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 65b of 83

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

[We saw previously how all believers can expect to be persecuted. Persecution does not only come from outside the church. It can also come from within the visible church, and does not necessarily involve physical torments. It also includes verbal abuse and psychological oppression.

In this second part of our study, we shall consider how we should respond to persecution. —JJL]

2.   Response to Persecution

Bite a dog or a sow and you can be sure that it will bite you back. So likewise, the natural man will always retaliate when they are attacked.

And so too the Christian will be tempted to retaliate when they are hurt. The Christian, after all, has a remnant of corruption remaining in him. Therefore, when we are persecuted, we will be tempted to do something in return. And if we cannot do anything, then we will be tempted to say something to slander, gossip or murmur. These are but more subtle ways of retaliating.

But retaliating when persecuted is always wrong. The apostle says:

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”

What does he mean? What does it mean to bless and not to curse? Now, literally, to bless (εὐλογέω, eulogeō) is to say a good word. It may be a word of praise, of thanksgiving, of hope or of prayer.

Conversely, to curse (καταράομαι, kataraomai) is to say a negative or hurtful word. It may be a word scolding, or a word of imprecation.

But blessing and cursing need not be restricted to words. They include non-verbal acts. To bless is to do good. To curse is to do evil.

The Lord Jesus says:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

When the apostle Paul says “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not,” he is essentially teaching us the same thing. That is to say, when we are persecuted we must not retaliate with our tongue, nor with our hands. We must instead seek to do good to our persecutor.

Paul says in verse 20—

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink

Does this mean that you do not need to do anything if your persecutor is not hungry or thirsty?

No, no; what Paul is saying is that you must take every opportunity to be kind to those who persecute you.

So, when someone says something nasty to you, and you feel persecuted, do not give in to the temptation to return evil for evil.

So when your persecutor tells you what he does not like about you, you must not give in to the temptation to say what you do not like about him in return. That is how quarrels erupt into volcanic proportions, is it not?

Cynthia says: “I don’t the way you speak?” Eunice replies: “You think I like the way you speak? I find you rude and obnoxious! In fact, your breath stinks!”

Instead of trading painful words, we should receive the words of persecution as Christians should. Words of persecution are like arrows shooting our way. How should you receive arrows? Do not receive it as a marble statue for the marble chips will hurt those around you; and you yourself may crack up. Rather, you should receive persecuting arrows like a stout oak tree. That way the energy of the arrows will be wasted on you.

So instead of retaliating with angry words, reply with soft answer bearing in mind the example of Christ, who when He was reviled, “reviled not again” (1 Pet 2:23). Thus, if you feel persecuted by a comment that a fellow believer made, you may want to reply: “Thank you for letting me know. Can you share with me, how you think I can improve?” In this way, you become a blessing to your persecutor. If you retaliate and stir up anger, you become a curse.

Of course, you must be sincere in your approach. You must not say something in front of your persecutor, but behind his back murmur, or gossip about him hypocritically.

If you need to say anything about him, you should rather seek to say something good about him. Though your persecutor is ready to tear you apart and to destroy your reputation before others, you must be ready rather to be a blessing, by saying a good or helpful word about him when you are asked.

Beyond that you must also seek to do good to your persecutor in practical ways. Has he hurt you? Instead of hurting him in return, you must pray for him. You should pray for him like Stephen even as he was being stoned by the Jews: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).

And not just pray, but when you have the opportunity, you should do something kind to him. Is he sick? You should visit him. Is he in trouble? You should offer your help.  We must learn to be like Thomas Cranmer, for it was said that the way for a man to make Cranmer his friend was to do him an ill turn! Cranmer was surely Christlike in that regard.

Whoever your persecutor may be, whatever the reason he persecutes you, wherever you may be, you must bless him. You must bless rather than curse. You must do good in return, rather than do evil.

This is a principle you must apply in your relationships with others outside the church and it is also a principle you must apply in your relationship with those in the church too.

Yes, you can feel persecuted in the church too! Whether or not there is an intention to persecute you, you can feel persecuted by some insensitive or unkind words. What should you do when you feel persecuted? You must bless and not curse! Notice how Paul puts this across in 1 Thessalonians 5:15—

“See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”

This is surely a principle that all believers will do well to remember. We are always to seek to do good not only to each other, but also to others, including those whom we perceive to be persecuting us. We would do well to remember the golden principle of our Lord that whatever we would that men should do to us, we should also do likewise (Lk 6:31). This is especially so in the covenant community. How many times have hurt others unintentionally because of your insensitive words, and are surprised at the angry retort? When that happens, don’t you wish that the person hurt, would give you more benefit of the doubt so that instead of thinking you were malicious, think that you either misspoke or that he misunderstood? Well, if you would have others do that for you, then do the same to others when you perceive that someone is attacking you by his words.

In any case, in order to encourage us to this godly response when being persecuted, Paul goes on to explain why we should bless and curse not when persecuted.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim