14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Throughout history it has been common for God’s people to be persecuted in varying degrees. Thankfully here where I live, in the United States, for the most part, the persecution is relegated to the form of the free speech of and societal pressure from those who don’t believe the same as I do. In reality this amounts to a threat so innocuous that I hesitate to actually call it persecution. Meanwhile there are those in other parts of the world facing actual physical danger for their faith, and I won’t pretend to know what that’s like. So to that degree of persecution this podcast may not be completely applicable. But, I’m going to do my best to teach this topic given my personal experience, the words I’ve gleaned from my favorite theologian, and the scriptures I was able to find on the topic.
Let’s start with the words of Matthew Henry on Romans 12:14, he said, “It denotes a thorough good-will in all the instances and expressions of it; not, “bless them when you are at prayer, and curse them at other times;” but, “bless them always, and curse not at all.” Cursing, ill-becomes the mouths of those whose work it is to bless God, and whose happiness it is to be blessed of him.” He goes on to identify a four step process of response when you are persecuted:
Speak well of them
Speak respectfully to them
Wish them well
Pray for them
Let’s jump into these four steps right here at the beginning with number one; Speak well of them. In Job 31:29-30 it says;
29Have I rejoiced over
my enemy’s distress,
or become excited when trouble
came his way?
30I have not allowed my mouth to sin by asking for his life with a curse.
This is the thing here, we set the course for our whole person with our tongue; with the words that come out of our mouth. We talked about that before how in James 3:4-5 it says;
4And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
5So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things.
It’s easy to get angry in the face of persecution and speak out of that anger and set your course towards more anger. However, if we’re going to be a credit to the Lord and our faith then we must find something, anything, worth praising about the person persecuting us, and let that be the thing that sets our course.
Once there we must then speak respectfully to them, this is step number two. This one is even harder than number one. Especially when you’re on the internet, you’re faceless, in a chat back and forth. It’s real easy to forget to be respectful to the other person. 1 Peter 3:9 says;
9Not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult, but on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.
This particular verse for me is what comes to mind when I see Christians protesting outside churches or at funerals and things like that totally ignoring the concept of giving respect where it is due and giving a blessing because that’s what we’re called for. Really to me, when they do that, they are making a mockery of the message that I know they want to support. The key is to recognize the position that the person you feel has persecuted you or your ideals holds and give them the appropriate level of respect that is due. If you are perceiving bitterness from them then avoid bitterness in yourself at all costs; if they’re railing on you, insult for insult, then refuse to rail back, refuse to return those insults.
Wish them well, put revenge far away from your mind and desire only good for them. Exodus 23:4-5 tells us:
4If you come across your enemy’s stray ox or donkey, you must return it to him.
5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, and you want to refrain from helping it, you must help it.
I know that particular couple of verses doesn’t really pertain directly to our day to day lives for most of us, but it’s right there in that vein of what we’re talking about here. You still have to do the right thing, you have to not seek revenge, even though they are your enemy. If you really just can’t get the revenge thing out of your mind then just heed Proverbs 25:21-22:
21If your enemy is hungry, give him
food to eat
and if he is thirsty, give him water
22for you will heap burning coals
on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
In the fourth step where we pray for them we have to take that desire for good for them that we hopefully were able to drum up in step three and pray that over them. Sometimes this really is the only, and always the best, thing we can do. Honestly pray for their good. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus tells us to;
44Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat and persecute you,
I remember years ago working for a Christian ministry where we had prayer every morning. The United States was at war and everyone was abuzz about Saddam Hussein. Several mornings well intentioned folks who were in charge of leading prayer that day would stand up in front of our department and pray that our soldiers would find Saddam Hussein and kill him. I was dumbfounded, aghast, speechless; I was broken-hearted. Unfortunately I was also too cowardly to speak up. We, as Christians, shouldn’t be praying for the death of our enemies, but their salvation and their prosperity. We should be praying that God would turn the hearts of those like Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and Kim Jong-un. Turn their hearts to Himself and use their power and influence to usher in mighty moves of the Holy Spirit.
Given that verbal rogues’ gallery we find ourselves at the only part of this podcast where we’re going to deal directly with persecution to the point of death. The words of Jesus while hanging on the cross are legendarily known in this area
34Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.
It’s easy to trivialize this statement though because It was Jesus saying it and we all know the dude’s a Haus. It may just be me, but I mean He’s the standard that we all want to live up to and honestly wonder if we’ll ever really get there. So we turn to Acts 7 starting in verse 57;
57They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him.
58They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
60He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” and after saying this, he died.
Until next time…