The Transformed Life – Bless Your Persecutors
Note: This is Post # 12 in the series titled “The Transformed Life” based on Romans 12. Please click here for previous posts: POST # 1, POST # 2, POST # 3, POST # 4, POST # 5, POST # 6, POST # 7, POST # 8, POST # 9, POST # 10, POST # 11
As we continue in the series of the transformed life, this post deals with responding in a biblical manner toward those who mistreat us, and the text is from Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
The subject of blessing those who persecute us is counter-culture to what the world teaches us and opposite to what our natural instincts call us to do. Yet, that’s precisely what the above text calls us to do. God’s saving mercies transform people to bless their persecutors as Jesus did. This subject is so important that Paul expands more on this theme later in this chapter in Romans 12:17-21.
Bless those who persecute you implies that Christians will face persecution—some to a lesser degree, some to a greater degree. 2 Timothy 3:12 states, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus warned us of the reality of persecution through these words, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” [John 15:20]. The Bible does not teach a suffering-free life for the Christian!
The world hates us because we no longer belong to it since we have been chosen out of the world. In addition, the world hated Jesus and persecuted him because, as Romans 8:7 says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God.” Now that Jesus is no longer physically in this world, we who are physically present are persecuted since we identify with Jesus and his teachings. No wonder Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” They attack Christ by attacking us. They persecute us not because we do bad things but because they hate the true God and those who claim to follow this One true God—even when we do good things. According to one writer:
The world acutely dislikes people whose lives are a condemnation of it. It is in fact dangerous to be good. The classic instance is the fate that befell Aristides in Athens. He was called Aristides the Just; and yet he was banished. When one of the citizens was asked why he had voted for his banishment, he answered: “Because I am tired of hearing him always called the Just.”
Now, if that’s the world’s hostile reaction to a person who is different from them, even if they are not Christians, we can understand how much more of an adverse reaction they would show toward us Christians whose lifestyles condemn their thinking and acting. So, persecution of Christians is to be expected. There will be persecutors when we truly live out the Christian life. How, then, should we respond to the ones who bring about this persecution? In a nutshell, we are called to bless them, not curse them.
What does it mean to bless our persecutors?
“To bless has different meanings. When we bless God we ascribe to him the praise that is his due [cf. Luke 1:64, 68, 2:24, 24:53; James 3:9]. When God blesses us he bestows blessing upon us [cf. Matt 25:34; Acts 3:26; Gal 3:9; Eph 1:3]. When we bless persons or things we invoke God’s blessings upon them [cf. Luke 2:34; 1 Cor 10:16; Heb 11:20]. It is this last meaning that applies to the exhortation of this text and in numerous other cases where the same duty is commended” [John Murray, Romans, p. 134].
So, in essence, this is a call for Christians to pray to God, asking him to show his favor to their persecutors—to those who relentlessly keep inflicting great pain on them. The word “Bless” is in the present tense, thus meaning we are to be doing this at all times. And in the second half of this verse, Paul adds another command to the first one that calls for us to bless. It is this: “bless and do not curse.” By stressing what we should do, which is “bless,” twice and stating what we should not do, which is “curse,” Paul is saying: There should not be a mixture of blessing and cursing toward our persecutors. It should be nothing but a blessing at all times! In our prayers, rather than committing our enemies to be devoted to destruction—that is what the word “curse” means—we are to ask God to show his divine favor upon their lives.
This attitude towards those who hurt us goes against the very fabric of our fundamental human nature. The response to our persecutors—be it those who hurt us physically or verbally is to wish judgment upon them. Even though it would be hard, at least if we are told, “Ok. I don’t want you to retaliate [in context, pronounce a curse on them]”, we would be a bit better off. But God’s word tells us that we cannot just be passive by not retaliating but actively seek to do good—in this context, good is praying for God’s favor, his blessing on those who hurt us.
Paul is not alone in issuing such a call. Jesus gave the same call in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus made it abundantly clear that praying for God’s blessing upon those who persecute us is a mark of those who are indeed children of God. “Children of God, Jesus says, are called to imitate their heavenly Father. We are to be an audiovisual of him” [Darrel Bock, Commentary on Luke 6, IVP Press].
In writing to persecuted Christians, not only Jesus and Paul but Peter also calls for the same response of not retaliating evil with evil but seeking God’s blessings on our persecutors in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” It is clear then that we must pray for God’s blessing on our enemies. Now the question is, what blessing are we to pray for specifically? I believe the prayer is mainly for their salvation—that they might be forgiven of their sins. That’s the greatest good we can do for others. When we pray for God to bless our enemies, we are asking him to grant them eternal life by giving them the ability to repent and believe in Christ’s work and thus be forgiven of all their sins. That’s the prayer! That will stop them from being at enmity with God, which is the root of their persecuting us.
