WALKING IN LOVE
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
All these weeks, we have been studying about walking in love, particularly in the way we act, behave and conduct ourselves. Accordingly, last week we looked at hospitality and distributing to the needs of saints. Today onwards we are going to look at another dimension to walking in love, that is, with regard to our reactions to various life situations.
We live in a very complicated and sinful world. As a result, there are many things that happen around us that upset us and hurt us. In fact Jesus Himself promised us that we will have many tribulations in this world. Unfair treatment, injustice and intense persecution are some of the many things that we will face. So, let us see what the Bible says about it and how we as Christians are expected to respond to it.
THREE THINGS ABOUT PERSECUTION
- CERTAINITY OF PERSECUTION
The Bible guarantees us that if we are Christians, we will definitely face persecution. Jesus Himself attested to it in many different places. Let’s look at some of them.
- He said that if anybody leaves their families and possessions for the sake of the Gospel,will receive them all back a hundred fold, including persecutions.
- In another place He said – ‘if they (Pharisees) treat me like this, how will they treat you? If they call me Beelzebub what will they call you?’
Orin other words we can say that persecution is the proof of the fact that we are Christians. If the world hated Jesus, then it will hate us who belong to Him. But that leads to a very important question. Why did the world hate Jesus? It was because Jesus was so different from anybody they had ever seen! He was the Son of God who came into the world as man and lived counter culturally. His preaching and teaching were so different. For example – look at the Sermon on the Mount. He took the Ten Commandments that they had been following for centuries and gave it a completely new perspective. He corrected their wrong interpretations of the commandments by teaching them the correct way. The people were amazed by His teaching. However that didn’t go down very well with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. They were jealous and felt threatened by Jesus. The animosity grew in them until one day they lead Jesus to the Cross and hung Him there.
Things aren’t any different nowadays either. When we live and behave like Jesus, we are often misfits in many groups. The world will then begin to hate us. Everybody else will hang out together, but nobody will want to have us with them unless we relate withfact, these days, persecution comes in various forms – not just the dramatic, violent ones where our body and life are in danger, but also the subtle kinds where we are ostracized, criticized, and spoken ill of, intellectually and emotionally.
REACTION TO PERSECUTION
Now, let’s look at what our response must be when we are persecuted. The Bible says we must bless and not curse. Blessing, as we have seen in the past is, speaking good words. We first see this in the Bible at Creation when God blessed the birds and fish to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth and sea. Well, that definition then puts us in a fix. How can we speak good things to those who persecute us? It doesn’t seem right. Persecution is wrong!
The way we can respond to such a crime is by going to God and praying for our persecutor. We can ask God to forgive him and to transform his life. Not only that we can also go one step ahead and refrain from cursing him. Cursing implies asking God to harm or destroy the other person. I heard of a preacher who was angry with his church member who began going elsewhere for church services. He angrily said that ‘God would break his hand and leg and bring him back’! What a terrible thing to say! God does nothing of that sort. He in fact teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for them.
Let’s look at some Bible verses in support of this.
- Matthew 5:43 says, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighborand hate your I say to youlove your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’. Look at the way Jesus connects persecution with prayer. That’s the only way we can bless a persecutor. When a person persecutes us, there certainly is nothing good about the situation or the person. So the only way we can respond is by praying for him. That’s how we bless him.
- Luke 9:51 says, ‘Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”The Samaritans and Jews despised each other. They had a history of racial prejudices and avoided each other like the plague. In fact we see a glimpse of this when the Samaritan woman was surprised that Jesus being a Jew would speak with her and ask her for water. Well, anyway, in this context, Jesus and His disciples sought a place to stay in Samaria whilst on their way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans turned Him away. The disciples were indignant! They suggested to Jesus that they teach the Samaritans a lesson by calling down fire from Heaven! And to boot they quoted Elijah the prophet as their reference point. Well, you see, Elijah lived in a different time period and what he did was in a completely different context. The whole nation of Israel had turned away from God and therefore he mocked their worship of the false god of Baal and called down fire from heaven. People unfortunately miss the context and use poor Elijah as the basis for all the insensitive atrocities that they do. Jesus chided his disciples for their un-Christ like spirit and said, ‘For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them’.That’s the same thing that Paul echoes when he said – curse not! We are to abstain from asking God to harm our enemies!
- TYPES OF REACTION TO PERSECUTION
There can be two reactions to persecution – negative and positive. A Christian’s reaction must be positive. Let’s see what that means. When someone persecutes us and if we say that we never retaliated to it, that’s good. It is a negative reaction because we have not done anything. A positive reaction is when we not only bear the persecution without retaliating but also actively pray for the persecutor and bless him. That’s what the Bible teaches us to do.
