How To Handle Persecution
In today’s lesson we are going to be looking at the subject of persecution and how we are to handle it. I think that it is so wonderful that God has not left us groping in the dark regarding how we are to live. For so many years I remember wondering “What is the will of God?” I asked this because I was ignorant of the scriptures. For the Scriptures reveal to us the will of God. God has revealed Himself and His will in the pages of the Bible so that we don’t have to grope around in ignorance. All we have to do is open it and read, praying that God will illuminate our minds and give us ears to hear.
And this word is so full of meaning that a thousand lifetimes could never plumb its depths. I could stay in Romans chapter 12 for the rest of my life and never dig out all of the truths contained here. And I praise God for showing us all that He has.
Let me just do a brief overview of what we have learned and then we will look at our new material which will conclude our time in chapter 12.
Now Paul is addressing the church at Roman and he begins chapter 12 saying; therefore…Since God has done all these things for you, you are to live for Him. Laying line upon line, precept upon precept Paul declares the grace and mercy which has been poured out upon us by Almighty God. We are indeed debtors of God for the infinite blessings that are ours today. And because of what God has done for us, because He purchased us out of the slave market of sin, because we have been delivered from bondage to the devil, because we have been delivered from the wrath to come and have been given new life in Jesus Christ, because of all this, Paul calls us to a life of obedience to the One who saved us and called us with a holy calling, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.
We have been called to die to ourselves and to live exclusively for Jesus. That and nothing less is authentic Christianity and we have seen that the real, the authentic Christian, the one who has been born again, is marked by a life of obedience to the commands of God. Indeed, search the scriptures for those who truly loved God and what you will find is a life of obedience coupled with a burning love for God and a zeal for His glory.
Paul has laid out for us what a real Christian looks like, how Gods children are to live. He has spoken of the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect and has then given us examples of what that looks like. How wonderful that God has not left us to guess, to wonder at what His will might be. What have we seen thus far? Well we have seen that the man of God is a humble man, a clear thinking man who does not think more highly of himself than he ought but thinks with sound judgment as the Lord has given to each a measure of grace. The authentic Christian sees himself as a part of the body of Christ with all parts being essential.
The authentic Christian has been given a gift, a calling by God to perform his or her assigned task. And these have been set down so that we can know what they are and then examine ourselves before the Lord, pleading His direction in our lives so that we might know what He would have us to do.
Some of the gifts and callings of God include prophesy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and showing mercy. Our love is to be authentic; without hypocrisy. We are to hate evil to the point of running away from it. And we are to cling to what is good.
We are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love, not lazy in our service to God but diligent, fervent in spirit as we understand that we are serving the Lord God rather than men. We saw last week that we are to be rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and practicing hospitality. And all these duties are to be done for the glory of God and out of a heart that is filled with love for Him! In doing so, in living such a life we are obeying Gods command to love Him with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves.
Consider Mark 12:28-33. Jesus had been dealing with the Pharisees and the Herodians, gave the Parable of the Vineyard, dealt with a question about taxes and set the Sadducees straight concerning life after death when “one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” as ourselves.
In fact, love for God and our neighbor is to color every thing we do. Consider two passages of scripture with me. The first is found in Ro 13:9 “For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Then we see in Ga 5:14 “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
Jesus told His disciples that the world will know they were His disciples because of their love for one another. And the parable of the Good Samaritan takes us outside the church and into the world where we love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is to color our whole lives. Now how does this fit in with persecution? Because Paul is going to take us to a place that nobody likes to think about. We think of persecution happening in foreign lands. “It could never happen here! This isAmerica!” let me tell you that it is already happening here. And unless God intervenes it is only going to get worse!
Jesus didn’t say “In this world you might have tribulation.” Paul didn’t say that those who live godly in Christ Jesus might suffer persecution. And James didn’t say ‘Consider it all joy if you enter into trials and temptations. Jesus said you will have tribulation. Paul said you will suffer persecution and James said ‘when you enter into trials and temptations. And so we can look at the truths Paul teaches us today as prepatory for what will happen. And he will tell us how to deal with persecutors and how to live before the world in the face of persecution. These truths that are going to unfold before us today are not easy truths…but they are essential.
