If we experience hardship at the hands of men—suffering, trials, injustices—and find our hearts rejoicing rather than embittered, thankful rather than spiteful, satisfied rather than grumbly, we may well take this as evidence that we are suffering persecution and being filled with God’s Spirit to endure it well, to endure it for his glory.
One of the most intimidating things Jesus taught was that, as his followers, we should expect to be persecuted. And one of the most surprising things he taught was that, when we encounter such persecution, we should face it with joy. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). In Dustin Benge’s book The Loveliest Place, I read a brief explanation of what Jesus means by these words, and in that explanation an interesting application: True persecution will lead to true rejoicing.
Benge says, “There is a paradoxical mystery within the words ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.’ Rejoice while suffering? Be glad amid ridicule? How can this be? This mystery is unveiled in the depth of our unyielding assurance that being with Jesus in glory will far more than reward us for any suffering we have faced in this life.” This was what Paul meant to communicate to the church in Corinth when he wrote his famous words of assurance: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
It is our faith that sustains us in these times of persecution and our faith that gives us joy.
Our rejoicing and gladness proceed from faith in the unseen realm of eternity. The same faith that accepts Jesus Christ as Lord. The same faith that transforms us from one degree of glory to another. The same faith that stares our persecutors in the face and prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” These persecutions are “preparing for us” or “bringing about” an “eternal weight of glory.”