Getting Along With Others

Romans 12:14

October 4, 2009 | Brian Bill

Have I ever mentioned to you that there’s a lot of persecution for Packer fans here in Illinois?  I’ve told my dad this many times but I’m not sure he really believed me until last Sunday afternoon when my parents came down from Wisconsin and we met them at a local restaurant.  They arrived before we did so they walked around for awhile, looking for a TV that had the Packer game on.  They eventually found some guys watching a large-screen TV in another part of the building and went into the room and asked if they would mind flipping to the Packer game.  One guy turned to them and said, “Packers?  No way.”  The others were equally rude and by their body language my parents knew they better leave.  When my dad was telling me about this persecution I told him that’s just how it is in Illinois.  

When I was studying the passage for today I realized that I have a biblical responsibility to bless and not blast Bears fans.  In the face of persistent Packer persecution, I must take the high road and no longer denigrate those who were so easily defeated in the first game of the season.  Here’s the verse we’re focusing on today from Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Did I mention that this passage is not popular and that it runs contrary to the inclination of our flesh?  We’re to respond exactly opposite from the way of the world which says, “Do unto others before they do it to you.”  Let me also point out that in New Testament times, Christians were targets for persecution of one sort or another.  

The believers in Rome were blamed for a fire that swept through the city. As a result, the emperor Nero had scores of Christians slaughtered.  One writer puts it this way: “Nero wrapped the Christians in pitch and set them alight, and used them as living torches to light his gardens.  He sewed them into skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death.  They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them… eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to lengthen the agony.  These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.” 

With that as background, it sure seems impossible for believers to bless those who are intent on harming them, doesn’t it?  How many of you have ever had somebody in your life that you just couldn’t stand?  Most of us want to write off those who’ve wronged us.  Let’s take a closer look at this verse.  We’re told to do something and then we’re told to not do something else.  

1. Bless persecutors. 

We notice right away that the word “bless” is used twice, perhaps to underscore its importance and to emphasize the admonition.  We can’t really say that we didn’t see it there or we’re not sure what God wants us to do.  He repeats it just in case we might use an excuse or try to change the meaning: “Bless those…bless and do not…” The word comes from two words “to speak” and “well,” thus, to speak well of a person.  Our English word “eulogize” comes directly from the spelling of the Greek word used here.  To bless someone is to celebrate and praise them and to then ask that they might enjoy the blessings of God; that He would pour out His goodness, grace and mercy upon them.  Now, let’s just admit that it’s much easier to praise someone who pleases us.  How in the world can we give praise to someone who is set on persecuting us?

We’re to pray for those who are preying on us

The idea behind “persecute” is to press hard after, to pursue with earnestness and diligence.  It gets even more complicated when we realize that the verb is in the present imperative which commands an ongoing action.  The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest offers this translation: “Be constantly blessing those who are constantly persecuting you.”  We can’t just bless our persecutors one time and be done with it.  Instead we’re called to do it persistently.  We’re to pray for those who are preying on us.  This reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and Luke 6:27-28: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

This is radical teaching because we’re told to not just retaliate but we’re told to do something that isn’t very reflexive.  Let’s say this verse of Scripture again so it gets into our heads: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

After Richard Wumbrand was released from prison in Romania for preaching the gospel, he was asked this question many times: “How can you love someone who is torturing you?”  His answer is astonishing: “By looking at men…not as they are, but as they will be…I could also see in our persecutors a Saul of Tarsus—a future Apostle Paul.  Many officers of the secret police to whom we witnessed became Christians and were happy to later suffer in prison for having found our Christ.  Although we were whipped, as Paul was, in our jailers we saw the potential of the jailer in Philippi who became a convert.  We dreamed that soon they would ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’” 

2. Don’t blast persecutors. 

The word “curse” doesn’t refer to swearing or using profanity but means “to doom, and wish evil upon.”  The construction in the Greek forbids the continuance of an action already going on.  The Christians in Rome were already responding with cursing.  We could say it like this: “Stop cursing.” (Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament).  One commentator points out that to curse denotes a devotion to destruction.  We’re being warned here against using wicked words towards those who are doing destructive things to us.  Both blessings and cursings are pronouncements of the mouth that have to do with the future well-being of the one we’re talking about.  

We might be prone to proclaim something like this toward a person we dislike: “I wish you would just die.”  Or when we say, “So and so can just go to …” Or when we say, “He’s a worthless human being…”  The word curse means to wish evil upon someone even going so far as to ask God to bring injury, harm or misfortune on the one who has wronged us.

I can sense the push back big time right about now.  It doesn’t seem fair to seek God’s blessings on someone who is out to harm us, does it?  Most of us are quick to curse and complain, not just in the face of persecution but also when we are inconvenienced or embarrassed.  How in the world can we do something like this when we just want to take their head off?   Why wouldn’t we retaliate against someone who is out to get us?  

