“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10)
Suffering is good. Persecution can be profitable. Adversity can be an asset. Do you find these statements unsettling? We dislike suffering, persecution, and adversity. We avoid pain at all costs. We hate to be uncomfortable. But when God’s view of suffering is considered, our perspective will change.
A disclaimer: suffering is not a virtue in and of itself. Jesus pronounces His blessing only on those who suffer for righteousness’ sake. “A babbling fool will come to ruin” (Prov 10:8). “Fools die for lack of sense” (Prov 10:21). “The companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). There is no virtue in the fool’s suffering. The man with sinful habits, wrong attitudes, and ignorance of God’s Word brings suffering upon himself. There is no beatitude for the suffering fool.
However in the suffering that is undergone for righteousness sake there is no shame. Jesus never sugarcoated the Christian life to his disciples. On the contrary, He told His disciples to steel themselves for the coming adversity. Discipleship may cost us friends, family, and even our own lives (Lk 14:26-33). We should not be surprised when servants receive the same treatment as their master. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). We must accept that mistreatment, marginalization, and even persecution are inevitable.
Therefore we ought to change the way we view suffering. Don’t be frightened of the persecutor, “this is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation” (Phil 1:28). The apostles were beaten, told not to speak the name of Jesus again, and threatened by the Sanhedrin. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). James tells us to, “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas 1:2). Why should I happy about trials? Because growth and maturity don’t happen on the couch watching TV.
We ought not come undone over suffering. Adversity should not weaken our faith. On the contrary, it should confirm it. Because as surely as Jesus’ promises of suffering and adversity have come true, so will the rewards for those who endure. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17).