Bless Them That Persecute You
Why Bless When Persecuted?

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 65c of 83

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

[We have considered what it is to be persecuted and how we should respond to persecution. We must now conclude by considering why our Lord teaches us to bless our persecutors. —JJL]

3.     Why Bless when Persecuted?

Blessing rather than cursing someone who persecutes you is rather unnatural. You need grace to do it. But why? Why should you bless and curse not when persecuted?

Paul gives us three reasons:

First, it is commanded by the Lord. The apostle Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The word rendered ‘bless’ is originally written in the Greek present imperative. This means that it is a command. It is a command to keep doing it. It is a command that is given unconditionally.

“Whenever, you are persecuted,” Paul is saying, “you must bless and not curse.” You are to persist in doing do. You must not bless only when your persecutor is worthy of your blessing. You must bless because God has commanded you to do so.

Obedience to this command is so important that the apostle, as it were, nags at us to obey it: “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not… 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil.… avenge not yourselves… 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So, the first reason why we must bless and curse not when we are persecuted is simply that we are commanded to do so by the Lord.

Secondly, we must bless and not curse our persecutor because vengeance belongs to God. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (v. 19). It is the honour of God to take revenge for us. We must not rob God of His honour.

God has reserved the honour of revenge not only to demonstrate His love for us by relieving us of a grievous burden, but also because He alone can see all things clearly. When we are persecuted, we can never see the issues clearly. We can never fully understand the motive behind our persecutor; we can never really be sure that we are altogether righteous.

Very often when we are persecuted, it is partly because of our desire to act righteously and partly because of our sinful actions.

If we try to repay our persecutors, it is likely that we will turn out becoming a greater debtor than an aggrieved party. Only God can repay our persecutors with perfect justice.

Vengeance belongs to God. This is the second reason why we must bless and not curse when we are persecuted.

Thirdly, we must bless our persecutor, because if we do so, we shall “heap coals of fire on his head” (v. 20). What does that mean?

Well, I agree with Matthew Henry that this is a paradoxical, two-edged sword. It is like applying heat to an unknown substance. If it is gold, it will be purified. If it is wood, it will be burned up.

When you do good to your persecutor, you will heap coals of fire on his head in that one of two things could happen.

Either you will melt him to repentance and friendship; or you will aggravate his condemnation by making his malice against you more inexcusable.

Think of what David did to Saul. Saul was persecuting and pursuing after David out of jealousy. On two occasions David had the opportunity of killing Saul to get back at him. But David did not do so. Instead, he dealt kindly with him. What was Saul’s reaction?

On the first occasion, he said to David:

“Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil” (1 Sam 24:17).

On the second occasion, he said to David:

“I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly” (1 Sam 26:21).

Can you see how David’s blessing Saul instead of cursing him melted his heart and brought him to repent of his sin against him?

Can you also see how greatly his sin against David would be aggravated had he sought to kill him again?

Therefore, if someone persecute you, bless rather than curse him. Follow David’s example. David had no qualms calling upon God to judge those who persecute him. He says in Psalm 140—

“Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again” (Ps 140:10).

David was calling upon God to judge his persecutors, whether Saul, or Doeg, or Shimei, or Absalom, or Ahithophel. But he himself would not lay hands on them. He would not hesitate to execute criminals, but he would not lay hand on criminals who persecute him. He knew that only God can vindicate justly.

Now, if you follow David’s example, and your persecutor takes advantage of it, then you may go to the Lord to seek vindication like David did in Psalm 140. You may ask God to heap coals of fire on their head in chastisement.

But on your part, you must do good in order that you will heaps coals of fire upon your persecutor’s head. If you do so, you may melt him to repentance, or if he hardens himself against you, you will be adding to his condemnation. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.

So then, we must bless and not curse our persecutors, (1) because we are commanded to do so, (2) because vengeance belongs to the Lord, and (3) because when we bless we heap coals of fire upon them.

But now, there is another good reason why we must bless and not curse our persecutors. This reason is not given directly by the apostle Paul in our text. But it is explicitly taught by the apostle Peter and it is essential that we consider it. I am referring to what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:21-23—

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:  22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…” (1 Pet 2:21-23).

Now, 1 Peter 2:21 has been used by the WWJD (“What Will Jesus Do”) movement. They teach that whenever you want to make any decision you should consider what Jesus would do and then do it. But what is the apostle Peter really teaching us? He is teaching us, not to render evil for evil, but blessing for evil (1 Pet 3:9), isn’t he?

In other words, we must follow the example of our Lord. We must bless and not curse our persecutors because Christ Jesus our Lord sets us an example to follow of not cursing, threatening or reviling those who persecuted Him.

In fact, in the Gospel record, we see our Lord praying on the Cross for those who crucified Him. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” He belaboured (Lk 23:34).


We were enemies of God. We sinned against him. We deserve His wrath and His curse.

But what did the Lord Jesus do to us? He lived for us; He suffered for us. The chastisement of our peace was upon His shoulders. Instead punishing us for our sins, He took our punishment due upon Himself.

He was punished for us. He was stricken for us. He was nailed to the Cross for us. He bled for us. He was forsaken by His Father because our guilt was upon Him.

He suffered and died for us. It was our sin that brought Him the pain that He suffered on the Cross. All these He did, not only to reconcile us to God, but to set us an example that we may live as the sons and daughters of God.

How then can we harden our hearts by refusing His godly example? Has someone hurt you by His words and actions? The world will tell you that you have a right to retaliate, or you have a right to be angry and you have a right to hit back in words and actions, or you have a right to bear a grudge.

But you know better than this, dear Christian. If Christ had exercised His right against you, you will perish for ever and ever.

Will you not follow His example? Yes, the Scripture teaches us that forgiveness can only be given upon repentance. But Christ also sets us the example of having a forgiving spirit and taking initiative to effect repentance.

He died for us first before we even repented of our sin. Will you not do good to those who persecute you or hurt you even before they repent of their sin and come to you to seek forgiveness?

This is the cross you must bear as a disciple of Christ. It is a privilege to bear this cross for this cross the cross of Christ! Therefore, you must bear it cheerfully like Simon of Cyrene. Take up the cross of Christ and follow after Him. Blessed are you who have this privilege of bearing the Cross of Christ.

Will you not follow the example of Christ as one who has received innumerable undeserved blessing from Him? “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” Amen.

—JJ Lim