The Price and Privilege of Discipleship
Notes of a message given on Sunday morning, by Pastor Alan Redpath on September 11, 1955.
We have seen in the Beatitudes, the genuine Christian—the true citizen of the Kingdom—growing into maturity. We have seen him as he is in his own consciousness, in his own longings, and what he can become by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We have also seen the resultant impact such a life will have upon the world.
Some say our text is the 8th Beatitude completing the Octave. Others see it in a different light. Up to this point it has been “Blessed are the poor,” or “Blessed are they that mourn.” Now it is blessed are “ye,” as if our Lord, having described the marks of genuine Christian experience, now turns to such a man as He has described—a man who is responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and seeking earnestly to follow his Lord—and says to him, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”
Here, then, is the Lord’s description of what kind of reception the genuine Christian may expect from an unfriendly world. These words, and the benediction that follows, are as universal and permanent in application as all that have preceded them.
The Certainty of Suffering
To some it may seem strange that some of the sweetest of God’s children are racked with pain, die of cancer, are beset with poverty, are misunderstood, reviled and spoken of evilly. It is strange that you can always trace the progress of the church by a trail of blood. Yet would it not be more strange still if this were not so? The character of a genuine Christian, sketched for us in the Beatitudes, is utterly alien to the sympathies and habits of ungodly people. Both principles and practice are entirely different.
The world worships another god—“The prince of this world” as our Lord called him. It is not surprising that servants of the Lord should experience rough treatment at the hands of rebel forces who disown His rule.
This is the way the Master walked from the moment of birth to the moment of crucifixion. He was the object of persecution and hatred. The world has never been so united in scorn, derision and violence as it was when it cried, “Crucify Him.” He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself until reproach broke His heart. He had become incarnate conscience—His life was a standing rebuke to all others. Darkness hated the light, and what was true of Him should be true of His every follower.
Says a great puritan writer, “There is, in the life of every Christian, a convincing light which shows the deformity of the works of darkness, and a piercing heat which searches the ungodly and troubles their conscience. This they cannot endure, and hence there rises in them a contrary fire of wicked hatred, and out of this the fiery trials of the godly.”
Now here is exposed one of the great dangers of evangelicalism today, and one of the most subtle wiles of Satan into which many have been so easily trapped. The tendency today is to grant freedom of thought; to visit nobody with penalties for his spiritual convictions. The long and widespread preaching of the Gospel in this country has made it perfectly safe, and even proper, and, worse still, popular, to make a profession of religion. To go to church, to seminary, and Bible College is quite the thing to do. Basking under the sunshine of popularity, too often, we have sought to encourage this and develop it by refraining from saying or doing anything to hurt anyone’s feelings.
We have conceived a popular approach in preaching, in music, in habits of life which raises no question, presents no challenge, and is generally accepted by the world. Listen to the “hillbilly” music on the radio with sacred words to jazz tunes! Listen to Bible teaching which teaches even the Word of God, but never applies it to the life! You know what I mean. The result is that Christian living is on the same level.
How often is our chief theme of conversation between Christian and unsaved friend or neighbor, the Lord Jesus? Ever? Is it not true that in social and business contacts we hide our light under a bushel for fear of offending or losing a customer? The trend of conversation is directed by the ungodly, not by us.
Yet, antagonism between Christ and Satan; the Christian and the world, is at the bottom the same. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake.” A righteous life will never make a man popular. The average man will always be angrily intolerant of a Christian who insists on living in accordance with the Beatitudes, and raises a New Testament standard of life in home, social contacts and commerce. “All that will live godly shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). “Marvel not, my brethren, that the world hate you” (1 John 3:13).
The fact that many of us escape all this is not a matter for congratulation, but for earnest heart-searching and repentance before God, in acknowledgment of this awful evidence of our failure to live as we ought as Christians in a Christ-rejecting world. If we are without chastisement; we are…not sons says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The fact that the evangelical church does not suffer at the hands of the world should not be an excuse for complacency, but a challenge to consider our whole approach and programme of evangelism. I believe that if our Moody Church fell into the trap of “popular” tactics, that day would mark her doom, for we would move into the realm where all looks attractive, but where there is no Holy Spirit unction.
Of course, methods of persecution will vary according to circumstances. Satan is clever enough to plan his attack to be best suited to the type of Christian he has to deal with. “So persecuted they the prophets which were before you,” says our Lord, and our thoughts leap to the great record of Hebrews 11, of saints “who were stoned, sawn asunder, destitute, afflicted, tormented, in bonds and imprisonment.”
Perhaps we don’t expect that today, yet I wonder if when the record is known, and we all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we shall discover that the church in China and Russia has been in fuller apostolic succession, has been more closely in the steps of the Master than the church in U.S.A. and Britain. But for most of us it may be the assassin’s tongue rather than his dagger. A student now in training for the ministry has faced the curled lip of someone at home in order to be here at all, and he has known what it is to face the persecution of loved ones in order to do what he believes to be God’s will. A businessman has faced loss of business for the sake of truth and integrity. A young fellow has faced the jeers of friends for the sake of being true to Christ, and maintaining his own heart purity.
