Happy Are You When People Persecute You
“Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.”—Matt. 5:10.
1, 2. What warning did Christ give to his followers and how have his words been fulfilled in the lives of Jehovah’s witnesses?
NO MAN’S lips ever demanded of his followers such service as do the lips of Jesus Christ. Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain early in World War II warned his people to expect “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” But Christ issued a darker warning. His followers could expect to be persecuted, delivered up before synagogue courts, haled before kings and governors and some would be put to death. “You will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name,” said Jesus. “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.”—Luke 21:12-17; Matt. 16:24, 25.
2 These words well characterize the lives of Christians from the first century on. Today we witness their fulfillment in the lives of Jehovah’s witnesses around the world. They have been banned in many nations. They have suffered vicious persecution. Thousands of their homes have been burned and hundreds of their Kingdom Halls have been demolished. Their women have been brutally beaten, and their menfolk have died from beatings or have been killed outright. Their children have been unjustly taken away from them. This because they insist on worshiping God in the manner that Jesus and his apostles did, that is, by keeping themselves neutral as to the political affairs of this world.—John 17:16; Jas. 1:27.
3. (a) What attitude of Jehovah’s witnesses toward persecution has amazed onlookers? (b) What questions about persecution are worth while asking, and why?
3 Still such persecution has not embittered them against God or their persecutors. They have not risen up in revolt against their persecutors and repaid them evil for evil, nor will they. Neither has persecution caused Jehovah’s witnesses to stop serving God, nor will it. Onlookers have been amazed at the attitude of Jehovah’s witnesses toward persecution and their persecutors. Some have wondered why they are not more aggressive, more vengeful, giving rise to serious questions, such as: What should the Christian attitude be toward persecution? How do you view it? Are you puzzled by it? Does it frighten or sadden you? Are such sufferings meaningless? What should be the proper attitude of a Christian toward his persecutors? Answers to these and other questions will explain why Jehovah’s witnesses have remained peaceful and triumphant in the face of persecution.
PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD PERSECUTION
4. With persecution in mind, what do Christians know about God? What can Christians be assured of despite persecution?
4 Christians know that God’s hand is not short. They believe he can protect, deliver and sustain those who love him. “Look!” said the prophet Isaiah, “The hand of Jehovah has not become too short that it cannot save, nor has his ear become too heavy that it cannot hear.” (Isa. 59:1) One thing is certain. As Jehovah’s dedicated servants, Christians are under God’s care and are not entirely at the mercy of the Devil. Why, if they were, they would not be here today as Jehovah’s witnesses. They are on earth as God’s protected servants, even as Job himself was protected. (Job 2:4-7) God may, however, permit the Christian to be tested, to suffer, or even to die. But, regardless of what Jehovah allows, if we are faithful, we are assured of his love, for which we are very thankful.—Rom. 8:38, 39.
5. What attitude toward persecution should the Christian have, according to Jesus? And why?
5 In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared: “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.” (Matt. 5:10-12) Therefore, persecution is a cause for rejoicing, for leaping for joy, according to Jesus, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to such kind; since their reward is great in the heavens. Christian sufferings also put them in the distinguished and noble company of the prophets and of Jesus Christ and his apostles—men who suffered for their faith in God. To be classed in the company of these men is indeed no small honor and a true cause for rejoicing, for leaping for joy!
6. What example toward suffering did Jesus leave?
6 The Christian attitude toward persecution should be that exemplified by Christ. The apostle Peter wrote: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously. He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness. And ‘by his stripes you were healed.’” (1 Pet. 2:21-24) This nonviolent example was productive and full of meaning.
7. (a) Were the sufferings of Christ meaningless? (b) Why is Christ not pitied today because he suffered? (c) What lesson does Paul say we should draw from this?
7 Through suffering God made the Chief Agent of mankind’s salvation perfect. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect be became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.” (Heb. 5:8, 9; 2:10) His faithfulness until death sealed the doom of Satan and his wicked system of things and opened the way for a heavenly Kingdom government. It provided a ransom by means of which mankind can gain everlasting life on a paradise earth. (Luke 23:43) True, Christ suffered, but who today for a moment would pity him for the faith in God that he demonstrated, that brought these benefits and led to his triumph and immortality in the heavens? Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “Indeed,” says the apostle, “consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.”—Heb. 12:2, 3; 1 Tim. 6:13-16.
8. What attitude did Peter say Christians should have toward suffering, and why?
8 The apostle Peter also urged Christians to rejoice when persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Peter writes: “Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among you, which is happening to you for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling you. On the contrary, go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory. If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you. However, let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. But if he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name.” (1 Pet. 4:12-16) Is this your attitude?
