“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)
These may be some of the most challenging words in the Bible. As hard as it is to be a follower of God it is much easier when others around us are nice. When people are respectful, kind, compassionate. When people are similar to us it is easier to get along with each other because we are all basically the same. However, it is difficult to be a follower of God when others are unkind, hateful, vengeful. When we have been wronged, humiliated, taken advantage of, insulted, despised, or rejected. At those moments it can be difficult to be a Christian. Our first response is not one of love, of concern, of seeking the others best interest. And yet, that is what God calls us to.
Loving our enemies goes against our natural reaction. Our natural reaction is to fight back, it is to defend our honor. Our natural reaction is to hurt those who have hurt us, to hurt them to such a degree that they can never hurt us again. The unredeemed parts of our being want to strike out in anger, to sting and attack with words or actions that return us to a position of power. We want to prove to the world, or to ourselves, or to those who hurt us that we are in control and that no one can hurt us, no one can get us down.
Yet the way of Jesus is the opposite of our nature. The way of Jesus says to bless those who persecute us. The way of Jesus is to love even when we are not loved in return. The way of Jesus is not simply to avoid retaliation but to feed and clothe our enemies, to love them to an extent that they are changed by our compassion towards them.
This does not mean that wrong actions are accepted and ignored. Jesus never ignored wrong actions. Christians are never called to ignore bad or evil behavior. Turning the other cheek is not a sign of submission or of weakness or of passivity. Instead, choosing to act like Jesus, to bless those who persecute you and to return good for evil is an acknowledgement that the way of Christ is different from the way of the world. It is an acknowledgement that real change in the world doesn’t happen through using power and force to coerce others into submission but is through humility and love and forgiveness. Remember, Jesus overcame the powers and authorities not through the use of force and by waging a war (although he could have) but through the cross. That which was meant to shame Jesus actually brought about his victory over the very powers of sin and death. And as he was dying on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them.” He chose to bless and not curse.
If we are going to walk in the way of Jesus we have to learn to love our enemies. We have to learn to bless those who persecute us, to return love for hate, to respond to evil with good. It is when we act in this way, when we bless those who persecute us, that the world will truly know that we have been transformed by the power of the gospel.