"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10 NASB)
This verse is a great comfort to anyone who has been shunned, mistreated, or otherwise persecuted for their righteousness, however this post will be more a post of caution, than of comfort. First off, I have found that many people, especially those of us in the fundamental camp will view any disagreement, argument or debate as persecution. Persecution is not disagreement. If you are strongly Arminian and a Calvinist blasts your theology and claims it to be bogus, that is not persecution. When someone at your work place says ‘I do not know how you can believe those religious fairy tales’ that is not persecution, in fact that is a great opportunity to share your faith. When your family avoids you because you got converted and no longer engage in the sinful activities you used to, that is avoidance, not persecution. This is important to understand, because if you have a very light view of persecution you will falsely use this verse to justify everything you do, or to simply ‘dust of your sandals’ before you have ever really had the chance to be rejected.
Persecution in the context of this verse, is when someone actively tries to do harm to you because of your righteousness. So when coworkers talk behind your back because of your faith and defame your character it is persecution. When someone tells you off, or lies about you, that could be considered persecution. When your family seeks to make it appear as though you are no longer a part of them, that could be considered persecution.
However, even in the case of these items of actual persecution, they still are not necessarily blessed. In fact I think the majority of ‘persecution’ towards American Christians is in no way blessed. Why? In this verse and the next Jesus outlines the type of persecution that is blessed. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake...” (Matt 5:10) and “Blessed are you when men revile you and say all manner of evil against you for my sake...” (Matt 5:11) Matthew 5:11 will be addressed in the next post. Look specifically at Matthew 5:10, what is the condition that makes persecution blessed? It is simple... when it is for the sake of righteousness. Jesus clearly qualifies that persecution is only blessed on the terms of righteousness. Unfortunately many people who profess Christianity are persecuted based on their own arrogance, or because of their pride, or because of an attitude that suggests that they somehow are deserving of grace and others are not. (The reality is that neither they nor others deserve it.) If you are persecuted based on your own harshness and attitude and attempts to spread the gospel forgoing all meekness, then your persecution is not blessed at all, it is deserved, and may very well be the hand of God chastening you, not affirming your blessedness. Be very careful.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake... remember the first post in the gospel series, it was on Matthew 1:19, and we saw that because Joseph was a righteous man he decided to put Mary away secretly when he perceived that she was with child outside of marriage. It was the righteousness of Joseph that led to compassion, as opposed to bringing down the full force of the law. Righteousness produces compassion... now have you ever been persecuted for being too compassionate? Surely we must call sin sinful, and we are not to just roll over and accept sinfulness, at the same time the genuine believer understands that they have been forgiven much, and compassionately looks to the person in sin recognizing that grace must be extended to them as well. Now if you, in gentleness present someone with Christ, telling them that their sins indeed may be forgiven, and they get angry at you because you suggest they have sinned, and they revolt against you, or persecute you in any way, that is genuine persecution. At the same time, if you merely run around letting everyone know they are going to hell because the bible says so, you may be right and telling the truth, but it is not righteousness, and your persecution is deserved and not blessed.
All the beatitudes are paradoxical, and this one is no different. Why would someone ever persecute you for righteousness? It doesn’t make sense, but if you exhibit true righteousness you will be blessed, and you will be persecuted, and in a sense it will be very confusing. True righteousness seems like something that no one would persecute... but exhibit it, and the persecution you receive will be proof of the true righteousness you display.
Unfortunately I could not put in words adequately what I was trying to say here, so I hope it makes sense, or was helpful to someone.