Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing. For
The one who wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit.
And he must turn away from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil. (New English Version)
It’s one thing to bestow a blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – but it’s quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless the insufferable persons in their lives.
Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)
The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life.
I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – and there is going to be no way around it.
To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well. We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.
When insults come our way, we don’t need to respond in the same way with our own insults. Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ. Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.
The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:
The Apostle Paul also learned from the Lord Jesus and upholds the need to bless and not curse:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)
Christians are to us their words for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.
If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.
Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It’s a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate.
Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and listens to their prayers. God will handle the hate-filled person; that’s not something we are to do.
Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like, as well as the ones we don’t.
Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf. It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering. I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits. Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world. Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.