“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14).
When we bless, we pray and behave in hope that God will bless our enemy with his favor. Seeking our enemy’s highest good puts the Christian to one of faith’s greatest tests. Victory is only won by trusting God in earnest prayer.
Examples are few, so we should note them carefully. Two from the New Testament:
At his crucifixion Jesus prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 24:34). Numbered among his killers stand men who on the day of Pentecost will hear the gospel, believe, and be saved. They will taste the very blessing of divine pardon our dying Savior sought for them.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, while pelted with stones, prays: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). His final prayer is not a plea for revenge, but compassionate intercession for his persecutors. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, had established his reputation as a zealous foe of the Christian faith. But God answers Stephen’s prayer, and a converted Saul becomes Paul, the apostolic missionary of God’s redeeming love.
Jesus and Stephen endured extreme persecution. I’ve occasionally suffered unjustly, but compared to their sufferings, mine seem inconsequential. All the more reason for me to ask, do I wallow in a vengeful or spiteful spirit? Or, do I bless my enemies? Do I have the mind of Christ, who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23)?
Suffering unjustly opens a door of opportunity to testify to God’s grace in Christ. As we pray for grace to walk through it in humility, we follow in the footsteps our Savior and his servant, Stephen.