The thing about it is that not everybody can decide to just start doing it. It is not a moralistic way of living. It can only be done by a person who is born again, and has a changed heart and nature. This is especially true because we will not naturally feel good towards a person who has done something against us. It goes beyond feelings and can be done only by a person who has been transformed by the love of Christ.
PRACTICAL WAYS OF REACTING TO A PERSECUTOR
The first thing that we must do when we are persecuted is to remember that we were just like him or her. We also lived a sinful and bad life. But God graciously forgave us. Instead of cursing us and casting us away, He patiently saved us and transformed us.
Paul was the biggest recipient of such grace and mercy. At one point he was known as Saul, the terrifying persecutor of the Christian church. He went from town to town and hunted down Christians and threw them in jail. He was the one who silently stood approving and guarding the mob’s belongings when Stephen was martyred! But God mercifully saved him and changed his life around. He now became Paul. So he knows what it is like to be on both sides. Therefore he is able to say that instead of cursing our persecutor, let us pray for him. Let us remember that we were once like him too. If God could change Paul from being a persecutor of the church to a church planter and apostle for Himself now, then what can He not do with other persecutors?
Well, we may think that we are not as bad as Paul. But Romans 5:10 says ‘we have been enemies of God’. Ephesians 4:17,18 says that our minds were darkened and that we were alienated from God because of our minds and our ignorance. Romans8:6 saysthat a carnal mind has enmity against God. That’s what we were – hateful, arrogant, sinful people who were shown mercy by a loving God.
Remember the story of prodigal son? A wayward son took his share of the family estate and left home and his father. Soon, with a riotous lifestyle, he managed to lose all his money. Penniless, he ended up living with pigs! One day he came to his senses and returned home thinking of begging his father to take him back as a servant at least. To his surprise, his father was waiting for his return. He welcomed the boy back – not as a servant but as a son! That’s the way our Father loves us too. His grace and mercy alone has caused us to be what we are today. So how can we not extend the same kindness to our persecutor and pray for him or her?
When we look at our persecutor, we must recognize the reason for his behavior. He is harming us, tormenting us and working against us because he or she is a victim of the devil. They are controlled by the devil and if they keep at it, they will end up in hell.
2 Corinthians 5:16, 17 says, ‘henceforth know we no man after the flesh. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things have passed away all things have become new.’At one point Paul would look at every person that he met through the lens of their race and tribe. He was a biased Pharisaical Jew who was concerned only with fleshy things like race, tribe, culture and traditions. But then once he became a follower of Jesus, he had a completely new perspective. He now only looked at people spiritually. That’s how we need to be too. We must look past our persecutor’s actions and recognize the condition that he is in. When we see that he is trapped in the hands of the devil we will feel sorry for him and be moved to pray for him and bless him.
For example – Suppose a child breaks some expensive things in the house. We may be angry but we will be able to contain it and let it go. After all, it was only a child. We know that the child is ignorant and does not understand what he did.
Or take another example – Suppose a very intelligent man one day becomes insane. As a result he now goes berserk and violent. What would we do? Will we laugh at him, mock him and beat him up? We will realize that he is mentally ill and need help. We would then take him to a hospital and get him help. Our heart will be moved to pray for his healing and return to normalcy. That’s exactly what Paul is talking about. He says that our persecutor is the victim of a mad and raging devil. 1 John 5:19 says – the whole world lieth in the hands of the wicked one. When we understand that, it causes us to be moved by our persecutor’s condition.
Remember how the devil twisted the mob’s mind and made them crucify Jesus? Jesus however had the spiritual perspective and could recognize why they did it. Hence He was able to ask God to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing. That’s what we need to do too.
Finally, we need to be agents of God’s reconciliation. We must earnestly desire his salvation and transformation. We must pray that our persecutor will come to experience God’s forgiveness and can reconcile with God. Our biggest role model is Jesus who hung on the Cross and prayed for His persecutors. He could have called out God’s curses on them if He wanted to. He would have been perfectly justified in it too. But instead, He prayed for their hearts. He asked God to forgive them. He yearned for them to be reconciled to God.
Like I mentioned earlier, dealing with persecution is not a feeling that can be instantly manufactured. Christianity is not about feelings and emotions. Of course, emotions have their place. But it is not devoid of thinking. A Christian reasons out God’s truth and appropriates it in His life. Of course it is not easy, but with God’s help we can do it. Remember Stephen, the first martyr of the early church? Acts 7:58 – 60 says, ‘and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep’. The last words this man ever uttered on earth were that God would forgive his persecutors. He related with them and knew that they were sinners just like he was. He saw beyond their anger and recognized the hand of the devil that was using them. Therefore, he was able to pray for them and desire for their forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Let us also then depend on God, bless our persecutors and not curse them.