12:14—Bless our persecutors.
Here is a principle that smacks directly against our natural instinct to want to fight back against those who injure us, hurt our loved ones, or reject our Lord. I once behaved as some of Jesus’ disciples did when they were rejected by a Samaritan town and asked Jesus if they should command fire to come down and destroy the village. Although I had read this story many times, each time being appalled at the disciples’ idiocy and glad Jesus rebuked them, I somehow failed to take its message to heart—until one day Jesus rebuked me for doing the very same thing.
I recall a particular church service during the time I was a pastor. After the meeting I greeted several visitors. When I discerned their opposition to the gospel and then learned they were driving on to another location to proclaim their message, I commanded a curse on their van that it would break down. Was that ever stupid! I immediately sensed the Lord’s displeasure and repented of my foolishness. That experience taught me that in this age of grace, God responds to his enemies with mercy and forbearance.
When Paul wrote these words, the Gospels had not yet been written, but Paul was able to draw from the oral history of Jesus’ sayings, such as these from the Sermon on the Mount:
Luke 6:27-28: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
1. God the Father is the source of all blessings, and those blessings flow through Christ (Ephesians 1:3). When we bless our persecutors, we are asking the Father to open their eyes to Christ.
2. To bless those who persecute us is so contrary to fallen human nature as to be the best evidence of a life transformed by grace. Charles Swindoll: “Grace in response to sin is a quality unique to God, and this ability can only come from Him and be enabled by Him.”
3. Christians’ gracious response to opposition is in stark contrast to many Muslims’ violent reaction when someone dares cross them.
4. The age of grace will one day, maybe soon, come to an end. Those who oppose Christ will no longer receive blessing, but rather encounter God’s wrath. Jesus alone delivers from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; see also Romans 1:18).
Thematic note: This verse on Christians’ response to persecution takes us momentarily away from Paul’s instruction about the relations of Christians with one another. The next two verses revert to harmony in the church, but then verse 17 swings back to relations with outsiders. Perhaps the most we can say about these commands that appear to have little relationship with one another is that avoidance of retaliation is one expression of the “sincere love” and abhorrence of evil Paul wrote of in verse 9, which is the overall theme of this section.
Cultural note: At this time (Paul likely wrote Romans in 57 A.D.) Rome was peaceful and prosperous, benefiting from the Emperor’s wise and compassionate leadership. It may come as a surprise that this Emperor was Nero, who was only 20 years old and listening to the advice of counselors, including the Stoic philosopher Seneca. Things would change drastically in a couple of years when Nero would become a tyrant. I will say more about this when we get to chapter 13. For now we can note that Christians were not going through any severe persecution.
Paul’s command, therefore, appears to be a general one, a principle we should apply whenever we face rejection, injury, nastiness, or ostracism. If your personal life doesn’t give you opportunities to apply it, the culture of the United States may well do so. Let’s bless and pray for our leaders.