That reminds me of what the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev once said: “The difference between Communism and Christianity is great.  When someone strikes you on the face, you turn the other cheek.  If you strike me on the face, I’ll hit you so hard your head will fall off.” That’s in contrast to what Abraham Lincoln said when he was being criticized for his gracious attitude toward his opponents.  “Why do you try to make friends with them?” a colleague asked.  “You should destroy them!”  To which the President gently replied, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Check this out.  We are to bless because we have been blessed and we are to avoid cursing because Jesus became a curse for us.  Let’s repeat Romans 12:14 again: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Persecution Will Become More Prevalent

We know from other passages that persecution will become more prevalent the closer we get to Christ’s second coming.  Some of us have bought into the belief that once we have Jesus in our life, everything will go great.  Maybe we’ve even thought that we should be successful and financially well off.  Actually, the Bible says that the exact opposite will happen for those who honor and obey Christ.  Listen to Acts 14:22: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  

Jesus never taught the “prosperity gospel,” but He did preach the “persecution gospel.”  We read the final beatitude in Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

One could make a case that there is more and more hostility toward Christians in our culture today.  John Stott suggests that we should not be surprised if anti-Christian hostility increases, but rather be surprised if it does not.  In John 15:20, Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  In John 16:33 He adds, “…In this world you will have trouble…”  The Augsburg Confession defines the church as the community of those “who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake.”  Speaking of their futures, in Matthew 24:9, Jesus told the disciples that they would face incredible struggles: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”  

2 Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”    Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”  

Why is persecution so pervasive?  Simply put, according to John Piper, it’s due to the nature of Christianity and the sinfulness of human beings.  There is such a tension between the message and way of life of Christians and the mindset and way of the world, that conflict is inevitable.  We will be persecuted because of the life we live and because of the Lord we love.  Sadly, we’ve made the Christian life way too painless.  We’ve gone along and gotten along.  Let me ask you a few questions: What have you done in the last month that has caused anyone to challenge your faith?  When have you risked speaking out for Jesus?  How have you defended the cause of Christ?  Have you identified yourself as a Christ follower?  Maybe you’ve not said anything against Jesus…you really haven’t said anything at all.  Perhaps you’re not persecuted because people don’t see the Savior in your life.  

Let’s say our Scripture again from Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Making it Personal

Take some time to ask God to bless instead of blast that person you’re thinking of right now.  Someone has observed that our enemies are not necessarily those who hate us as much as they are people that we hate.  Who has wronged you more than others?  It’s reflexive to want people to hurt as much we hurt.  Pray right now for that individual who has hurt you so bad; that parent who has wounded you; that child who has broken your heart; that friend who just turned on you; that coworker who spread lies about you; that bully at school; that ex-wife or ex-husband; that in-law who loathes you.  And now think of what you can do to give a verbal blessing to him or her this week.  

The mere practice of blessing instead of blasting will change you

Some of you are really struggling to do that, aren’t you?   I like the practical advice that Ray Pritchard gives at this point: “When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you.”  Take a stab at it.  The mere practice of blessing instead of blasting will change you.  The shift in your spirit may be incremental.  Maybe you’ll hate that person 10% less and then 30% less and then who knows what God will do in your heart?  Instead of seeking retribution ask God to help you be redemptive.  Use your words to tenderize your tormentor.  Who knows, but maybe God will use you to reach the person that has been persecuting you as they see Jesus Christ in you.

It really comes down to this.  Do I really believe that if I follow what the Bible says that God will show up and do what only He can do?  It’s a matter of obedience, isn’t it?  Let’s say it again from Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

As we survey the world, most of us are not experiencing anything close to what Christians in other cultures are going through today.   Hebrews 13:3 provides quite a challenge, and even an indictment for us: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

It’s good for us to focus on the plight of the persecuted in other countries for at least two reasons.  First, they are requesting us to pray for them.  And second, it helps to put our own problems into perspective. 

Prayer Time

The Union of Communion

The idea of blessing and not blasting our persecutors goes against all of our instincts.  But isn’t that the point?  Love is demonstrated most clearly when it is directed to those who deserve it the least.  Jesus provides a pattern for our prayers when he cried out from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  

Think about how Jesus died.  Scott Grant puts it like this: “He absorbed sin instead of spitting it back into circulation.  He defeated sin by refusing to pay back evil for evil… He gave us victory over sin, death and Satan…The death of Jesus Christ is more than an example; it is an accomplishment.”

The word “communion” means “unity or spiritual union.”  As we celebrate communion this morning, it’s important for us to ask if we’re in spiritual union with Christ, with each other, and with the church around the world.

First of all, does Jesus occupy first place in my life?  Am I in communion with Him?  John Piper writes: “The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life.  Jesus said, ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’  In other words, it is better to lose your life than it is to waste it.  This…is not about how to avoid a wounded life but how to avoid a wasted life.  Some of you will die in the service of Christ.  That will not be a tragedy.  Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy.”  (From the preface of “Don’t Waste Your Life.”)  Many years ago G.K. Chesterton sent a letter to the editor of a newspaper in response to the question, “What is wrong with the world today?”  Here was his answer: “Dear sir, I am.”  Your real enemy is not the person who annoys you or who seeks to annihilate you.  The real enemy in your life is you.  The real enemy in my life is me.  It was Pogo who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Take some time right now to confess any sins that God brings to mind.

Secondly, before we take communion, it’s important to consider whether or not we are out of sync with a sister or brother in Christ.  Are you in union with everyone?  If not, do what it takes to make things right by doing all that is possible to live in peace (we’ll talk more about this next week).  Make a bridge to that person.  Don’t wait for him or her to come to you.  

Thirdly, communion has a global element to it.  It blows me away to consider that God’s work is going on all over the world.  Are you a global Christian or are you guilty like me of thinking only of our little world here?  Did you know that more Christians have died for their faith in the last 100 years than in the previous 19 centuries combined?  

I’m going to read 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 as we prepare ourselves for communion: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  Let’s take a couple minutes for some self-examination.  Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I in communion with Christ?
  2. Am I in communion with everyone in this room?
  3. Am I in communion with Christians around the world?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?