Lesson 9 May 24-30
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:18-20; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Peter 4:14-16; Luke 21:12, 13; Matt. 5:10; 2 Thess. 1:5.
MEMORY TEXT: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10, RSV).
KEY THOUGHT: Christ bids us to take up our cross and follow Him. To do so we must take the road He traveled and bear our share of hardship and opposition. There are no shortcuts, but Christ is our companion.
THE NARROW PATH. Unlike the preceding beatitudes, which outline the different stages of spiritual development of the inner being, the last deals with the experiences and duties that await the Christian.
One thing we can be certain of as we follow Jesus is that we will be persecuted. Paul tells us that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). The beatitudes considered so far focus on what genuine happiness is all about. But in this last beatitude, happiness is pronounced on us for being persecuted for the cause of Christ.
"Through trials and persecution, the glory and the character of God is revealed in His chosen ones. The church of God, hated and persecuted by the world, are educated and disciplined in the school of Christ... ; they endure self-denial and experience bitter disappointments; but their painful experience teaches them the guilt and woe of sin, and they look upon it with abhorrence. Being partakers of Christ's sufferings, they are destined to be partakers of His glory."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 31.
As you carefully study Matthew 10:34-36, how do you explain that the same Jesus who came to give peace also came to send a sword?
People have often found this declaration of Jesus to be contradictory or incomprehensible. Did He not come to bring divine peace to the world? How can peace and a sword co-exist in living the Christian life?
"Rightly understood, the two are in perfect harmony. The gospel is a message of peace. ... But the world at large are under the control of Satan, Christ's bitterest foe. The gospel presents to them principles of life which are wholly at variance with their habits and desires, and they rise in rebellion against it. They hate the purity which reveals and condemns their sins, and they persecute and destroy those who would urge upon them its just and holy claims. It is in this sense-because the exalted truths it brings occasion hatred and strife--that the gospel is called a sword."--The Great Controversy, pp. 46, 47.
What biblical example is given by John that explains the attitude of the world toward God's children? (1 John 3:12, 13). How do you see such an example manifested in the present?
Here we have an inspired answer to the questions, Why did Cain kill Abel? Why has the world persecuted God's children through the ages? Ever since sin entered this world, there has been enmity between the children of rebellion and the children of God, between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of darkness of this world. (See Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:7-17.) This conflict will continue until the day when "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Rev. 11:15, KJV).
Do you believe that the premise expressed by Christ about persecution is still valid in our day? Explain your answer.
"The character of the persecution changes with the times, but the principle--the spirit that underlies it--is the same that has slain the chosen of the Lord ever since the days of Abel."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 29.
Are you or someone you know facing persecution for righteousness' sake at this time? What has such persecution brought about in terms of spiritual strength and growth?
In a world where people seek acceptance, succumb to peer pressure, and go after popularity, how do you relate to Christ's words that His followers will be hated and persecuted as He was?
"Jesus does not present to His followers the hope of attaining earthly glory and riches, and of having a life free from trial, but He presents to them the privilege of walking with their Master in the paths of self-denial and reproach, because the world knows them not. He who came to redeem the lost world was opposed by the united forces of the adversaries of God and man. In an unpitying confederacy, evil men and evil angels arrayed themselves against the Prince of Peace. Though His every word and act breathed of divine compassion, His unlikeness to the world provoked the bitterest hostility."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 29.
When Jesus told His disciples that they would have tribulations in the world, what encouragement and assurance did He give them? John 16:33.
Not only did Jesus warn His disciples of the tribulations that they would have to endure, but He also encouraged and assured them that they would gain the victory, "because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). We, the disciples of Christ who are living in the last days of earth's history, can soldier on with confidence and cheerfulness knowing that our Master has overcome the world.
"Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame."--The Desire of Ages, pp. 679, 680.
Are you allowing anything to come between you and Christ? Is there something that may be undermining your love and loyalty to Him? Prayerfully contemplate the words of Paul in order to fortify your faith in Christ. As you submit yourself to Him through trials and persecution, His love and truth will ultimately triumph in your life. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written. For thy sake we are killed all the day long: we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. 8:35-37).
