When Jesus talks about those who are blessed He really messes up our categories. His sermon starts out that way, with the poor in spirit as heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
Inheriting the kingdom of heaven is the only promise mentioned twice, and the second time it belongs with the only characteristic that is mentioned as doubly-blessed.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-11)
Not the peacemakers or the pure in heart or the poor in spirit are given two blesseds, but the persecuted. And note that persecuted isn’t narrowly defined as being beaten or killed, though it certainly includes that. This persecution includes being talked bad about, being talked to about your insensitivity, or your bigotry, or your arrogance, or just that you’re so dumb for believing in Jesus.
I have been thinking about this “blessing” more and more recently, and how we want to be a people who are not only able to absorb the criticism, but who really are able to “rejoice and be glad” when it comes. Such treatment puts us in a long line of godly men and women, and it means our reward is great in heaven, for which we really ought to be investing.
Are we living in such a way as to provoke the right kind of persecution, and then are we ready to receive persecution in such a cheerful way as to make others wish they could have that blessing?
For the past three weeks I’ve been reminding us that God came in the flesh. We need reminding about certain things, and the Christmas season is a strategic time to keep the incarnation warming on the mental front burner. The apostle John stated that to deny Christ came in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle Peter referred to Christ’s suffering in the flesh as key to our thinking (1 Peter 4:1-2). And the apostle Paul considered the truth of Christ’s incarnation to be the church’s responsibility to protect.
He wrote to Timothy about “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church supports and defends the truth. Then he continued with an amazing hymn of truth.
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
Most of these belong with godliness. It suits God to be vindicated and appreciated and believed then received into heaven’s glory. All of those fit. It does not fit, not naturally, that godliness would first be “manifested in the flesh.”
The Old Testament prophesied it. The virgin would bear a son and his name would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). God would be with us (Matthew 1:23). But it was still a mystery. It still didn’t all make sense. Yet now we know. God, and true godlinesses, was revealed in Jesus.
We are to love and proclaim and believe and support that truth. It is not secondary or optional. Our salvation depends on it. And we also should desire that godliness be manifest—made known, gone public—in our own flesh. The work of the Spirit is a sanctifying work until we are taken up into glory with Jesus.
Most people agree that being thankful is good. Most people also agree that cardiovascular exercise for twenty or more minutes, three to five times each week is good, but that doesn’t mean they do it. For Christians who want to make progress in their thankful-fitness, I want to offer a couple cautions at the beginning of the program.
Caution #1: An increase in thankfulness routinely correlates with a decrease in pride, especially pride as seen in personal independence or, in extreme cases, even isolation.
Caution #2: An increase in thankfulness routinely correlates with a decrease in pride, especially pride as seen in laziness or, in extreme cases, pretentiousness.
Here’s one example. Let’s say that you want to give thanks for (or to) your spouse, a husband for his wife, though it could easily work the other way. A husband who earnestly takes the time to consider all that his wife does will realize that he could not do all of the things that she does on his own. He doesn’t have the interest, the intellect, the skills, or the time. If he actually calculates her value to him for sake of giving thanks, then he cannot continue to hold onto his delusion about being a solo-hero.
Such an exercise of thankfulness for his wife may cause him to realize not only how much he depends on her, but also how much she is outworking him. A thinking man won’t make too much of all her work for the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, let alone all the previous days of preparation, because that attention will throw too much contrast on his own afternoon full of watching sports. It’s not just on special occasions either. If he looks too closely he might see that she lapped the pace-car a long time ago.
We could just avoid these attacks on our pride by being unthankful, by working to distract ourselves with food and games and Thomas Kinkade pictures of family where we rarely have to see persons. But God commands us to give thanks, so holding onto our pride is going to have to go anyway.