Romans 12:14. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Yesterday we introduced this idea of loving our enemies. We said that the love of enemies is the highest love. It is a love that is at the very heart of who God is. Sacrificial love is great love. But sacrificial love for an enemy is even greater. God loves his enemies. Christ died for his enemies.
In Romans 12:14 Paul dares to take us one step further – love your persecutor.
You see in the first century your “enemy” was anyone who was not part of your “in group.” Every person had their “in groups” and their “out groups.” I love those in my “in group” and I “hate” those in my “out group.” That is I shun them, ignore them, dismiss them. Pharisees don’t pray with tax collectors. Jewish men don’t talk to Samaritan women at wells. The religious and prostitutes don’t sit at the same table. And Jews and Gentiles definitely don’t become a whole new religion together. That is until they are IN CHRIST.
OK so Jesus (and Paul) want us to be inclusive. To tear down walls. To strive for unity. Put aside differences. Sounds great. We can all get behind that.
But now read Romans 12:14 again. Bless those who persecute you (see Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:28).
Surely Jesus (and Paul) don’t mean that.
And if Jesus (and Paul) hadn’t actually lived this, we would be justified in dismissing this completely and going back to just trying to get along with the people in our family and a few co-workers that we can sort of tolerate.
But the truth is that this verse IS the gospel. God blessed those who persecuted him. Jesus forgave his murderers. He redeemed his torturers. He did not curse his mockers. He literally poured out God’s greatest blessing, his very own life blood, for the whole world, all of whom were and still are his persecutors. Including you and me.
So, once again, we know this can be done. It was done by Jesus. And he wants to continue to do it through you. Through his life in you. Blessing his persecutors through you.
Maybe the problem for those of us in America is that this idea of persecution is too abstract. What persecution do I actually face? Sure people sometimes disagree with me, or maybe even avoid me because I am a Christian. But I rarely face true hostility.
But for the rest of the world’s Christians this is a command that confronts the renewed mind and heart far more often. Open Door USA reports that 245 million Christians are experiencing religious persecution today. 80% of the religious persecution in the world is targeted at Christians. I’m talking about real persecution. Violence. Rape. Kidnapping. Church bombings.
We were reminded once again of the persecution that Christians face when terrorists attacked churches in Sri Lanka this past Easter Sunday killing hundreds of innocent worshipers.
Our hearts ache for these victims. If my next words were “we need to love our Christian brothers and sisters, pray for them, and bless them,” you would have absolutely no problem with such a sentiment. You may struggle to follow through, but you would agree that we all should love in this way.
But if my next words were “we need to love those radical Muslims and terrorists who planned and executed these attacks. We need to pray for them and their families. We must ask God to bless and not curse them. We must ask God to forgive and save them. We too must find forgiveness in our hearts. We must reject retaliation and hatred. We must even be kind to them.”
Only understanding your own sinfulness and God’s grace toward you can allow you to say such words. Only understanding your son-ship in Christ can bring you to these conclusions. Only knowing that Christ is in you, and that these are the exact words and actions he displayed at the cross, can allow you to say and truly believe these words.
Please understand that this in no way negates the need for and the heartfelt cry for justice. Romans 12:14 and the command of our Savior to bless our persecutors does not mean that there is no divine recompense for evil, or that God doesn’t care about the victim’s pain and suffering. We will address this further in a future blog, but for now we must realize that it is precisely because of God’s ultimate justice that I can obey Romans 12:14 and bless and curse not.
“To live is Christ” means that we have the genuine love of Jesus inside of us. He loves us, his persecutors. We killed him. We nailed him to the cross. We ignored, mocked, and belittled him. And yet he forgave us and blessed us with his own indwelling life. His same powerful love is in you and me.
For my American readers – I know it is easy to ignore the persecution that our brothers and sisters in Christ face each and every day around the world. Please don’t. Read about it. Research it. Pray. Pray. Pray. It’s coming our way. I promise. It’s just a matter of time. How will you respond? How will you teach your children and grandchildren to respond? With love? With forgiveness? With blessing? Or with cursing?