The Word tells us that Christians will face persecution. It is to be expected, even rejoiced in. However, not all persecution is cause for rejoicing. Let’s look at what Jesus Himself said: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11).
We see here a wonderful, comforting reminder that in spite of the persecution we face as Christians, the reward we expect will far outweigh it in the end. There are, however, three qualifiers defining the kind of persecution a Christian can appropriately rejoice in.
For righteousness' sake
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Here we see someone who is being targeted for standing out. Their righteous lifestyle stands in stark contrast to the unrighteousness and godlessness of the world around them. They follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, responding with the words and actions He would respond with. When the world looks at this person, they see someone who loves and lives for the holy and just King of Kings, and in accordance with the rebellious nature of sin, they attack.
Being mistreated simply because someone needed to vent their inner turmoil and you happened to be the nearest target is not cause to rejoice. We can’t count ourselves among the number of the celebrated martyrs of the faith because someone was mean to us without reference to our walk with Christ.
False accusations of evil
"Blessed are you when others ... utter all kinds of evil against you falsely.” History tells us that Christians were often slandered and falsely accused in the early days of the Church. Even Jesus was no stranger to false accusations. During His trials before Pilate and the religious leaders of His day, many false witnesses testified against Him. Paul, too, was falsely accused of stirring up the people against the Roman government.
Christians are to live in such a way so as to be above reproach. Any accusation of evil against a Christian should be false. Sadly, this is not always the case. Christians can act sinfully just as anyone else can, and there are many who call themselves Christians whose lifestyle does not match their profession. Those who call themselves Christians become representatives of God in a fallen world. His reputation is at stake in every act. Being persecuted because of sinful deeds, even as a Christian, is in no way reason to rejoice. Sinful living that results in accusations and persecution should be a call to repentance.
On Jesus’ account
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you ... on my account.” If we examine the true reason for the persecution of Christians throughout history, we will find the reason is Jesus Christ Himself. How else would a rebel world respond to the Man who claims ownership and kingship over it? Christians will be persecuted because the world hates Jesus. The world doesn’t usually hate people who live good, decent lives. The world can generally tolerate unobtrusive religion, a clean lifestyle, and high standards of behavior. But when Jesus Christ enters the picture, hatred rises to the surface.
This is what Jesus said about this: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21).
Again, we need to understand that we can be persecuted for the wrong reasons. We need to be careful who or what we are representing to the world. Too often we can allow ourselves to represent people and ideas that are not Jesus and face mistreatment for reasons that have nothing to do with Him. We are not blessed when others persecute us for promoting our favorite lifestyle, praising our favorite leaders, preaching our favorite ideals, or any other thing whether it is good or bad. We are only blessed, and we can only rejoice if we are persecuted because we represent Jesus Christ.