Do you know what blows my mind? Jesus tells us “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad” (Matt 5:11-2, NRSV). Paul seems to be saying the same thing in Philippians 1:29. James is telling us that in James 1:2-4 and Peter says it in 1 Peter 3:14. Why is persecution a blessing or a good thing? Well, there are a number of things I can tell you, but one of the positives of persecution is that it bears witness to our faith.
There is something to be said when we live boldly as Paul states in Philippians 1:21 where “living is Christ and dying is gain.” As Tertullian said in the 2nd-3rd Century, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” A martyr is someone who is killed on account of their faith, but why is that the “seed of the church?” It drove Rome crazy. They killed these Christians in horrifying manners and these Christians did not turn away. We know from a letter between the Emperor Trajan and the governor Pliny that some “Christians” did denounce their faith, and when they did they were not persecuted for it. But when you see someone willingly accepting death for their faith, that speaks of a deep faith that people are attracted to.
The word martyr comes from the Greek word martus (μάρτυς) which literally translates as witness. This has to be because of the witness which was shown for Christ when Christians such as Stephen in Acts 7 were martyred for their faith in Christ. Or what about the early Church Father Origen? His father was martyred, and a young Origen was going to go turn himself in for the testimony of his martyrdom and the gain in death which Paul speaks of. Funnily enough, legend says his mother hid his clothes and he did not go because he would not go naked… I guess there were still boundaries he would not cross!
So what about us today? We do not usually face the threat of death for our faith. But how can we embrace the persecution we face in the West, such as exclusion or what have you for our faith to witness to Christ? Stand up and stand out like Shadrach and his friends did in Daniel 3. Embrace the blessings of persecution that Jesus promises us we will face.