Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12
Not too many people get excited at the thought of suffering. But the apostles counted it a privilege to suffer shame for Christ’s sake. When they were beaten, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do in this Beatitude: they rejoiced and were “exceedingly glad” (5:12).
We too are to rejoice when we suffer for Christ. But how? The apostle Peter wrote a wonderful epistle to people going through persecution. In it we find specific instruction on how to handle suffering for our faith.
How to Handle Suffering
First, he wrote, we are not to fear: “Do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14). Jesus too said, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). When we truly fear the Lord, we will not be intimidated by what man might do to us.
Peter also wrote, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are to be bold. As we sanctify the Lord in our hearts, setting ourselves apart as His, we will be strengthened to give a defense to those who ask us.
Peter then says something hard for some to swallow: persecution is sometimes actually God’s will for us: “It is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). You mean God might will at times that we suffer persecution? Yes. One reason is that persecution purifies the church. Sometimes God brings persecution to purge the church of fair-weather Christians (nominal Christians who are not true believers), leaving it stronger with people who are truly committed.
When a believer suffers, Peter says, “let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16). Those who suffer for Christ enter into a deep and intimate aspect of fellowship with the Lord. We are to glorify God because He’s bringing us into a deeper experience of communion with Him.
God’s Blessing and Grace
Rejoicing, as we noted, is not a natural response to suffering. But Peter tells us why we should rejoice: “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). He’s really echoing what Jesus said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you” (Matthew 5:11).
Any serious-minded person who reads about the sufferings of people for their faith will be troubled by it—but we are troubled because we don’t see the Spirit of glory and of God resting upon them. Those who suffer for Christ receive an additional amount of grace. Their suffering may not be alleviated, but they have a grace that enables them to persevere through it.
When Stephen was being stoned for his great defense of the faith, he saw heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Those guys hurling stones didn’t see it. The horrified Christians standing by didn’t see it. But Stephen saw it. In the early history of the church, Christians suffered unbelievably horrific things under the Roman emperors. But we also hear stories of these believers worshiping and praising God. When the two Reformers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in the 1500’s were being burned at the stake, Latimer turned to Ridley and said, “Be of good cheer … for I suspect that this day we will light a candle in England that will never be burned out.” The Spirit of glory and of God was resting upon them.
Divine favor rests upon those who suffer for Christ’s sake. Such will become part of that noble band of whom the world was not worthy, “for so they persecuted the prophets” To those who suffer persecution, Jesus said, “Great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
Many of us might say, “I don’t think I could suffer like that.” We might faint in our hearts at the prospect of such a thing. But we don’t have the strength because we don’t need it. When the time comes, if the time comes, we will have it. Commit yourself to God and believe Him for His grace in all He brings you through.