Love For Persecutors

(Rom. 12:14-21)

Today’s lesson falls in the overall outline of Romans in the following way:

Theme: The Faithfulness and Righteousness of God (1:16-17)

I. The Need for God's Righteousness (1:18-3:20)

    II. God’s Gracious Provision of Righteousness (3:21-8:39
      III. Israel’s Temporary Rejection of God’s Righteousness in Jesus Christ (9:1-11:36)
        IV. Practical Applications of God’s Righteousness in Life (12:1-15:13)

             Complete Surrender to God (12:1-2)
             Proper Exercise of Spiritual Gifts (12:3-8)
             Love for the Church (12:9-13)
             Love for Persecutors (12:14-21)
             Christian Citizenship (13:1-7)
             Primacy of Love (13:8-10)
             The Nearness of the Day of the Lord Motivates Us to Live Righteously (13:11-14)
             Care for the Weaker Christian (14:1-15:13)

        Romans 12:14-21 continues the theme of personal relationships which began in verse 9. Whereas verses 9-13 focus on positive relationships among Christians, verses 14-21 focus on the hostile relationships Christians encounter. Before looking at these verses though, we need to understand that the NT differentiates between different kinds of hostile relationships. For example, you may experience hostility from Christians and from non-Christians. The NT states that we should respond differently to these 2 situations. For example, the present passage and Jesus’ discussion in the Sermon on the Mount on this issue concern hostility from non-Christians. On the other hand, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus deals with Christians who are not conducting themselves properly in the church, towards other Christians, etc.

        The response of Christians to the 2 situations should differ. In the first case, the Christian should in a sense be passive towards non-Christian persecutors, while in the second case Christians should deal with recalcitrant Christians.

        Notice that Paul does not seek persecution. This needs to be emphasized because some Christians have tended to seek persecution. In the second century some early Christians sought persecution at the hands of the Romans; Chesterton claims that my favorite saint St. Francis preached to the Ottoman Emperor hoping that he would experience martyrdom. From Paul’s example we see that we should actually avoid persecution if at all possible without ever denying our faith in Christ. For example, after Paul suffered persecution from the Jews in Antioch, did he return to Antioch and suffer persecution or go on to Iconium (Acts 13:51)?

        After Paul learned that the Jews and Gentiles were going to persecute him in Iconium, did he remain on in Iconium or did he head on to Lystra (Acts 14:5-6)?

        Although we can avoid persecution if possible, if unavoidable persecution does come our way or if Christ leads us into persecution, such as He led St. Peter and St. Paul towards the end of their lives, we are never to back down in our commitment to Jesus. The primary purpose of the Book of Revelation is to exhort Christians to remain faithful to Jesus no matter the cost in terms of life or property.

        In the case of the Christian causing problems, the recalcitrant Christian gets taken to the woodshed. He is treated like a brother though while being taken to the woodshed though (2 Thess. 3:15); nevertheless, he still gets taken to the woodshed. A lot of churches have suffered terribly either because they did not understand the difference between the 2 responses or else because they refused to act appropriately.

        (14) _______________ those who persecute you; __________________ and curse not.

        As you look at this section, keep in mind its overall context. In Rom. 1-8 Paul instructed us that faith is the proper way to respond to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. This results in following the Holy Spirit on a daily basis so that He can give us His power to live His life. This passage really stresses the need for the Spirit in your life. Men simply retaliate when they've been wronged. To obey what Jesus commands here requires nothing less than the power of the Spirit.

        Paul’s command for us to bless our persecutors instead of cursing them surely hit the first-century world like a bombshell, even among his Jewish readers. For centuries even God’s people believed that those who persecuted them should be wiped off the face of the earth. David does not pray for the salvation of his enemies; he prays for their complete annihilation. Paul though commands us to bless our persecutors. What has happened between the time David wrote Psalms and Paul wrote this verse that should change our attitude towards our non-Christian persecutors?

        Two examples of blessing your enemies can be in found in Luke 23:34 and Acts 7:60. What did Jesus pray after the Jewish religious leaders nailed Him to the cross? What did Stephen pray as the Jewish religious leaders led in his stoning?

        In these 2 examples, we see Christians praying for those who were persecuting them. They were doing just as Jesus had instructed them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:44). Prayer for our persecutors not only fulfills Jesus’ command; it is also the way that we can actually love and bless those who persecute us. Prayer not only gets you in tune with the One who can give you the strength to endure persecution; it also gets you in tune with the One who actually suffered persecution at the hands of His enemies.