Now I don’t know but I suspect that what is going on in your minds right now is probably what was going on in the minds of the Israelites when Isaiah was telling them that their land was going to be ravaged and their temple destroyed. They thought he was from Mars. They were living in prosperity, they had no enemies at the gates…indeed it was peace and safety for much of the time.
But the warning signs are all around us. Christianity is facing attack from every possible source all the way to the President of the United States. There are rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness: spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. And these forces have aligned like never before in our nation’s history to seek to bring Christianity down! How are we going to react? How are we going to deal with persecution? Paul is going to deal with that today and he is going to tell us exactly how we are to live in the face of persecution.
So let’s get right to it. Our text for this morning is found in Romans 12:14-21. Follow along as I read. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 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. 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 THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Now in verse 14 we are dealing with persecutors, those seeking our harm or even our death. And in verse 14 Paul calls upon us to “Bless.” The Greek word is eulogeite from which we get our English word eulogize. It means to invoke God’s blessings upon them, to speak well of, or to praise or celebrate with praises. Think of a funeral. Have you ever been to a funeral where the pastor said awful things about the deceased? While there may be a few, the general practice is to say how wonderful and loving and caring an individual this was. It is a time of praise to the one who has passed away.
Now the verse continues so that we know exactly who we are dealing with. As a Christian you are commanded to bless; those who persecute you; literally to invoke blessings upon them. And this is in the present participle tense which means it is to be an ongoing action. We are to bless our persecutors and we are to do so over and over again! In Lu 6:28 Jesus commands us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” We are to respond to those who pursue us with the intent of doing harm with blessing; that is wishing them the best; blessing them, desiring that God would pour out upon them His goodness and His grace and His mercy upon them. This is what Jesus did on the cross where rather than calling for more than 12 legions of angels to wipe them out, He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”We see this same spirit in Stephen in Acts 7:60 who laying beneath the bloody stones that were crushing out of his life out his life, he looked to heaven and said, “Lay not this sin to their charge.”
Where have we heard this command to bless our tormentors before? It was the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus Himself declared in Matt 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. The Christian is called to go the second mile, to strive to demonstrate the love of God to everyone he meets. And that includes the persecutor, the one who puts to you to flight or drives you away or pursues you for the purpose of harm or murder.
Not only that but we are forbidden to curse. Katarasye means to pronouncing a curse upon someone out of malevolence… it means to wish someone evil or ruin. And we are forbidden to curse others. And if we do so we are obeying the scriptures, we are emulating Jesus, we are living as Jesus lived In 1Pe 2: 18-23 we read “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Is this an unreasonable standard to follow? I mean, Christ was God and He was perfect. Well we just saw in the Sermon on the Mount, from the lips of Jesus Himself 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. And you should know from my reciting it so often that “the one who says he abides in Christ ought himself to live in the same manner as Jesus lived. We are to be reflections of Christ on earth. This is what draws people to Christ, not programs and schemes and balloons and what not. The Church grew because of persecution as men were drawn to this Jesus who can give hope in a hopeless world.
Last week we saw how Polycarp dealt with persecution. And he is merely another example in so great a cloud of witnesses for us to follow. Those who have gone before have given us example of how we are to handle persecution. Of course we know how we have reacted toward trouble in the past. We have been filled with thoughts of revenge, we have been filled with the desire to return evil for evil. But that is not the way of Christ. You know how the writer of Hebrews portrays Jesus; “For the Joy set before Him, He endured the cross and despised the shame… In the same way we are to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In this way we are conformed in to the image of Christ as we live as He lived.
So we are called to rejoice in the hope we have in Christ and that hope is to spill over into everything. In this way our light will shine before men!
