"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:10 NKJ).
In March's God's Wonder Woman we discussed hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I shared that "though each of us has the ability, through Christ, to live in the world
without being overcome by it, too often we choose not to enter into the
struggle between this world and the world God has prepared for us at
the end of time. We feel too powerless, ineffectual, weak and small to
be victorious. That is because we forget to rely upon Jesus and His
power, His strength, and His victory won for us on the Cross."
One reason we may choose not to enter the struggle is because this eighth beatitude holds a warning for us. Jesus tells us once we move from hungering and thirsting for righteousness and "become righteousness" we will surely be persecuted in a world full of those who prey upon the peacemakers, the merciful, the pure of heart, those who mourn with and for this world, the meek, and the poor in spirit.
How are we, then, to move from hunger and thirst to action? "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion -- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified" (Isaiah 61: 1-3 RSV).
The Lord has appointed each of us to minister to his world in the same ways the Spirit revealed to Isaiah.That doesn't mean we jump on every bandwagon (inserting note to self) or champion every cause! It does mean though, that our lives demonstrate and reflect righteousness--even if we will be persecuted.
Persecution in the United States is most often in the form of verbal assault or of being excluded from opportunities or even jobs. In many countries professing Christians risk
banishment and even death.Why are Christians persecuted? Perhaps because the Word of God can be a stumbling block to the ungodly. We Christians fully recognize and acknowledge we are all sinners; those who are not saved don't know the unspeakable peace of being saved from sin by God's grace.
"For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:16-18 RSV).
How do I get to the heart of righteousness in a world full of jealously, selfish ambition, "it's all about me", instant gratification, and "win at any cost" thinking? We take our focus off of the state of the world, our country, and everything of the world. Then we break this concept down to the lowest common denominator: these verses are really about me--and you.
James is talking about my selfish ambition, my jealously. James wants us to take a long hard look at our lives and repent of our own unrighteousness. He encourages us to seek out the certainty of Christ's resurrection and the sincerity of His death. In other words, he's telling us to stop ranting about the world and look at ourselves. He's admonishing us to stop clucking our tongues and shaking our heads at the corruption, violence, starvation, genocide and every other "vile practice" and examine our own hearts.
James suggests that were I more gentle and open to reason, I would show more mercy and love. When I turn over the state of the world to the One who made it in the first place, I can then focus on myself and my own life. Then we can examine whether we are doing enough in our own lives to make the world a better place. We set aside our own wants and desires to tend to the needs others. We can sow peace.
It's so much easier to find fault in the world though. After all, how can our attitudes and lifestyles make a difference in the world? Jesus Himself said to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. So why not let the world be what the world will be? It's difficult, and even painful to take the focus off the big picture and look within ourselves. Jesus wants us to dig deeper--into the core of our beings and change what needs to be changed within ourselves.
God will sustain us through the process. As we begin to change we influence others to change. If you think one person can't make a difference, remember this: one person hung on the Cross 2000 years ago.
"Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for
David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely,
and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days
Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the
name by which he will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness'
" (Jeremiah 23:5-6 RSV).