He must have thought I was crazy. He was one of many conference friends, folks who come to so many Ligonier conferences that I not only recognize their faces, I remember their names. We would talk each time we met, and we became friends. Thus, it made sense for him to unburden himself to me. He told me that there were struggles going on in the church he pastored. It seemed that this local body, and he as the pastor, didn’t enjoy a good reputation in the community. I grinned at my friend as he said, “They speak badly about us.” I smiled even more as he added, “They’re saying that our church is a cult.” “Really?” I asked, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “And,” he said, now almost in tears, “they say that I’m the cult leader, that I use mind control and tell the congregation what to do.” I replied, “That’s terrific, I’m delighted to hear it.” At that, the tears in his eyes were replaced by a look of confusion and consternation. “I’m happy for you,” I explained. “You know as well as I do that Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you when men persecute you for My name’s sake.’ Now, I for one believe Him, and I encourage you to do the same.”
Persecution and even martyrdom, as with everything in the life of the believer, are blessings from God. To be sure, it is likewise a blessing when we are able to live in peace with all men. In short, not only is every good gift from the Father, but everything the Father sends is a good gift.
This does not mean that those who suffer for the kingdom are not suffering. Neither does it mean that we should not enter into that suffering. Rather, it means that even our suffering is to be counted joy, including when we enter into the suffering of others. Suffering and joy are only at odds with each other in the world’s economy. In God’s economy, they kiss.
Our calling, of course, is to live before the face of God, coram Deo. We are to live in light of the kingdom’s right-side-up values, not according to the folly of this world. Such not only helps us rejoice in persecution, but is in fact the cause of the persecution. They hate us because our light shines in their darkness. They hate us because we rejoice in His sovereignty, even in our suffering. Let us look together then at those whose light so shined before men, that we might glorify our Father in heaven.