Next we see in verse 15 that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice” Rejoice chairo, “to rejoice and be glad” with those who rejoice. It means that we are to enjoy someone else’s joy; without any jealousy. The world sees someone being blessed and instead of rejoicing, they want to take away what the other person has. But the Christian understands that God is the one who bestows all blessings and so when our persecutors are blessed we are to rejoice with them, pointing out to them that God has visited them. It is an opportunity to bear witness of Jesus Christ.
Not only that but we are to “weep with those who weep.” It is also distinctively Christian to be sympathetic, not indifferent. The world is becoming more and more callous, more and more indifferent. The word “weep” is the word klaiein and it means to shed tears, to express grief. It’s a strong word. It’s the evidence of the Christian sympathy. This is a demonstration of love for others when we hurt because of their hurts! Again, when our persecutors are hurt or are weeping we are to weep with them. This too is an example of the love of Jesus Christ!
As we come to verse 16 I want you to notice that Paul makes three statements on how we are to treat others. He says 16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” This passage tells us how we are to look at people. We are to be of the same mind toward or think about everybody the same. We are not to be a respecter of persons. We are not to try to win the favor of some and exclude others. The Christian, more than anyone else sees all men as created by God. In James 2 which, Lord willing we will get to, we read 1 “My brethren, do not hold (or mix) your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. To do so is to elevate certain individuals to a higher plane than others and this is wrong. There is no human hierarchy in the Christian life where certain people are better than others. Indeed Jesus said that ‘he who would be great must be the servant of all. When certain men approached Jesus they said “We know that you are not partial to any.” And we are to do likewise. All men stand on a level field before almighty God! So we are to see all men the same.
The next two statements will help you do the first. 1. Do not be haughty in mind, or highly exalted in your mind uqhlaphroneo. Do not be a legend in your own mind. Look back at verse 3 in which Paul says “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. The sun doesn’t rise and set because of you. You were not there when God laid the foundations of the earth and the morning stars shouted for joy. You are a sinner that has been saved by the grace of God. You are no better than anyone else. God didn’t pick you because you were so wonderful. Indeed God had mercy upon you and snatched you off of the broad road that leads to destruction. And God alone did it all and God alone gets all the praise for His mercy. So don’t be haughty in mind but “associate with the lowly.” In this we will be like Jesus who associated with tax collectors, traitors to their own people, and sinners such as demon possessed people and prostitutes.
And 2 “do not be wise in your own estimation.” Don’t think you are the bees knees! You don’t know everything. Knowledge will not die with you. The truth is (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow 🙂 Job 8:9 We are to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves…”Php 2:3
Continuing in verse 17 Paul says “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” The idea here is that we are not to look for revenge. And notice that we’re right back to what we saw in verse 14 which reads “Bless the one who persecutes you, who pursues you to do harm.” Here he says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” This is a normal, human reaction…to react in kind; to throw evil back into the face of those who have given it to us. And we are commanded to do otherwise; to bless in the face of cursing, to give love in the face of hate, to pray for those who are persecuting us, that perhaps God will have mercy and bless them with salvation.
But what about the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? MacArthur deals with this question and I want to share it with you.
“You say, “Well now wait a minute, John, what about the Old Testament where it says in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, Deuteronomy 19, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” Let me direct you to those specific passages. Ex 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Le 24:20 “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.”
De 19:21 “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
These passages are speaking about civil law. If a nation has laws they have to have teeth. And the Mosaic law was a system of justice against criminals. If there is a murder there should be the execution of a murderer, where there is a theft there should be retribution brought upon the thief. MacArthur says “There is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in a society as ruled by men in a government that is ordered by law. But that is not to be for private revenge, that’s the point. What is God’s design for the society is not vigilante law. We know, according to Romans 13 which we’re going to be studying very soon, that police and soldiers of a nation do not bear the sword in vain, they are the ministers of God, it says in verse 4, who are avengers to execute wrath on them who do evil. So there is built into society the avenging. And I’ll tell you this, when a society doesn’t do that, I believe it puts itself in the judgment of God. You read the Old Testament you will find out God demands blood for blood. And we in our society allow crime to go unpunished, I mean we have allowed it all the time. There are murderers running around unpunished all over the place, loopholes in the law, this and that and I believe our society bears the responsibility for that because we have not reciprocated against evil by the judicial process, the law of God, which is ordered for a society. So our society bears the guilt of failing to punish evildoers and I believe it puts us in a position to be judged by God. But as far as private revenge, there’s no place for that, no place. So he says, “Pay back no man evil for evil.” That is not our place. We are not to retaliate. We are not to have that kind of spirit.”
Le 19:18 declares, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Indeed we are to Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Respect “have regard for” what is right in the sight of all men. In 2Cor 8:21 Paul declares “we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” And we are to do so in order that we may be examples of godliness or as Paul puts it in Php 2:15 “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, the purpose being that we are examples of the grace of God before men! We are to be examples of what a real, law abiding citizen looks like. Our lives are to reflect our Saviors. We are to do all things for the glory of God, seeking to bring honor and glory to His Name!
And therefore 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. That is, we are to be about the business of practicing peace. Paul is not speaking about the other guy. There is no loophole to say, ‘yeah but what about so and so. He’s not doing what you say.” Here’s the deal; what other people are doing doesn’t matter. You are not to use other people as a barometer of your own behavior. In that respect it is none of your business what other people are doing or how they are acting. We are called to obey God and that without question. As Heb 12:14 declares, we are to “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”
19 Never (not yourselves) take your own revenge, ekdikountev “never try to secure someone’s right to revenge” beloved, but (aim a command to do something in the future) leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. Heb 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Deut 32:35 ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.’ 36 “For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. 37 “and He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? 38 ‘who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering?
Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! 39 ‘See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. 40 ‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever, 41 If I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me. 42 ‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword will devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’ 43 “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”
Revenge is God’s business and we have no part in it, either in thought or word or deed. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” This is a reference to Prov 25:21-22
MacArthur tracked down the original practice of this and I want to share it with you. He says, “There is an old Egyptian ritual used to demonstrate public shame. When a man in the Egyptian culture wanted to demonstrate his public shame or guilt, when he wanted to show his spirit of repentance he would carry on his head a pan of burning coals which were supposed to represent the burning pain of shame, the burning pain of guilt. And Paul is saying when you treat an enemy with love and you feed him and quench his thirst, you put on his head a burning shame for the evil done.”
In Tit 2:8 Paul says we are to be sound in speech (using wholesome words or incorruptness in speech) which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Give the enemy no opportunity to reproach Christ.
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Look back at verse 9 where we read that we are to “love without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” So not only are we to abhor evil, hating it with an intense hatred and fear but we are not to let ourselves be overcome by it. What does this imply? It implies that we can be overcome by evil if we are not on the alert at all times against the wiles of the enemy who will do everything he can to make evil look good! Indeed we are called to overcome evil with good.
Our lives are to be characterized by conformity to the image and example of Jesus Christ. We are to live as He lived and love as He loved. This takes place as we die to self and live unto Him, as our minds are transformed by His Word and His Spirit, and as we obey His commands and so proves to be His disciples. There is nothing easy about persecution. When you look at those who were burnt at the stake inSmithfield, or who were stoned and sawn in two or crucified or thrown off the tops of cliffs or buildings you can see the intense hatred that the world has for Jesus and His followers.
But you can also see from the lives of the martyrs that they never stopped loving their enemies. They never stopped praying for them and seeking Gods blessing upon them. How do we handle persecution? By obedience to the clear commands of God and by being filled with the Spirit of God! Are you prepared to face persecution? Are you walking in the Spirit? Can you bless your enemies and not curse? Can you rejoice and weep with your enemies? Are you humble in heart like your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who called upon His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him? Can you leave your thoughts of revenge and instead demonstrate love for your enemy by meeting his/her needs? This is what it takes to be prepared for persecution.