Do you find yourself desiring to live a godly life in this world, yet are not willing to face persecution? What do you think of Paul's statement in this regard? 2 Tim. 3:12.
"Between righteousness and sin, love and hatred, truth and falsehood, there is an irrepressible conflict. When one presents the love of Christ and the beauty of holiness, he is drawing away the subjects of Satan's kingdom, and the prince of evil is aroused to resist it. Persecution and reproach await all who are imbued with the Spirit of Christ."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 29.
Do you view the persecution against you from a different perspective when you understand it through the context of the great controversy between good and evil?
It is tempting when we are in the midst of persecution for Christ's sake to think of our own immediate situation. But do we realize that we join the whole universe in this struggle between Christ and Satan? We are certainly not struggling alone, for we are indeed in the company of Christ, the angels and all the saints of God. The more we love Christ and are loyal to His truth, the angrier Satan and his evil forces become. But let us take courage, for the forces of righteousness on our side are exceedingly greater than all of Satan's forces assailed against us.
What did Paul consider his duty in preparing the churches for persecution? Acts 14:22.
Question: "Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber?
Answer: "The only reason is that the church has conformed to the world's standard and therefore awakens no opposition ... It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled."--The Great Controversy, p. 48.
Have you experienced persecution for Christ's sake lately? If not, why not?
How does being reproached for Christ's sake bring joy to us and glory to God? 1 Peter 4:14, 16.
As Jesus stated in the eighth beatitude, only they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake can know the joy that comes from above in spite of the trial. The satisfaction that the persecuted Christians enjoy comes to them because they are partakers of "Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:13), because they know that they are suffering as Christians, and because they have proof that the "spirit of glory and of God" rests on them (verse 14, KJV).
In apostolic times the name Christian was possibly first given to ridicule those who followed Christ. That is why the apostle Peter exhorts Christians not to be ashamed, but rather to glory. And that is exactly what happened. Christians of the first centuries brought glory to Christ by being persecuted for His sake.
What more is said concerning affliction for the sake of conscience as opposed to every other motive? 1 Peter 2:19-21; 4:15.
If it is a Christian grace to suffer unjustly for the sake of conscience, it is, on the contrary, a terrible disgrace--and a reproach for the cause of God--to suffer as a "murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters" (verse 15).
What attitude should one have toward persecution? Should one flee from it or strive for it? We should not flee it as such, but face it bravely when it comes, knowing that Christ is always with us. Some manifest an extreme tendency of hoping to be persecuted by others. They have a persecution complex that seems to bring trouble prematurely upon them.
"None should disobey His [the Lord's] command in order to escape persecution. But let all consider the words of Christ: 'When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another.' Matthew 10:23. If it can be avoided, do not put yourselves into the power of men who are worked by the spirit of antichrist. Everything that we can do should be done that those who are willing to suffer for the truth's sake may be saved from oppression and cruelty."--Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 230.
What is your attitude toward persecution? How do you deal with it when it comes your way? Do you find yourself fighting it, shunning it, resigning yourself to it, or accepting it?
If it is wrong to seek persecution, it is certainly a greater mistake to believe that God brings it about for the good of His children and the progress of His work. God never causes evil, nor does He ever wish it for His children. But as, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds (Rom. 5:20); so, where persecution rages, God accords grace to endure and to triumph in order that testimony may be borne to truth.
What experiences in Paul's life fulfilled the words expressed by Jesus in Luke 21:12 and 13? Phil. 1:12-14; Acts 16:22-34.
"God means that truth shall be brought to the front and become the subject of examination and discussion, even through the contempt placed upon it. The minds of the people must be agitated; every controversy, every reproach, every effort to restrict liberty of conscience, is God's means of awakening minds that otherwise might slumber."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 33.
How did God use the first persecution of the church at Jerusalem to accomplish His purposes? How did He make Satan's weapons of persecution backfire on him?
The first persecution of the church at Jerusalem is a typical example of the way God uses the enemy's ambush to accomplish His purposes. (See Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19-21.)
