Thoughts on Justice and Persecution from the Beatitudes

Oftentimes, the values of God’s kingdom are different than the values of the kingdoms of this world.

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I grew up in the church. I have heard “The Beatitudes” read over and over again.

Here is what they say:

Matthew 5 NIV:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Beatitudes sit in what we call “The Sermon on the Mount” (a sermon given by Jesus in Matthew 5-7).

Many people refer to “The Sermon on the Mount” as “The Magna Carta of the Christian Faith.” In other words, the sermon on the mount gives us a snapshot of how the Kingdom of God works and what the values are.

Oftentimes, the values of God’s kingdom are different than the values of the kingdoms of this world.

For instance, in our world, greed is a driving force that is valued. In the kingdom of God, selfless generosity is valued. In our world, flexing power and strength is valued. In the kingdom of God, humility and service are valued.

I was studying The Beatitudes for a talk I was giving to a group of leaders for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on the Christian legacy of justice (listen here). When I jumped into the Greek, I had a few aha moments. The word “righteousness” in verses 6 and 10 translates out of the word δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosunē). δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosunē) can also be translated as “justice” When we understand this, it opens up a whole new world.

Read it this way:

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be filled.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of justice causes,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

World Vision defines Biblical justice like this:
“Biblical references to the word “justice” mean “to make right.” Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. From a scriptural point of view, justice means loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and is rooted in the character and nature of God.”
(read more here)

What the beatitudes are saying is that our world’s value systems are so upside down that we can be persecuted for advocating for justice in our world. Our world loves to take an eye for an eye. Our world loves to seek wealth and power at the cost of the marginalized.

James 3 NIV says:

“16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

The fact that we can look so different from the ways of the world that we get persecuted for advocating for what is right is crazy to me! Wouldn’t you want someone who is always seeking what is right and peaceful? When we live under a value system of another kingdom way, we begin to become subversive in ways that tend to threaten the current order of things. When we start bringing awareness to slavery in other nations and seek for right pay and living, that means that businesses now lose cheap labor. It is a threat!

Like I mentioned earlier, Matthew 5:11 says:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Jesus says that we will be blessed by this! Crazy huh?
However, while reading the next verse this past week, Something popped out at me that I know to be true and real (both in Old Testament times and now).

Matthew 5:12

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Did you catch that? “…they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Who is “they”? Think about this for a minute. This isn’t necessarily talking about the world out there. This is talking about God’s people that prophets were sent to.

Is it possible that from within the church people who advocate for justice might be persecuted by the people that claim the name of God? The modern church seems to be so scared of persecution from outside of itself, that many are clawing for power through political take over for protection. It can be an “if you scratch my back I will scratch yours” kind of relationship that, if nothing else, causes many Christ-followers not to be able to speak out about injustices for fear of losing influence in our nation so that our religious liberties are protected. This can cause us to take up the ways of a political system of the world as our hope for the world.

What tends to happen is that when a Christ-follower speaks out about injustice, they are seen only through the lens of the national political bipartisan system as opposed to through the lens of the way of Jesus. Many Christ-followers who advocate for ways of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount get called names, shoved into a political party box, get dehumanized with insults on social media, and often this is from people who claim the name of Jesus.

Look at the main public values of the early church:

1. Opposed to abortion and infant exposer
2. Strict Sexual ethic
3. Radical Non-retaliation and Non-Violence
4. Multi-Ethnic minded
5. Committed to the poor

In our nation, numbers 1 and 2 seem to be favored by one political party, numbers 4 and 5 seem to be favored by another political party, and no one likes number 3. Why is it that if we advocate for one of these values, we get placed in a category of a political party in a negative way (often by Christians), instead of being seen as advocating for justice and the ways of Jesus?

I believe that the Kingdom of God is our place of citizenship above any kingdom of this world. When we stand for the things of His kingdom, we may be persecuted by people who do not claim the name of Christ, but we might also be persecuted by people who do. Know that Jesus says, you are blessed.

Seek first His kingdom and His justice!

 

 

Featured Image by Caleb Wright

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About the Author

David Ruybalid is committed to writing in order to both help skeptics consider Christianity in fresh new ways, and to help devoted followers of Jesus grow deeper in the ways of Jesus. He currently resides in Arizona with his family and is studying to become a priest in the Anglican Churches in North America. He has had articles published by Amity Coalition, Altarwork, and currently writes for http://www.IDoubtIt.online. David also runs a podcast with Zach Zienka (www.ZachZienka.com) called “I Doubt It”. He is a member of “The College Theology Society”, whose journal is published by Cambridge University Press twice a year. Find out more at www.DavidRuybalid.com.