By HEATHER COFER
A few years ago I was watching an interview of a well-known atheist scientist. He was asked about his thoughts on Christian beliefs, and his countenance immediately displayed contempt. Then he began a string of scornful, demeaning comments, basically stating that to believe in God is the height of stupidity and ignorance. I could feel my cheeks burning and anger begin to rise inside as I listened to these words directly aimed at those like myself who wholeheartedly believed these things he was so quick to put down on.
At first, everything in me wanted to argue right back, defend truth, and point out every single fault to be found in his way of thinking. Then, suddenly, the concept in this verse came to the forefront of my mind;
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” (Matt. 5:11)
We are not promised that if we become Christians people will like us, accept us, and praise us. It’s actually the exact opposite. Christ — who He is and what He represents — is offensive to this world, and many try to do everything in their power to silence all that would represent Him and His name. So, it shouldn’t surprise us when others speak evil against us and try to harm us. And, on top of that (and quite counter-intuitively), it should evoke a deep sense of joy that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. As 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
Joy isn’t our natural response to persecution. When we hear of someone speaking badly about us to others or directly to our face, or when we are treated wrongly and even physically hurt, there is a tremendous temptation toward self-pity, bitterness, and despair. But when we look to the Lord to help us respond in a Christlike way instead of retreating and isolating ourselves from further hurt, we reach out in unconditional, persistent love to those who would seek to do us the most harm. This is why we hear stories throughout history of people bent on destroying Christians turning to Jesus in faith because of how they were treated by His followers.
My husband’s parents are missionaries in Asia. Throughout the 13 years they have lived there they have experienced slander from unbelievers and believers alike; lies being spoken about them, people trying to undermine their ministry, among other painful and difficult circumstances involving people they have served and poured out their lives for. But through it all, they have chosen to forgive and extend unconditional love to those who have hurt them. And the fruit that is coming from it, both in their lives and others, is incredible to behold. Their ministry continues to grow and thrive, and many people are being reached for the sake of the Gospel.
Being a Christian is not easy. In fact, in many ways, it will add much difficulty to our lives. But the joy of knowing and loving Jesus and anticipating being with Him forever far outweighs any form of suffering we will experience this side of heaven. As we walk in dependence upon Him, He gives us all we need to love our enemies, persevere through any and every trial, and run victoriously and joyfully through the finish line into His waiting arms!
In the upcoming Set Apart Conference, Leslie will be teaching a session that goes into more detail about being reviled and what our response is to be as Christians when reviling comes. I am so excited to be there and hear more about what God has taught her through personal experience, as well as gain greater wisdom from God’s Word on how to forgive, love, and serve those who seek our harm. I hope you can join us, either in person or via simulcast for the June 2016 Radiant conference!