OK, stop right here if you don’t want to be offended, my friend! That’s my only warning for you, my wayward reader, because sharp knives are safer than dull blades, and persecuted Christians are blessed compared to safe, polite, unoffending Christians. That’s pretty much the main idea in this article if you want to stop reading right now.
But if you want to be sharpened, then get ready and pull out the knives of your Christianity. Have they been in a drawer, long forgotten and dull? Are they only brought out once a week to be polished to a dazzling sheen, but by Monday morning, they are safely put back in their place so as not to offend anyone? Even the most beautiful knife is useless when it has lost its sharp edge or it is hidden and unused in a drawer.
When I was preparing for my wedding 13 years ago, one of the things on my list of items to acquire for the reception was a cake knife, but not just any knife. It had to be a decorative knife, something fancy and beautiful. After hours of searching at several different stores, I finally found a perfect set, a pair of serving utensils, one cake server and one cake knife. This beautiful set had a shiny, silver finish and some decorative, gold designs. I could imagine the moment at the reception —me glowing in my white wedding gown with my new, hot tamale of a husband by my side. He would be holding my hand as I held this beautiful, shiny, cake knife. We would, of course, smile widely for the photographer as we cut into the wedding cake for the very first slice. And as beautiful as the cake knife was, it was as dull as a pencil in a kindergartner’s pencil box. The knife was sharp enough to cut through the cake, and for the purpose of pretenses, the knife did its job, but when it came to functionality, I couldn’t use that knife in the kitchen to cut tomatoes or other harder objects of any substance.
The Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are spoken as blessings over a group of people who are normally viewed as unfortunate, but Jesus declares them blessed. The word “Beatitudes” means “blessings” or “blessedness,” and in Latin, beati translates to “happiness” or “blessedness.” Matthew’s words from Chapter 5, Verse 10 speak specifically to those who are persecuted because of righteousness:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When reading just this passage, it’s easy to assume that Jesus is exhorting us to be more self-righteous, to be more pure and holy and less worldly. So what does that mean? Does He want us to drink less alcohol and wear longer shorts? Does He want us to only watch movies rated PG-13 and below? How can we live lives even worthy of persecution when we blend right in with the rest of the world? Are our neighbors or co-workers surprised when we invite them to church because they didn’t realize that we are fine churchgoing people? What kind of righteousness would even be noticed by the world and cause them to persecute us? How is it that those who are persecuted are pronounced blessed? Even today, when we hear about the persecution of our fellow Christian believers around the world, we pray for them and think, “How unfortunate that their lives are in jeopardy. Thank God that we live in a free country where we don’t have to worry about persecution.”
When Phyllis Sortor, one of our Free Methodist missionaries, was abducted in Nigeria three years ago, thousands of Christians prayed for her release and thankfully, 12 days later, she was released and we rejoiced that God had answered our prayers. Sortor returned to the United States to recover, be with family and to share her story. She came to our church in Wenatchee, Washington, and shared about how close to death she had been during her captivity. This 71-year-old modern-day superhero was advancing God’s kingdom by serving in a dangerous country where she was persecuted for her faith; she was persecuted because of righteousness. Sortor keenly knew that there were great risks associated with her ministry in Africa, but she also knew that there are few places in the world without risks and dangers. She said, “Heaven is for real! There is no guarantee in life; no safe place —other than that place we find ourselves when our full faith and trust is in God!”
As American Christians, we think we have problems, like not having a big enough kitchen to hold all of our baking utensils and cooking appliances. We only have a two-car garage, which is not large enough to both park our cars and store all of our yard sale treasures. Or we’ve been stuck with the iPhone 6s for the past four years, and some of the newer apps don’t work with our current iPhone, so we whine about when we can get the latest and greatest iPhone X. As Christians, we don’t know what it’s like to be truly persecuted, to be hated and abducted and almost killed for the sake of the gospel, for doing what is right. Clearly, the kind of righteousness that Jesus is talking about is the kind that should offend somebody watching.
Lives That Offend
“An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked” (Proverbs 29:27 ESV).
If we are living according to the righteousness that Jesus is talking about, then somebody should notice and take offense to what is being modeled. We should be living lives that offend the wicked because the light that shines from the holiness and purity of God within us is revealing the sin and darkness in the world. Our very being should cause the world to take notice and to declare that our way is an abomination. We live in a world where sexual purity is regarded as abnormal and only for those who are highly religious or socially outcast. Compassion is regarded as suspicious and only for those who do social work for a living. Honesty is regarded as weak and only for those who want to lose and not gain in life.
