Jesus' phrase in the beatitude, "for righteousness' sake," calls upon us to examine ourselves honestly before God both before and after we are opposed. In I Peter 4:12-16, Peter, like Jesus, perceives persecution as inevitable and therefore a Christian should expect it. Since a disciple is not above His Master, a follower can hardly expect to escape some form of what the Master received.
Human nature dislikes and is suspicious of anyone who is different. True Christianity brings on its own form of unpopularity. It has never been easy, in part because, regardless of where they live, Christians are different. A Christian presents the standard of Jesus Christ to the world. Worldly witnesses to this do not understand exactly why, but it at least irritates them, pricks their conscience, and separates them from the Christian. In some it leads to open anger, even rage. For instance, while calling it a virtue, worldly people think goodness is a handicap because they fear it will keep them from achieving their goals. At the same time, a truly good person will irritate them. Before long, their conscience disturbs them, and they react by persecuting the good person. The human heart is so deceitful that Jesus remarks in John 16:2, "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service."
Peter also perceives persecution as a trial to overcome. A person's devotion to principle can be measured by his willingness to suffer for it. Therefore, since he writes of true Christians and not those merely in name, persecution will be a test. Compromising with God's standards will not elicit persecution because that leads to agreement with the world. Jesus says, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). Compromise will certainly ease the pressure, but God intends persecution to test the Christian's trust, loyalty, sincerity, courage, and patience.
Suffering for righteousness' sake is an honor leading to glory. In fact, Peter says that when one suffers persecution, the glory of God rests upon them. When Stephen was put on trial, his accusers "saw his face as the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15)! In such an instance, a persecuted Christian falls into the same category as Jesus Christ because all He suffered was for righteousness' sake. We therefore share in the same and should be unashamed.
However, we must be exceedingly careful we do not suffer because of our own misconduct. A Christian's life should be his best argument that he does not deserve what is happening to him. Jesus says in Matthew 5:11, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." We hope that we suffer for our sins only rarely, but when we do, we are getting what we deserve. There is no glory in that. But even in this, all is not lost because it may lead to repentance, change, and growth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 8: Blessed Are the Persecuted