‘Happy Are You When People Persecute You’
“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.”—Matthew 5:11, 12.
1-4. What experience might raise questions in our mind about rejoicing under persecution?
CAN you really be happy when people tell lies about you and try to do all sorts of injurious things to you? Consider the case of a young woman in Finland who began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses a few years ago. Soon she was rejoicing in the good things she was learning about Jehovah’s purpose for mankind, and she came to have a deep appreciation for his goodness and love.
2 But then her husband started to oppose her studying the Bible, and when she refused to stop doing so, he began behaving violently toward her. Eventually he applied to the court for a separation order. The young woman soon found herself expelled from her home and forced to leave her three young children, including a baby just over a year old, as the court awarded custody to the father. Why? Had she neglected her duties toward them? No, for her study of the Bible was, in fact, teaching her to be a better wife and mother.
3 A few weeks later her husband had her taken forcibly from her place of work to the health center so that she could be certified as insane and be committed to a mental institution. At first the examining doctor refused to give such an order, but, later, under pressure from the husband, he did issue an order committing her to a mental home. By then the young woman, who was now baptized and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had left for another city, where she consulted another doctor. After examining her, this doctor readily gave her a certificate testifying to her sanity.
4 But this did not nullify the first doctor’s order. So she had to stay in hiding for several weeks until the validity of the order expired. After this, the doctor refused to issue a new one; so the sister was able to return to her hometown. In time her husband obtained a divorce on the basis of the separation order, the court giving custody of the children to the father.
5, 6. (a) Would this or a similar experience be reason to rejoice? Why? (Mark 10:29, 30) (b) As shown in the scriptures cited, what reasons did Job have for rejoicing after his persecution?
5 Would you consider such an experience reason to rejoice? Certainly no wife or mother would be happy to be forced out of her home and have her young children taken away from her. Nor would she rejoice if loved ones tried to get her put away in a mental home merely because she wanted to study the Bible and apply its fine principles. But note the reason Jesus gives for rejoicing under such circumstances: “Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.”—Matthew 5:12.
6 Yes, if the reason for the persecution is truly, as Jesus said in the previous verse Mt 5:11, “for my sake,” we can rejoice in having opportunity to demonstrate our integrity to Jehovah and to share in the vindication of his name, as Jesus did. Thus we prove the Devil to be a liar when he claims to be able to turn all men away from God. Such a stand on the side of Jehovah God is pleasing to him, and, as illustrated in the case of Job, will not go unrewarded.—Job 1:9, 10; 42:10-16; 1 Peter 2:19, 20.
Persecution to Be Expected
7. (a) Why can Christians expect to be persecuted? (b) Does this apply to all Christians, or only to some of them?
7 But why should anyone be persecuted just because he wants to study God’s Word, the Bible, and be a Christian? Jesus answered the question this way: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you. Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have observed my word, they will observe yours also. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know him that sent me.” (John 15:18-21) As the apostle Paul pointed out in his second inspired letter to Timothy, persecution is something Christians have to expect. He wrote: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Timothy 3:12.
8. Who is really behind the persecution of Christians, and what is his aim?
8 Let us not forget that the one behind the persecution is none other than the great opposer, Satan the Devil. Your firm stand as a Christian and your love for Jehovah God are proving the Devil to be a liar, since he claims that no one really loves God, and that if anyone does serve Him, it is only because of what he is getting out of it for himself. Satan boasted that if he had a free hand, he could turn Job, and by implication all other humans, too, away from God. (Job 1:8-11; 2:3-5) Though he failed to break Job’s integrity, the Devil has never given up.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
Early Christians Persecuted
9. Give examples from the Scriptures showing what kinds of persecution the early Christians had to endure.
9 In harmony with Jesus’ warning, early Christians did experience persecution, which at times was very severe. Many were driven from their homes and forced to flee to other areas, as in the case of the congregation in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1) Others, like the apostle John, were exiled. (Revelation 1:9) The apostle Paul and those working with him in the public ministry were stoned and flogged. (Acts 14:19; 16:22) Many of the early Christians experienced imprisonment, some had their belongings plundered and some were even killed. (Colossians 4:3; Philemon 9, 10; Hebrews 10:34; 13:3; Acts 12:1, 2) But they were able to rejoice, because they fully understood why they were being persecuted.
10. What shows that the followers of Christ in the first century were not intimidated by persecution?
10 Did such persecution have the effect of stopping or even slowing down the work of ‘speaking about God and bearing witness to Jesus’? No, for the early Christians refused to be intimidated. The account in Acts 5:40-42 tells us that the officials of the Jewish Sanhedrin court “summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name, and let them go.” What did these Christians then do? “These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, 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, Jesus.”
11. How did Peter and John react to threats made against them?
11 Earlier, the apostles Peter and John had been before the Sanhedrin because of having healed a lame man and because of teaching on the basis of Jesus’ name. The account tells us: “With that they [the rulers and older men] called them and charged them, nowhere to make any utterance or to teach upon the basis of the name of Jesus. But in reply Peter and John said to them: ‘Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.’ So, when they had further threatened them, they released them, since they did not find any ground on which to punish them and on account of the people.”—Acts 4:18-21.
12. What help from Jehovah did the apostles and disciples pray for while under persecution?
12 They were not frightened by the threats. The record shows that the apostles and the disciples fittingly prayed not for Jehovah to remove the persecution but that he would give them strength through his spirit to continue speaking his word with boldness. And that he did.—Acts 4:29, 31.
13. According to what Paul wrote to the Philippians, what benefits resulted from his imprisonment in Rome?
13 Paul’s imprisonment in Rome had beneficial results, as he explained in his letter to the Philippians: “Now I desire you to know, brothers, that my affairs have turned out for the advancement of the good news rather than otherwise, so that my bonds have become public knowledge in association with Christ among all the Praetorian Guard and all the rest; and most of the brothers in the Lord, feeling confidence by reason of my prison bonds, are showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:12-14) Yes, the persecution of Paul led to a greater witness being given, not only because of the publicity and opportunities that he had to witness to court officials, but also because other Christians were thereby encouraged to increase their activity.
Persecution in the “Last Days”
14. What reason did Jesus give for our being persecuted today?
14 Just as God’s prophets of ancient times and just as Jesus Christ and his apostles and disciples in the first century experienced persecution, so Christians in these “last days” of this system of things can expect to have to endure persecution. Jesus foretold that as a part of the composite “sign” of the end of this system of things. He said: “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”—Matthew 24:9.
15, 16. (a) What further prophecy concerning our time shows that persecution can be expected because of our witnessing? (b) What questions are now raised for our consideration?
15 Later, Jesus indicated to the apostle John what His followers on earth could expect after the birth of the heavenly kingdom. Speaking in figurative language, he said: “Now when the dragon [identified in Re 12 verse 9 as “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan”] saw that it was hurled down to the earth, it persecuted the woman [God’s universal organization] that gave birth to the male child [the kingdom with Christ as King]. . . . And the dragon grew wrathful at the woman, and went off to wage war with the remaining ones of her seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.”—Revelation 12:13, 15-17.
16 Has this come true in these “last days”? In what ways have true Christians had to endure persecution in our time, and how have they been able to rejoice in spite of it? What effect has the persecution had on them and on many of those observing it? These questions will be considered in the following article.
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Those proving the Devil a liar, as Job did, will not go unrewarded
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Peter, John and other early Christians refused to be intimidated by officials who opposed their God-given work
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‘The dragon grew wrathful and went off to wage war with those who have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.’—Revelation 12:15-17