During my recent trip to Israel, the tour guide who showed us the holy sites in Bethlehem was an Arab man who was a Christian. He talked a little about being a Christian in Palestine. At one time, the population of Bethlehem was 90% Christian. Today, it is only about 20% Christian. And, while the Christians there are not currently facing persecution, they do face discrimination. Around the world, there are many places where Christians are persecuted or discriminated against because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
In the United States of America, our constitution provides for freedom of religion. Each of us, as citizens of this country, is allowed to worship as we choose without threat of persecution or discrimination. But, more and more, we are seeing a trend in our country in which those who profess faith in Jesus Christ are considered intolerant. And while we may not face physical persecution, we face a more subtle type of persecution that comes through words. This past week, on a popular daytime talk show, one of the hosts equated a person saying that they hear from Jesus with being mentally ill. Those of us who are Christian feel a sense of outrage about this and our human reflex is to want to lash out. But, how should we respond to such a statement?
1 John 3:13 tells us that we should not be surprised that the world hates us. Jesus Himself said that if the world hates us as His followers, we should know that it first hated Him (John 15:18). The world hates Jesus because He testifies to the fact the works of the world are evil (John 7:7). The message of Jesus and of the cross are considered foolish to a world that does not know Him, but to those of us who do know Him it testifies to the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). So, while we may feel anger at a statement such as the one made this past week on national television, we should not be surprised by it. All who choose to live a godly life by following in the ways of Jesus will at some time be persecuted in some way (2 Timothy 3:12).
When we face persecution, we should rejoice that we are sharing in the suffering and persecution that Jesus Himself faced. If we are insulted because of His name, then we are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us (1 Peter 4:13-14). In the teaching that we call the Beatitudes, Jesus said, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12, ESV)
So how do we respond to statements such as the one made this past week? The answer to that question was provided by Jesus Himself in Matthew 5:44: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." When we react with love, rather than out of anger, when our conduct is honorable, those who speak against us will see it and it will bring glory to God (1 Peter 2:12). We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our reactions to words that are hateful must reflect that calling.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.