3:22; Is. 4:8; Dan.9:4; Zech. 10:6)

Who are the merciful?  The one who extends relief from human suffering, pain, and other distress that one may face.  Jesus gave the great New Testament illustration of being merciful in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  On his journey the Samaritan sees this poor man who has been in the hands of robbers, stops, and goes across the road to where he is lying. The others (the Levite and the Priest) have seen the man but have gone on. They may have felt compassion and pity yet they have not done anything about it. But here is a man who is merciful; he is sorry for the victim, goes across the road, dresses the wounds, takes the man with him and makes provision for him. That is being merciful. It does not mean only feeling pity; it means a great desire and indeed and endeavor, to do something to relieve the situation.

How is mercy recognized in kingdom living?  God’s kingdom exists in a community that displays both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. This is the way God demonstrated His mercy and love for us:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).   Having experienced the mercy of God personally, believers become the means of mercy for others; mercy follows of necessity if we have truly experienced mercy.  In addition, since mercy is part of God’s character and we are His children (Rom. 8:16), it is an expectation that mercy be demonstrated by those who are called by His name.  There is no greater blessing than to share in God’s eternal nature through extending mercy to others.

Who shall obtain mercy?  The blessedness of mercy is not mercy given by others but mercy received from God.  This mercy has already been given to the believer through God’s plan of salvation.  While believers act as channels of mercy to others, they concurrently enjoy unlimited access to mercy that will continue through this life into eternity (Rom. 5:1-2). In receiving God’s mercy, we experience the greatest gift—eternal life lived with the Father and the Son.