Bearing His reproach

And, so, we come to the last day of this study – I have found it to be very refreshing, and I’m bit sorry to have come to the end.

Listening to the words of Matthew 5:3-11, brought back memories of when I was last in Israel and I spend some time at the traditional spot where some think the Sermon on the Mount occurred. I recall looking over a beautiful and serene Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) while listening to a group leader, read aloud these words from his Bible to his tour group: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

As Selwyn has reminded us on a number of occasions, all who follow Jesus should demonstrate all of the above attributes – but we are not able to consistently express any of these attitudes by using our own strength or abilities -  it is only by the Holy Spirit working within us that these attitudes can become a permanent part of our character. We should also be confident to ask for our loving God’s help if we feel that we need to be strengthened in any of these areas as we know that He will perfectly answer our prayers.

I like this comment in today’s study: ” … not to allow ourselves to be dragged to the place of rejection but to go willingly, to thrust our shoulders under the cross and say that since Christ has borne so much for us, we will gladly bear this for Him. Whenever you are reproached because of the gospel tell yourself, ‘This is not my reproach. It is His, This is the shame of Jesus, crucified on a cross – and I am being allowed to experience somethimg of what He suffered.'”

What has been the most significant moment for you over the last two months while studying the Semon on the Mount?

One more point, I found the Further Study section useful material to reflect upon, especially Revelation 22:12-15; “Behold , I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexual immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

The language used is very strong in regard to those who fail to listen or reject the gift that Jesus offers – it provides a feeling of how serious this life and death issue should be for us – do you agree?


Don’t cultivate eccentricity

Selwyn takes a final look at the last beatitude: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me …’ (Matthew 5:10-11).

He introduces his study by reminding us that we can’t follow Jesus and at the same time have a good friendship with this world: “Every Christian needs to understand there is a reproach in this gospel that we preach – even in those countries where there is a strong Christian presence. There is a shame at the heart of the cross and it must be borne. We cannot have at the same time the saving friendship of Christ and the hearty friendship of the world.”

In addition, he repeats his message that we may need to reflect on how closely we are keeping in step with the Holy Spirit if we are not conspicuous by our different approach to life, compared to non-Christians, as follows: “Often our lives are so tepid, so lacking in challenge, so wanting in the power of holiness and the ‘arrestings’ of grace that we are not conspicuous in society and can pass as pagans anywhere.”

He also draws our attention to the other extreme, there are some Christians who develop a type of defensive armor by becoming eccentric, as if they are carrying around a sign saying, “I’m a Christian, the end is near – are you saved?”, and depend more on this eccentricity than on their actions to demonstrate their faith – these are difficult people to guide because they believe that they are totally committed to their faith and everyone else is half-hearted – do you agree? On the other hand I would prefer to have more people like this, than to have people with no faith at all!

This is what Selwyn has to say: “Yet even though we should expect to bear disgrace and reproach for the cause of Christ, we must be careful that we do not increase that reproach by our eccentricities. Sadly some Christians seem to cultivate eccentricity and act in ways that are foolish and unnecessary. Christ came to save and santify us, not to make us eccentrics.”

The reading for today, Colossians 4:1-6 provides a good guide on how we should conduct ourselves with other people, there is no need for theatrical behaviour or other forms of eccentricity, verses 2 to 6 follow: ‘Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’

It’s also useful to reflect on the fact that these words were written by Paul while in chains – yet his words remain calm and clear – he had every reason to be emotive and perhaps eccentric – but he always remain focused on his task – to be an apostle to the gentiles – how fortunate for us that he was – what do you think?

The freedom to choose

Selwyn introduces today’s study with a question. “How should a Christian respond when he or she is persecuted because of righteousness? With love and with grace. ‘Easier said than done’, you may think to yourself. I agree. But though it may be difficult, it is not impossible. We must never forget that God has guaranteed a supply of His grace to meet every need.”

It’s good to recall the words of Jesus to His disciples, in Luke 21:12-15,19; ‘But before all this (the end times), they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. … By standing firm you will gain life.’

The important point is that Jesus will provide what you need to stand firm if you ever undergo persecution and you should not worry about how you may survive – as we know, today has enough worries of its own.

His concluding remarks are another warning to those who prefer to merge with the masses; “We may fear to stand out and be different. But if we compromise and abandon our principles in order to avoid being ridiculed or persecuted then we not only dishonour our Lord but there will be no joy or satisfaction in our soul. In other words, we will not be blessed.” In addition, if we let the fear of persecution control our actions, we are no longer fully trusting in Jesus’ love for us – when this happens we fail to live life to the full and the effectiveness of our faith is considerably reduced – do you agree?