Yes, inevitably, if we live in accordance with Christ’s teaching and never flinch from Christian character to buy the good opinion of anyone, we will find that this Christian faith of ours is the one thing that stands between us and a friendly reception from others. If that is not true in some measure in your life, you would do well to question seriously whether you are on the heavenward way at all. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).
The Cause of Suffering
Verse 10 says, “for righteousness sake,” and verse 11 says, “for My sake.” We need to be sure that the reason for persecution is not for our lack of Christian grace, but because of it. Not because of our own faults and failures, but because of righteousness. It is perfectly possible for a Christian to be so aggressive and objectionable in his witness that he brings suffering on himself. Though he may say it’s the price of being true to the Lord, the fact is he deserves all he gets. To be sound in doctrine, but sullen in temper; to be Christ-like in creed, but critical in tongue; to be faithful in church work at the expense of duty to home is to invite well-deserved and scathing comment of everybody.
But our Lord is speaking of persecution for righteousness sake, for His sake, and suggesting that to suffer thus is to have the inestimable privilege of sharing His sufferings. Of course, in one sense His sufferings stand alone and are unique, and unapproachable. There is no sorrow like unto His sorrow. Yet we may fill up that which is behind of His sufferings. His life in us will meet the same treatment as it did in Him. We cannot partake of His substitutionary suffering, yet we can know His suffering, under temptation, His sorrow as He wept over the doom of men, of what He faced as He surrendered to all the will of God.
St. Bernard said, “He always fled when they wanted to make Him king, and presented Himself when they wanted to crucify Him.” Should we not in the great words of Ittai, the Gittite, concerning David say, “As the Lord liveth, and as my Lord the king liveth, surely in what place my Lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be” (2 Samuel 15:21).
For His sake! Yes, shall He be beset by enemies, whom we seek to avoid? Shall He go through seas of anguish, and we tread an easier path? There is no member of His body who is exempt from bearing his quota of suffering for His absent Lord, and as this age comes to its great climax, and Satan has his final fling, it is to be expected, and indeed it is clearly stated in the Word of God, that the path of the true Christian will become more and more difficult.
But remember there is an object in it all. It is for “righteousness sake,” and those words suggest that it is carefully planned by the great Architect of souls. Perhaps heaven has heard your secret prayer for growth in grace and usefulness. The answer has come in fire, file, and hammer wielded by the Lord, though furnished by the hatred of men.
The cruelty comes from treachery of Judas—the cup is in the Father’s hand. Though that persecution or hatred has been hurled at you by another—even a friend or loved one—it has been allowed to pass through the presence of God and therefore it is His appointment for maturing of character and growth in holiness. We cannot become new threshing instruments without fire. But One sits beside us and He holds our pulse between His fingers and will not let the discipline be too severe. “The trial of your faith, though it be tried with fire, will be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Comfort of Suffering
Discipleship has its price, but also its privilege. “Happy are ye,” says the Lord! There is something in us all which inherently shrinks from suffering. Yet Jesus says, “Blessed—happy are ye.” “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.” Is that really possible? Not simply to be patient, to endure, but because of the honour and dignity of suffering for Christ, to be glad?
Well, what does Jesus say? Verse 10—“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 11—“Great is your reward in heaven.” Does not that suggest something very wonderful? Something for today and something for a great tomorrow. “Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” That is not to say that a man wins heaven by being persecuted. No! He is persecuted because of what he is—a genuine believer, and because of that the present possession of the Kingdom becomes more vivid and real than ever. How often it has been given to the child of God to see heaven opened, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand as if to uphold His suffering child. Paul and Silas made the prison walls ring with praise, though their backs were livid with scars and stained by blood.
When we have least of the love of others, we have most of His. When father and mother forsake, He takes us up. When earthly prosperity wanes, His fire in the center of the pillar of cloud is there to protect. Men can’t understand this. They see what the Christian suffers. They can’t know what he gains. Never does the Christian have so much of the spirit of glory as when familiar faces are averted. Oh! to be so like Jesus as to be mistaken for Him and to be bespattered with the mud flung at Him. Great is your reward in heaven. In heaven—future—out of sight; but well secured—out of reach of fraud or violence. This is the joy that is set before us!
Christian, look on to the end of the road when His glory shall be revealed! To escape the Cross here would be to miss the crown there. To be too comfortable here would be to be at home here instead of there. To be nearest the Cross here is to be nearest the throne there. According to our sufferings for Him now, so shall be the reward and honour of His Kingdom there. How wonderfully Paul puts it in a great piece of spiritual arithmetic in Romans 8:18, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”
Yes! Happy are ye when men shall revile you for His sake…great is your reward in heaven.