        (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. (16) Be of the same mind towards one another. Do not be haughty in mind but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

        Paul is now going to give specific examples of the way we should treat those who persecute us. In verses 15-17 he addresses certain attitudes we should avoid and certain attitudes we should adopt towards our persecutors. When it appears that our persecutors are actually doing well, what should we do?

        When something horrible happens to our persecutors, how should we respond?

        Notice that Paul does not say that we are to feel happy for our persecutors or feel sad. You can't manufacture feelings. You can obey though by doing what he commands us to do. We can call somebody up and congratulate them. We can call them up, offer our sympathy, and even pray for them. What is amazing is that when you do this, the feelings many times follow right along. You end up feeling happy or sad for them. Action though and not feeling is the key.

        I discovered this for myself in a wonderful way. A person at the church I was serving was giving me a really hard time. He tried to find fault in everything I did. I was beginning to develop some really bad attitudes towards him.

        One day I heard that one of his children had gotten into some serious trouble with the law. Now it would have been easy to gloat, but the Lord told me to call him up and tell him that I would pray for him. I couldn’t believe it. I informed the Lord that I wouldn’t know what to say, to which the Lord informed me that I was to obey. So I called him up. He was as surprised as I was by the words flowing from my lips. I couldn’t believe how gracious I was (it was the Lord), and neither could he. This act of mercy changed our relationship to where it is now a wonderful one today.

        It would be really easy to display a superior attitude towards our persecutors: “I’m right; you’re wrong; and you’re going to hell because of what you’re doing to me.” That may actually be the truth; however, it is not to be the attitude we should display towards our persecutors. Paul commands us not to be “_________________ in mind but _____________ with the lowly.”

        (17) Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. (18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

        (First Paul commands us not to return evil for evil. Paul will deal with this at length in verses 19-20.)

        Next Paul lists some positive ways we should treat our enemies. First, he commands us to respect what is right in the sight of all men. How many times do you demonize somebody who is opposed to you? How many times do you completely write off somebody who has shown you hostility? The truth is that your persecutor may actually have some redeeming qualities about them. If so, we need to acknowledge those qualities and try to base our positive response upon those qualities.

        In v. 18 upon whom does Paul place the major responsibility for creating peace?

        Do Christians get persecuted because they are always right, or do they get persecuted sometimes because they deserve it? Defend your claim.

        Job had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet he suffered. Be sure that you are as innocent as Job whenever you claim to be suffering like Job suffered. You may be suffering because you deserve it.

        (19) Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, 'says the Lord.'" (20) But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals upon his head.

        The OT taught people “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Today many Christians act like they should repay in kind. Why do you think Moses gave the Israelites this command in the first place?

        Because we do not retaliate, does that mean that evil-doers will never be brought to justice?

        Why is it important that God bring justice rather than you or I? What is God's purpose in disciplining people? What is normally your purpose in disciplining people? Furthermore, who can do a better job of disciplining people, you or God? Whose timing is better at disciplining, yours or God's? Who knows better how to get to a person, you or God? Finally, ask yourself: "Do always want God to mete out justice? How about all the times you are in the wrong and asked God for mercy? Did you want God to mete out justice then?" You can't have it both ways: punish them and grace us. (See Matt. 7:1.)

        When we repay evil with kindness, Paul says that we are heaping burning coals upon the heads of our persecutors. Their first response to your kindness may be even greater hostility. Later it just may have the effect of softening the heart of your persecutor (an effect retaliation will never produce).

        Here are some specific ways to heap burning coals upon somebody's head. What should you do whenever your persecutor does well financially? What should you do whenever your persecutor suffers some severe financial loss and you have the power to help him? What should you do whenever your persecutor suffers a loss in his family?

        (21) Do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good.

        Verse 21 gives the primary reason why we are not to retaliate. Retaliation destroys the one exacting revenge. As St. Augustine said, “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” By responding the way Paul instructs us here, we will not be overcome with evil but rather will overcome evil with good.

        Note that Paul says we overcome evil with good. By good he means good actions. We're not talking passivity or even feelings. We're talking good actions.

        One of the most tragic chapters in the history of Christianity is the one depicting the way Christians have treated the Jews for the past 1700 years. It did not start out that way since most early Christians were Jews. For the first 100+ years though the Jews led the way in persecuting Christians. Unfortunately, when the tables were turned and Christians gained the upper hand politically, they turned on the Jews. In the 12th century when the Jewish bankers of England loyally financed the wars of Edward I at a small interest rate, he repaid them by driving them out of England. (So Sir Winston Churchill in History of the English-Speaking Peoples.) Christian Europe either led in the Holocaust or turned a blind eye to it. That was simply the climax of over a thousand years of Christian Europe persecuting the Jews.

        Ultimately, the only person destroyed in this game of revenge is the one seeking revenge.