We are also blessed with another excellent prayer to finish off today’s study: “O God, please give me strength and courage to stand my ground amidst non-Christians and never compromise. But please give me wisdom, too, so that I may handle all situations with creativity and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

What persecution is not

Selwyn continues to look at the last beatitude: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’ (Matthew 5:10-12).

He makes a number of good points in today’s study: “In some parts of the world Christians are being hounded to death and live out their lives day by day in fear and trepidation. (this site has details on persecution in the world today) Here in the West, Christians are not so much troubled by the threat of physical persecution because of their stand for Jesus Christ as by such things as snubs, rejection, discrimination, the calculated insult and the contrived put-down.”

As usual, to help with our understanding, Selwyn also discusses what is not persecution because of righteousness: “When a person questions our beliefs, for example, this is not persecution. Having someone disagree with us is not persecution. A conflict between you and an unbeliever, however sharp the dispute, is not necessarily persecution. Persecution (because of righteousness) is a malicious attack upon someone because of their testimony and faith in Jesus Christ.”

On the other hand; Selwyn reminds us (by quoting Francis Schaeffer) –  “that if the world does not have a problem with us then we should take that as a warning sign that we may not be conforming to Christ.”

It’s my view that the more we allow the Spirit of Jesus to shine in our lives, the more likely it is for those who live in darkness to ‘attack’ us – and, I don’t think they really understand why they respond in such an angry way – what do you think about this issue?

Selwyn’s prayer has a good focus: “Gracious Father; shine Your Holy Spirit into my heart so that I might see if my life is being lived in correspondence with Your Word. Take from me all fear of persecution, and help me to live as I should, reflecting Your power and Your love. Amen.”


No hidden agenda

In today’s study, Selwyn continues his consideration of the last beatitude; and, as I also like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) of this beatitude, it’s worthwhile repeating it: “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom” (Matthew 5:10).

As we travel on life’s journey many unfortunate events may happen and sometimes people may be hostile, angry or just ignore our presence – many of these cases will have nothing to do with us being persecuted because of righteousness – it’s just the ‘fallen’ world as we know it! Do you agree?

As Selwyn says: ‘It is important to note that in the eight beatitude Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted”, but “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Persecution is blessed by God when it comes as a result of righteousness. …

A Christian should be quite different from those who are not believers – those living according to the culture of this world.

The point our Lord wants us to remember is that when we are persecuted because of righteousness, the hostility we experience is really not about us but about Him.

The prince of this world (Satan) dislikes anyone who follows Jesus -it’s his nature. His pride can’t stand the fact that he has lost control of someone because they have been saved by the grace of Jesus and they have chosen to follow the one true God.  The words of 1 Peter 5:7-9, reminds us that Jesus cares for us and will help us to stand firm; ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.’

I also like the prayer for today, especially the point about ‘forgiving grace’: “Lord Jesus Christ, shafts of jealousy and persecution were thrown at You yet by Your love and good will You returned them as forgiving grace. Help me. I pray, to do the same. For Your own dear name’s sake. Amen.”

Next Issue – Every Day with Jesus – Sept/Oct 2006

Only five days to go before we start reading the next issue, which will be on ‘Life Convictions’. If you can’t locate a copy please let me know and I’ll see what I can do for you.

CWR, publishers of Every Day with Jesus, advise that: ‘The whole thesis of this issue is based on the fact that we can’t go through life successfully as Christians without strong convictions. Opinions are not enough to hold us firm in the storms and temptations of life. We must have a bedrock of beliefs that is solid and immovable, based on the ultimate reality of God’s unchanging Word.’

CWR also publish other Christian material.

‘The sight of your own blood’

Today’s study continues to look at the last beatitude: ‘Blessed are those who are persecutes because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … ‘ (Matthew 5:10).

Selwyn puts forward one possible answer to the question, “why is it that believers who follow Christ and live a godly life find themselves being persecuted? … The inevitable result of bringing our lives into correspondence with the teaching of Christ is that they become a silent judgment on others. And, as men and women don’t like being judged, sometimes they kick back in persecution.” I also think that at times it’s Satan’s way of making life difficult for a believer in an attempt to persuade them to return to an ‘easy’ life of sin – do you agree?

The concluding remark for today (as follows) carries an important message – in that we will never be persecuted beyond what we can bear, even if it does result in death.  “One pastor … tells the converts in his church, ‘The first thing you must get used to is the sight of your own blood – metaphorically speaking, of course.’ Are you experiencing some form of persecution at the moment because of your stand for righteousness? Then take heart; a limitless supply of grace is flowing towards you.”