9. What rewards are often felt when one is persecuted for righteousness’ sake?
9 In suffering, often there comes a rare sense of Jehovah’s favor by means of his spirit, a realization that he has asked you to play a very important part in the vindication of his name, Word and purpose. This realization brings a deep joy. There also may come a rare sense of faith, which can make of the Christian a better servant, a more active witness, a more serene person. It all depends on how the Christian meets persecution and what he does with it. Pain is beneficent when it brings about correction of what is wrong. This is a good thing. But unproductive suffering caused from wrongdoing is sad indeed! Its end can only be further misery.
10. What is the purpose of enduring persecution?
10 What, then, is the purpose of enduring persecution? Peter answers: “In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you never saw him, you love him. Though you are not looking upon him at present, yet you exercise faith in him and are greatly rejoicing with an unspeakable and glorified joy, as you receive the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:6-9) Peter says persecution is to test the quality of the Christian’s faith so that he may be found faithful and receive the end result of faith, namely, the salvation of his soul. So persecution does serve a worthy purpose.
THE APOSTLES REJOICED WHEN PERSECUTED
11. Why did the apostles rejoice when they suffered persecution?
11 Little wonder that the apostles rejoiced when they were flogged, imprisoned and otherwise persecuted for representing Christ. They could identify themselves with the sufferings of Christ and see the outworking of their own salvation. For the suffering Christian is more likely to be not the complaining Christian but the singing Christian. Shortly after Jesus’ death, the apostles were arrested by the authorities and flogged and ordered not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus. After this experience, the apostles left the Sanhedrin court “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name. And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ.” (Acts 5:41, 42) Paul, too, said that he rejoiced in suffering because his trials taught him reliance on God. The persecuted Christian is usually the more zealous, the more determined, the more enthusiastic and the more sincere Christian.
12. What experience did Paul and Silas endure, and what was their attitude under suffering?
12 At one time Paul and his companion Silas were beaten with many stripes and their feet were placed in stocks. But in the middle of the night they were heard praying and praising God with songs, yes, the other prisoners were hearing them sing. Imprisonment brought them joy. Their joy had a reference to the future, for then God will reward all those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And that assurance no prison wall, no dungeon, not even the threat of death can take away from the Christian. “Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured.”—Jas. 5:11.
MODERN REJOICING UNDER PERSECUTION
13-15. (a) How have Jehovah’s witnesses of modern times suffered, and what is said of their attitude? (b) Why do they rejoice under suffering?
13 That is why Jehovah’s witnesses today can rejoice when persecuted. In Personality, the South African magazine mainly about people, Nell Coward, illustrated the all-consuming faith of Jehovah’s witnesses and their happiness by quoting extracts from the writings of people who came into contact with them during the black and terrible years of World War II when Nazi concentration camps were packed with Witnesses. None of these authors were Jehovah’s witnesses at the time. Captain S. P. Best in Venlo Incident, writes: “The fortitude of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was most remarkable and caused the grudging admiration even of their gaolers. Most had been imprisoned since 1933 and they had been beaten, tortured and starved. Yet all I met with were honest, kind and very brave men—fanatics if you will—but carrying with them something of that sacred flame which inspired the early Christians.”
14 An inmate of Dachau concentration camp speaks of “the admirable Jehovah’s Witnesses [who] showed such courage, daring, virtue . . . that they deserve a special salute. They were rocks in a sea of mud.” And the words of none other than Commandant Hess, Nazi boss of Auschwitz, are worthy of mention: “As people, Jehovah’s Witnesses were quiet, industrious men and women. All who saw the condemned die were deeply moved and even the execution squad itself was affected.” Coward says: “The intense happiness of Jehovah’s Witnesses stems from a complete freedom from fear. They do not fear death as do so many Christians of other denominations in spite of the Church’s teachings on life after death. . . . The Jehovah’s Witnesses have no fear because they know without doubt the answers to all those questions.”
15 The same admiration comes from others who have witnessed the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in Europe, Africa and Asia in even more recent years. Reports from Siberian prison camps tell of Jehovah’s witnesses going to work each morning singing Kingdom songs. Why do they rejoice? Peter answers: “If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.” (1 Pet. 4:14) This token from God is what makes them happy under persecution.
WHAT THE REJOICING IS ALL ABOUT
16-18. (a) Why have Jehovah’s witnesses thrilled under persecution? Illustrate. (b) Since they do not find pleasure in pain, what is the cause of their joy?
16 Christians do not want to be persecuted. They would much rather live in peace. But this wicked world brings persecution against them for remaining steadfast to Christian principles. Their firm stand, however, has resulted in happiness. They thrill in the fact that they can stand for Jehovah and not bring any shame on him and his organization. Their rejoicing is in maintained integrity. For example, the fact that persecutors have burned down many of their houses and Kingdom Halls is no cause for rejoicing. But to find the spirit of God within themselves to remain faithful to God despite their losses is a cause for great rejoicing.
