Bless Them That Persecute You
Response To Persecution

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 65a of 83

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not” (Romans 12:14).

For eleven chapters in this great epistle, the apostle Paul did not give so much as a few applicatory instructions for his readers (see Rom 6:11-13 and 11:18-22). But so soon as He finished explaining the gospel of Christ and making sure that no one misreads him as suggesting we can be accepted of God by our works, so soon does he issue a barrage of biblical imperatives.

The text we are considering, as a case in point, is part of a list of about 15 directives on how the church may grow together in unity of love.

If you read this verse in context, you may realise that this instruction is repeated from a different angle in the first part of verse 17, and then enlarged from verse 19 to the end of the chapter after Paul has completed listing the 15 or so directives.

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil.… 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21).

This repetition indicates that it is a matter of grave concern for the apostle; and a matter that the Holy Spirit wants us to pay especial attention on.

With this in mind, let us consider the instruction under three heads. First, we must understand what it means to be persecuted. Secondly, we must consider what the Holy Spirit would have us do when we are persecuted; and thirdly, why we should do as instructed?

1.   Nature of Persecution

The word rendered ‘persecute’ (διώκω, diōkō) speaks of following after someone, or pursuing after someone in a hostile manner.

Picture in your mind an angry dog chasing a rabbit. This is a literal picture of what it is to persecute or to be persecuted. The dog is persecuting the rabbit; the rabbit is being persecuted by the dog.

The apostle Paul is, of course, not concerned about dogs and rabbits. He is concerned about Christians being persecuted for their faith.

Such persecution, you must realise, does not always involve physical pursuit. To persecute is to cause to suffer or to vex and harass. This can take the form of physical torment such as torture and imprisonment; or it can take the form of verbal abuse such as slander, ridicule, misjudgement and scolding.

Those who are persecuted face tremendous pressures. They are often forced to flee from their persecutors.

Indeed, the Gospel spread very rapidly in the first century partly because the early Christians were persecuted and forced to flee their homes.

We read this in Acts 8—

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria,… Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4).

Therefore, what was at first sight bad for the church at Jerusalem, turned out for the good and advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

But that was not the only time when Christians faced persecution. Christians have experienced persecution in every age.

Many times, the persecutions were so severe that lives were threatened. We think of the times when Saul persecuted David, or when Ahab sought to exterminate those who would not bow down to Baal, or when the wicked officers of Nebuchadnezzar betrayed Daniel’s three friends, or when the jealous servants of Darius tried to kill Daniel, or when Saul of Tarsus tortured the Christians, or when Nero put the blame on Christians for the fire of Rome and killed and tortured many of them for fun.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” says the Church Father, Tertullian.

But let us remember that persecution does not always involve a threat to life.

Persecution can take many forms. It can happen at the work place, at school, at home, or even in the church.

Many of us would have experienced it.

Some of us have been persecuted at the work place. For example, we hear of how some bosses, knowing the meekness of Christians, would subtly put the blame for their failures in certain projects on the Christians. Deep in their hearts, they know it is not fair to blame the Christians. But they know that most Christians will not fight back—especially when they had refused to work on the Sabbath, or refused to entertain guests at pubs.

Some of us have been persecuted in school. If you are just an ordinary professing Christian, you will not be persecuted because you will be just like everyone else. You will like the games that everyone else likes; you will talk in the way that everyone else talks; you will laugh as everyone laughs. No one will have any problem with you.

But if you are a biblical Christian, you will face isolation and persecution. Your classmates will talk behind your back, and some of the naughtier ones may even play pranks on you—just to see how you would react.

And yes, some of us have been persecuted at home. I know of one young man who was chased out of his home with a broomstick when he asked his father for permission to seek baptism.

What about in church? Yes, sadly, some of us have also been persecuted in church. Some of us would have experienced it in our former churches. We were persecuted because we were convinced that the church was holding to some heresy or false practices.

Perhaps if we were more charitable and more diplomatic in our speech, we might not have been persecuted. But we spoke about our concerns, and we were regarded as troublemakers, foxes that spoil the vine and little devils. We were persecuted; we were forced to flee!

Have you ever faced persecution, dear reader?

If you are just an ordinary professing Christian willing to drift with the tide, you will not face persecution. But if you are a faithful disciple of Christ, I know you would have faced persecution and you may still be facing persecution! At least, you may feel that you are being persecuted.

How do I know that? Because the Lord suggests that this would be the case. This is what the Lord said to his disciples—

“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn 15:20)

Are you a faithful disciple of Christ? Remember what the Lord said: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

The world loves darkness and hates the light. The world hates the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Therefore, the world hates anything that reflects the light. If you are a faithful disciple of Christ, your life will revolve around the Sun of Righteousness; you will reflect the light of Christ; and the world will hate you. Anyone who thinks He is not shining as brightly as you are will despise you.

Well, they may not say they hate you or despise you. But they will show it by their actions and their interactions with you. They will show that they are uncomfortable in your presence. They will not enjoy talking to you because they find themselves very guarded when they talk to you.

They know that you are more righteous then them, but they will refuse to acknowledge it. Instead they will try to make you feel that you are strange or you deserve to be isolated and persecuted.

But dear brother or sister in Christ, take courage when you are persecuted. The Lord Jesus understands your pains, and He says:

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt 5:10-12).

Therefore, do not be discouraged by persecution. Thank God rather, for the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ!

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim