“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
2 Timothy 3:12
As Christians, when unbelievers persecute us, it is easy to feel safe in the arms of a loving God, at unity with all the persecuted saints who have gone before us. We begin to feel a little smug in our “them/us” mentality, secure that we know the truth and walk in the light. We’re on the winning side, let the enemy rage! We polish up our self-righteous halos and carry on.
When the persecution comes from other Christians, we are faced with a difficult obstacle. Not only do our own brothers and sisters inflict our wounds, they then try to keep us from the comfort of fellowship and the communion of God’s word and spirit. These people are going out for the kill and we have become their prey. It is deeply confusing and painful to be attacked that way. Sometimes it makes us just want to quit and to find our comfort and acceptance somewhere else. The mean-spirited words and actions of some believers have us not even wanting to be associated with the name Christian. Don’t label me that! I am not one of them!
But we don’t quit being Christians, for the same reason we chose this path in the first place – Jesus. He is faithful when others turn away. He will always be about love, mercy, grace and truth. He left us a perfect example. We know how the religious people of his day treated him and we know his response to them. Their behavior did not surprise Jesus. Why are we so surprised when we encounter the modern-day version of this same story? People may try to kick us out of the kingdom, but it is not their kingdom. They like to say that we are not suffering for our faith, but that we are suffering because of our sin and rebellion against God. How many of them have spent countless dark hours in the anguished examination of their lives and faith? It is hard to imagine that there has ever been another community who has cried out with more gut-wrenching sincerity “God, just make me who you want me to be.” To come before God knowing that men say God will never accept you, and to trust yourself to God’s love and to the saving power of God’s grace, takes courage and a strong faith that goes way beyond intellect.
When we have made our peace with the fact that we ARE who God wants us to be, we have a commandment waiting for us. “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them … If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:14, 18)
God recognizes a power in us that we seldom see in ourselves- a power to bless or to curse. As tempting as it is sometimes to choose the curse, that is not what we are about and it is not what we follow Jesus for. If anyone wants to curse us, let that be what they are about. Let us make our calling and election sure and then let us be about our father’s business.
How can we bless those who persecute us? The same way Christians are called to bless the whole world. We do not withhold good when it is in our power to act, we let our love for them be sincere, we pray faithfully that God would meet their needs. The example we set in the tenacity of our faith, if they would only be willing to take a look, would bless them more than any gift we could give them. How can we bless them? We can shine like lights in a dark place and be who God called us to be.