17 When a wife or a husband is cruelly beaten by persecutors for righteousness’ sake, as was the case in Hitler’s Germany and his conquered lands, such brutality did not bring happiness to Christians. Christians do not rejoice in the brutal sufferings of others. Joy, however, does come to them when they learn that such wicked deeds have not embittered those persecuted, that wives and husbands under trial have remained faithful to God, that they have not doubted God’s love or mercy, but have actually been drawn closer to Jehovah as a result of their suffering. This is what makes Christians want to leap for joy, because they see in such an uncompromising stand for righteousness the spirit of God at work in such individuals.
18 God knows that Christians do not rejoice when their daughters are raped and cry out for help and there is no one to help them, as was the case in Malawi just a few years ago, but conditions have changed now. Yet it is a cause for rejoicing that under such trials the child still believes in Jehovah, that she still trusts him. There is no pleasure in pain itself. But to know that God has called some to represent him under such difficult circumstances and that they are able to stand firm and faithful to him, come what may—this is what brings true rejoicing to the Christian. And, in effect, God, too, must find pleasure in them.—Prov. 27:11.
PROPER CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARD PERSECUTORS
19, 20. (a) What should be the Christian attitude toward persecutors? (b) How does the Christian prevent himself from being conquered by evil?
19 What, then, should be the Christian’s attitude toward persecutors? It should be one of understanding. The Christian must understand that persecutors are moved by Satan the Devil and his wicked organization to do their evil deeds. Many times persecutors are totally deceived. Jesus said: “Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God. But they will do these things because they have not come to know either the Father or me.” (John 16:2, 3; 1 Cor. 2:8) Therefore, the Christian attitude should be one of forgiveness and a desire to help the persecutor to understand the Christian’s position before man and God.
20 Jesus commanded: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:44, 45) Jesus also lived this way. When he was nailed to the tree, he prayed in behalf of his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus’ disciples did the same. When Stephen was being stoned to death, he prayed: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) The apostle Paul counsels: “Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing. Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’ . . . Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Rom. 12:14, 17-21) This attitude and behavior lead to God’s approval. It is the Christian way.
21. (a) What will be the Christian’s attitude if his property is destroyed or if he himself is injured? (b) If worse comes to worst, how will the Christian view matters?
21 There is no reason to retaliate in a vengeful way if people destroy the Christian’s property or do him injury. The property belongs to God and he is God’s fellow worker. The courts of law may protect the Christian and replace the lost property. But if they do not, then the Christian must suffer the loss. The Christian must not seek to injure or to kill anyone. Vengeance belongs to God; he will repay. That is the Christian attitude.
BEARING UP UNDER PERSECUTION
22, 23. (a) What will a Christian do to bear up under persecution? (b) What is he admonished to do when threatened by unruly mobs?
22 To endure persecution the Christian must place full confidence in Jehovah. God will strengthen him and make him happy in the outcome. (2 Tim. 4:17) He should never neglect to pray to Jehovah in his own behalf and in the behalf of his Christian brothers who also may be enduring trials. When praying he should not blame Jehovah for the persecution, simply because God does not persecute any innocent one. Satan and his wicked organization are the ones who persecute. However, God has allowed persecution to establish before all creation Christian loyalty to his universal sovereignty. By enduring persecution the Christian in this way upholds Jehovah’s name and Word.
23 The Christian will not seek persecution, or martyrdom, or want to provoke the ungodly to violence. They are admonished to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) On one occasion Jesus avoided a mob. It may be necessary on occasion for the Christian minister when threatened to move to a kindlier location.—John 10:31-39.
24. What will the Christian ever endeavor to keep before him, and why?
24 The Christian should always remember that he does not endure persecution in his own strength and that God will not let him be tempted beyond what he can bear, that Jehovah will make the way out in order for him to be able to endure it. (2 Cor. 4:9, 10; 1 Cor. 10:13) For some, faithfulness until death may be the way out, but Jehovah will give them the needed strength even to endure so severe a trial. By making Jehovah his stronghold, the Christian will find strength in his hour of need. The resurrection hope, the promise of eternal life are faith strengthening. They were for Jesus and they will be for all who trust in Jehovah: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) Keep Jehovah’s promises ever before you that you might do the same.—Nah. 1:7; Prov. 18:10.
25. What can the integrity-keeper happily look forward to?
25 The trials of persecution last but a little season and cannot be compared to the reward that Jehovah promises. Paul said: “I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us.” For the tribulation “works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting.” (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17) Endure all trials, therefore, you whose privilege it is to suffer for righteousness’ sake, for great indeed is your reward! “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” (Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10) May that be your happy reward.