On the cross, as people were putting him to death and mocking him simultaneously, what was one of the things Jesus himself did for his enemies? He prayed for them. And what was the content? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” [Lk 23:34]. The greatest blessing we can receive from God is forgiveness for sins. So, Jesus praying for the forgiveness of his enemies was essentially asking God to grant them the best blessing they can ever receive from God—forgiveness for sins as they repent and turn to him. Rather than pronouncing a curse on them, he prayed for their well-being. The centurion’s conversion (the one who said, “Surely he was the Son of God” [Matt 27:54]) was undoubtedly a result of Jesus’s prayer!
Stephen, the first Christian to die at the hands of his persecutors, did the same. Acts 7:59-60 reads, “59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” Among those responsible for killing Stephen was a man named Saul, also known as Paul—the very one who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this letter to the Romans. Who knows how much of an effect Stephen’s prayer had in the conversion of Paul?
The same Paul modeled this call to pray for our persecutors in his own life. In 2 Corinthians 11:24, he wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.” That’s a total of 195 lashes! Yet, in Romans 10:1, he wrote that his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Rather than cursing, he prayed for their well-being that comes through salvation. He practiced what he preached here in Romans 12:14 of seeking a blessing on his persecutors!
And it must be the same with us as well. We are called to respond to those who persecute us with blessing. We must take our persecutors to God in prayer for their salvation. Our tongues should not lash out in anger. Instead, it should pray words of blessing to the God who alone can show favor to them. We must be able to get on our knees and sincerely from the heart intercede for those who hurt us. We must ask God to give them a new heart and be willing to let go of the vengeful spirit that lurks in our own hearts. Even in some cases, if the ones who hurt us are Christians, we must pray that God will help them overcome sinful tendencies to hurt others. No retaliation, whether they are believers or unbelievers. It’s just that our prayers should be appropriate depending on their spiritual condition.
We have a problem praying for God to bless our persecutors because we want to be avenged for being treated wrong and avenged immediately. We hate for our persecutors not to “pay the price” for hurting us and somehow “escape” the pain of judgment. We want the person who mistreated us to feel the same pain they caused us. Thus, we resort to returning evil for evil. That’s our natural response.
But Scripture’s response is this: “Look at how many sins you have committed. Has God taken vengeance on you? The same blessing of forgiveness you sought and have received is what you must seek for your enemies as well. Leave all judgment in God’s hands just as Jesus did.” Faith trusts God, the righteous Judge to do what is right. “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” asked Abraham in Genesis 18:25. Jesus believed it, and that’s why he entrusted all judgment to God’s hands [1 Pet 2:23]. In the meantime, he kept praying for God to forgive his persecutors [Lk 23:34].
It’s been said, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; but to return good for evil is divine.” So, when we return good for evil, we are:
1. Showing the reality of being God’s children
2. Showing the reality of divine power working through us
3. Showing that God’s mercies are transforming us to act like Jesus acted.
Are there people in your life who have hurt you? Are you struggling to respond to their evil with a blessing? Do thoughts of vengeance dominate your heart? If so, repent of such an attitude. Turn your eyes toward Jesus. He is our model. He is the example we are called to follow [1 Pet 2:21]. Look at what he did for you! Reflect on how many of your sins he has forgiven in the past and how he continues to forgive you. As you reflect on his mercies, ask him for strength to extend that same mercy to those who have hurt you.
Sincerely resolve to take your persecutors to God in prayer. If they are unbelievers, plead with God to save them. Please think of the eternal suffering they will face and, compassionately, implore for their souls. If they are believers, plead with God to help them live up to their calling. Do what Romans 12:14 commands and experience God’s blessing!
Persecution comes in all sizes and shapes and strikes people of all ages and conditions. Our response to attack and abuse can speak volumes to those considering Christianity for themselves.
Barbara Robidoux was intrigued by one of her neighbors, a Christian named Michelle, whom she called her neighborhood “Bible Thumper.” Michelle displayed a happy enthusiasm and cheer that brightened the street. Each summer during Vacation Bible School, she would stuff her van full of kids and plunge into church activities with them, providing relief for parents and homemakers who were hard put to manage their summertime youngsters.
Barbara examined Michelle critically, looking for flaws, trying to discover what made her tick. Instead, she found compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Then one afternoon, Michelle’s son was attacked by a group of neighborhood bullies. He barged through the door, dripping with tears, having been pelted with stones, accompanied by jeers of “Jesus freak! Jesus freak!” Barbara watched as Michelle calmly comforted her son and as she prayed for the souls of the bullies. When Barbara asked her how she could remain so composed, Michelle replied, “I’m so angry I can hardly talk, but Romans 12:14 tells us, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.'”
That incident haunted Barbara for days, and as time passed, she questioned Michelle about her beliefs and listened carefully to her answers. “I don’t know if any neighborhood children found Christ that summer because of Michelle’s touch,” said Barbara. “But I know that I did. I found Him because one family lived it in my neighborhood and lived it daily.”
Morgan, R. J. (2000). From this verse: 365 Scriptures That Changed The World (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Let’s never underestimate the impact of consistently living out God’s commands—even if it comes at a high cost!