"In vain were Satan's efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence. The great controversy in which the disciples of Jesus yielded up their lives did not cease when these faithful standard-bearers fell at their post. By defeat they conquered. God's workmen were slain, but His work went steadily forward. The gospel continued to spread and the number of its adherents to increase. It penetrated into regions that were inaccessible even to the eagles of Rome. Said a Christian, expostulating with the heathen rulers who were urging forward the persecution: You may 'kill us, torture us, condemn us. ... Your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. ... The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.'--Tertullian, Apology, The Great Controversy, pp. 41, 42.
Do you know any examples of the entering of the gospel into a country, a region, a city, or a family in spite of (or thanks to) obstacles? Be ready to tell your story briefly if you should have the opportunity.
FURTHER STUDY: Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, "The Beatitudes" (Matt. 5:10), pp. 29-31; The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 23, 84-86; The Desire of Ages, pp. 305, 306; Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 285-287.
Even though the promises of Jesus contained in the Beatitudes are already being partially fulfilled in this life, their perfect realization will not take place until the glorious advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Look up, look up, and let your faith continually increase. Let this faith guide you along the narrow path that leads through the gates of the city of God into the great beyond, the wide, unbounded future of glory that is for the redeemed. 'Be patient therefore, brethren unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.' James 5:7, 8."--Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 287, 288.
1. On several occasions Jesus warned His disciples that they would be persecuted. What reason did He give for the persecution?
2. Why did the apostle Paul consider persecution almost inevitable in the life of the Christian?
3. Only under what conditions can persecution be considered as a reason to rejoice?
4. Do we sometimes bring on unnecessary persecution? In what ways? How can this be avoided?
5. What good can come from persecution? Can you give examples of situations in which someone was persecuted (on the job, for example) that, resulted in blessings?
SUMMARY: An old adage says: "Life is not a bed of roses." Likewise, Christians should not expect their journey through life on earth to be an easy one. Only when we reach our final destination are we promised freedom from the trials, cares, and perplexities of this life.
J. H. Zachary
Hidden among the 1,125 islands that make up the Marshall Islands is tiny Ebon Atoll, a circle of 26 islets in the Pacific. A huge rock juts out of the ocean near one of these islets. For years this rock has symbolized the Ebonite's resistance to change from outsiders. Ebonites say, "Many try to break Ebon, but it won't break." However, recent miracles have caused some to change their minds.
In 1996 Min Kong Wook from Korea and Alfred Barreta from the Philippines arrived on Ebon as young missionary volunteers serving with the 1000 Missionary Movement. Neither knew Marshallese, the native language. The islanders were amazed when, after studying for only a few weeks, the two young men could read, sing, and speak Marshallese. "The Lord has done this for us," Alfred explained. The people called it a miracle.
Home for the two missionaries is a humble native hut. Their only light is a kerosene lamp. Food and water are often a problem. "When we run out of food, we fish. If we catch fish, we eat. Sometimes we have only rice, unless we run out before the supply ship arrives," Alfred said. The islanders catch rain water for drinking and bathing. Despite these inconveniences, Alfred exclaims, "God is so good!"
For years he islanders avoided Kejen, a cruel drunkard who bullied his neighbors. But Kejen was attracted to the missionaries, and soon he began studying the Bible with them. The islanders watched as the Holy Spirit transformed Kejen into a kind, gentle man who now looks for ways to help others. If a family is hungry, Kejen goes fishing and gives hem his catch. His life is a powerful witness to the islanders of God's transforming power.
As the Ebonites saw evidence of God's power working in the lives of Alfred, Min, and Kejen, they began listening to the missionaries' message. Two Ebonite women were the first new believers baptized into the Adventist church. On the night of the baptism, the rock that symbolized the Ebonites' resistance to change mysteriously split in two, as if cut by a large knife. Because he islanders believe God split the rock, they are open to hear the gospel.
So far 40 persons have been baptized. The believers meets in a tent-like structure that often blows down during storms and on windy days. The believers are praying for a simple church. Min and Alfred believe their prayers will become a reality. "God has done some very special things for Ebon," they say.
J. H. Zachary is director of evangelism for The Quiet Hour in Redlands, California.
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