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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Beginning with this verse and continuing until the end of the chapter, Paul gives us a series of exhortations that concern our behavior in the midst of an evil world. This particular exhortation is short and very easy to overlook as one is reading through the chapter; yet, it is so hard to follow.
Paul exhorts, "Bless those who persecute you." First notice, Paul implies that we will be persecuted. In a letter to Timothy, Paul more clearly states: "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12). Persecution comes to Christians in many forms and degrees. Certainly, most of us in America do not experience the severity of persecution that the Christians in Paul's time did. Perhaps, though, in light of II Tim. 3:12, if we are not experiencing any persecution, we should consider whether we are showing our love for Christ as much as we should. Active, fervent, bold Christianity will bring persecution. So, those who experience persecution should not despair, especially in light of the great hope that we have. As Paul, we should say, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
Beyond this, we are to "bless those who persecute us." Paul words this exhortation as a command; it is not a choice. Our Christian behavior--our good deeds and prayers--should not only be directed at other Christians, but also at non-Christians, and even our enemies. If Pharoah asks for a blessing (see Ex. 12:32), we are to bless him; more than that, as Christians, we should have blessed him before he asked. To the extent we can do this, we are truly "Christ"ians, for Christ blessed His enemies, even as they were nailing Him to the cross, saying, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34). In the same way, God blesses greatly even those who sin against Him.
What does it mean to "bless" our enemies? The word Paul uses signifies doing good for one's enemy, as well as praying for them. We are to bless them physically, by actively doing good works for them, as well as spiritually, by praying for them. So, Christians have a very high standard to meet by actively seeking the good of our enemies.
Concerning the physical aspect of blessing your enemy, Paul exhorts us later in this chapter: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" (Rom. 12:20). Doing a good turn for your enemy will do much more to mitigate his persecution than any amount of self-defense.
Concerning the spiritual aspect of blessing your enemy, Christ Himself exhorted: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:44). Rather than hoping for the worst for our enemy, we should pray for their best, sincerely desiring their happiness. We should pray specifically for their needs, just as we do for our loved ones. We should also, at the same time, thank God for what He has done in our lives; for, but for the grace of God, we too could be persecuting God's people.
Paul goes on to restate his exhortation: "Bless and do not curse." We are not to bless and at the same time curse. Our blessing of our enemies does not give us the right to curse them. Some would bless in public, but curse in private; however, this exhortation concerns private as well as public behavior. We are, again, to bless in public by doing good works, and bless in private by praying for our enemies.
Indeed, the temptation to curse is great; it is the way of the world. We must be careful. When we are in conversation with worldly people, it is so easy to fall in with them and begin to curse men. They do it so naturally, at times with vile language, by slandering, scorning, reviling, etc. We should be different. As James points out: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be" (James 3:9-10). In such conversations, we should think of a way in which we can bless those who are being cursed: repudiate the reviling of the person being cursed, speak of a redeeming quality of that person that can be praised, or, at the very least, show displeasure with the conversation by walking away from it.
The easiest way to avoid cursing is to continue to bless. By blessing, we lose opportunity to curse; blessing keeps us from cursing. In fact, we had better bless; otherwise, we will usually fall into cursing (this being our tendency), for it is very difficult to remain neutral in anything. To continually bless, though, is near impossible for us in our natural selves. But "what is impossible with men is possible with God" (Luke 18:27), so we should seek His guidance in blessing our enemies continually, never cursing them.
And so Father, show us by Your Spirit ways in which we can bless our enemies, and give us the moral strength to do so. Point out to us qualities in our enemies that we can love; give us the heart of Christ, who loved all, even those who persecuted Him. In His name we ask these things, Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue our study in Romans 12 by looking at verse 15)
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