It’s easy to live a life of honesty when you are not living in dangerous conditions like our missionaries in creative access countries. Here in America, I don’t have to lie about being a Christian. I can openly go to church and talk about God in the coffee shop and even pray before every meal when I go inside a restaurant to eat. Nobody gets angry that I prayed over my food or that I go to church every week. Nobody is barricading the doors of the American church to keep us Christians out. We can read, talk and study about what righteousness looks like, but it’s only until we bear the wounds of being persecuted that we are living lives worthy to be called righteous.
The Passion Translation says, “How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted for doing what is right! For that is when you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom.”
The Message renders it as, “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”
The Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on a spirit of love and humility, not self-righteousness and another set of moral laws. The teachings of Jesus focused on mercy, spirituality and compassion. Living lives of righteousness means living out our faith by doing what is right when others are doing wrong and making right what is wrong in the world —not only seeing and reading about the injustice in our society but actually doing something about the injustice. It’s not enough to just live a life of sexual purity. We need to be concerned about the sexual purity of those who are broken and trapped in the cycle of human trafficking.
As a church, we financially support the fight against human trafficking both globally and locally. It’s easy to give money to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking, but it’s a lot harder to actually drive or walk down the streets where the prostitutes and pimps hang out and talk to them. I used to think that just praying and giving was enough to make a difference in the world. Now Jesus is calling me to bear the wounds of being persecuted for the sake of making right what is terribly wrong.
At one time, I thought I had to stay far away from the prostitutes, and now Jesus is asking me to walk with them and talk with them. I’ll never forget the day when I was able to visit a safe house in our neighborhood that was dedicated to rescuing prostitutes from the cycle of sex trafficking. When I walked through the house and met these ladies, I realized that they were beautiful daughters of the Most High God. These young, talented women were trying to escape the cycle of sex slavery, and when I actually saw their faces and learned their names, my heart broke because I began to realize that they were worthy of my time and energy. They were worthy of me taking a risk to see them freed from the horrible lives that they faced. I realized that the righteousness that God was concerned about wasn’t just my personal righteousness, but it was the righteousness of these women that He was concerned about. God is concerned about the righteousness of the undocumented immigrants who are living in hiding because they are alienated from their native country as well as from the country in which they currently live.
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3 ESV).
I believe that if Jesus lived among us today, He wouldn’t be in church every Sunday morning, wearing his Sunday best, giving His 10 percent and singing along to the songs He liked and folding His arms through the ones He didn’t like. He would be walking and talking and living among the least of us, the unfortunate, the marginalized, the outcast, the poor and needy, and He would be living a life worthy of persecution just like He did when He walked the earth 2,000 years ago.
Lastly, sharp knives are safer than dull blades, because the sharper the knife, the more ability it has to slice and do what it was meant to do, to cut through objects. The duller your blades, the more chance you have of slipping when you use that knife to cut objects, and that dull knife will most likely slip and cut you instead of the object that it was intended to cut. So here’s my point, let’s not be like that wedding cake knife, only brought out once in a while to be polished up nice and shiny for the sake of the moment. Let’s not live polite Christian lives, afraid to offend our neighbor or the world with the righteousness of God. If you aren’t experiencing persecution on a personal level, then you aren’t doing anything worthy of the world even noticing. And with your dull knife, you are doing more damage than good for the kingdom of God by trying to live a polite, comfortable Christian life. The word of the Lord is sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).
Let’s live in a way so as to offend the sinner in order to see him/her come to salvation or in trying, reap persecution. I want to be sharpened and used by God to cut through anything, thick or thin. So sharpen me as I sharpen you because sharp knives are safer than dull knives. And if you aren’t experiencing persecution as a follower of Jesus Christ, maybe your knife isn’t as sharp as it once used to be.
Soo Ji Alvarez is an ordained pastor of the Free Methodist Church. She is currently co-pastoring with her husband, Joe, at California Avenue Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, where they desire to see a fresh movement of God’s Spirit evidenced by the church being an engaging place of worship, discipleship and transformation. She also serves as the Free Methodist representative on the board of the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy. WHWC exists to advance Christ’s kingdom by engaging, empowering and equipping women to lead in the church at every level.