John Piper
Date Given: 
February 6, 2005

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice
with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony
with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowlyNever
be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do
what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it
depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
but leave itto the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance
is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if
your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something
to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul says the same thing over and over in this paragraph. Verse 14:
Don’t curse those who persecute you. Verse 17: Don’t return evil for
evil. Verse 19: Do not avenge yourselves. Verse 21: Don’t be overcome
by evil. And then the positive side—Verse 14: Bless those who persecute
you. Verse 18: live peaceably with all. Verse 20: Give food and drink
to your enemy. Verse 21: Overcome evil with good.

So I am tempted to lump all those similar commands together and treat
them all under the banner of loving our enemies. But I resist this temptation
for at least two reasons. One is that there are differences among all
these commands with concrete implications for our lives that might get
lost if I lumped them all together and spoke more generally about a
theme instead of looking carefully at each one. And the other reason
is that there are other commands thrown in among these that don’t seem
to fit the mold, and we might miss what Paul is trying to say by weaving
them in.

So we are going to move straight through taking the verses as they
come. Today we will try to understand and apply verses 14 and 15. “Bless
those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with
those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

How Do Verses 14 and 15 Fit Together?

Taking the two verses together immediately raises the question what
they have to do with each other. Anything? More than you may think.
For example, what would be one reason that you wouldn’t weep with those
who weep? One reason would be that you are glad they are weeping. In
other words, you were angry at them for the way they treated you, and
then something bad happened to them and you are glad. Does that have
anything to do with verse 14: Don’t curse those who persecute you. Don’t
want them to be cursed. Don’t be glad when they weep. Bless them. So
it looks as if there may be a very close connection between verses 14
and 15.

Do We Rejoice With All Rejoicing and Weep With All Weeping?

But another question rises: Do we rejoice with all rejoicing and
weep with all weeping? Aren’t there are distinctions that have to be
made between different kinds of weeping and different kinds of rejoicing?
Some weeping we should be very glad about. And some rejoicing we should
be very sad about. We know this because Jesus said in Luke 6:25, “Woe
to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now,
for you shall mourn and weep.” This is a laughter that we share with
simple empathy. This is not a laughter that grieves us.

On the other hand, is there not a weeping that we should rejoice
over—a weeping that leads to life? Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10,
“Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.”
Therefore, godly grief is surely a wonderful thing. Painful. But oh,
so full of hope and life! Our tears may flow in that moment, but they
will be like the tears of a mother looking on her newborn child. So
we don’t weep the same with all weeping and we don’t rejoice the same
with all rejoicing.

There is a root connection between verses 14 and 15—between heartfelt
sympathy on the one hand, and blessing those who curse you on the other.
We will see it if we step back and make clear the specifically Christian
context and root of these commands in verses 14 and 15.

What Is the Root and the Meaning of This Radical Behavior?

Virtually all the commands in verses 14-21 assume that something
deeper has happened. All these commands are rooted in freedom from self-preoccupation
and self-infatuation and self-exaltation. And, much more than that—though
that is crucial—they are rooted in Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation
and Christ-exaltation. Now I could make a case for that the same way
I did last time. We could go to verse 1, look at the words, “I appeal
to you by the mercies of God” and show how all of this chapter is the
fruit of being overwhelmed by the mercy of God in Christ spelled out
in Romans 1-11. That would be exactly right.

But instead let’s remind ourselves of how Paul prepares us for these
commands in verse 3. He has just said that the way to live as a Christian
is to be transformed in the renewing of our minds so that we can discern
and embrace the will of God. Then he opens for us the most profound
level of transformation and renewing that has to happen if we are going
to do the will of God in this chapter—like: bless those who persecute
us and weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

And here’s what he says in verse 3: “For by the grace given to me
I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than
he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according
to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

We spent a lot of time on this. So I will only give the summary.
What is the alternative in Paul’s mind to thinking too highly of ourselves?
The answer isn’t thinking lowly of ourselves (though that is a good
place to start to come back to now and then). The alternative is to
think “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The
alternative to thinking too highly of ourselves (self-preoccupation,
self-infatuation, self-exaltation—the roots of all sin) is not a different
sight in the “mirror, mirror on the wall.” The alternative is turn the
mirror into a window through which we see the glory of Christ.

That’s what faith is and does. When faith stands in front of a mirror,
the mirror becomes a window and sees on the other side the glory of
Christ. The decisive alternative to saying, “I am all,” is not to say,
“I am nothing,”
but to say, “Christ is all.” Faith looks to Christ,
not self, not even the new self. In fact the definition of the new-self
is the self that looks to Christ as its Savior and Lord and Treasure
and Joy and Satisfaction.

And notice one other thing in verse 3 that is so relevant to the
commands like, “Bless those who persecute you,” and, “Weep with those
who weep.” It says, in the second half of the verse, “Think with sober
judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
In other words, the measure of faith we have is a gift of God. God has
assigned it. It is the act of our soul. But our inclination
to do that act is a gift of God. “By grace you have been saved through
faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
(Ephesians 2:8).

So now two great grounds of boasting are stripped from the proud
human heart. First, the boast that I can save myself or satisfy myself
is shattered, and Christ is found by faith to be my all—my Savior, Lord,
Counselor, Friend, Treasure, Joy. I look away from myself and am satisfied
in him.

Then, second, the other ground of boasting is stripped away also:
I discover by the Word—and experience it in my heart—that this faith,
this looking away from self to Christ—is a gift. I can’t even boast
that I was smart enough or wise enough or spiritual enough or godly
enough or humble enough to believe in Jesus. No. He was simply kind
enough and strong enough to overcome all my resistance. Praise be to
his mighty mercy.

God the Father planned to rescue us from sin and hell before the
foundation of the world. God the Son purchased our forgiveness and transformation
by his blood on the cross. God the Spirit overcame all our self-preoccupation
and self-infatuation and self-exaltation and opened our eyes to see
the beauty of Christ as our all. Now in this condition we meet today
three kinds of people: those who persecute us, those who rejoice, and
those who weep.

And Paul tells us, with God’s authority, how to treat them. Here
is the way a person lives for whom Christ is all and for whom self is
dethroned. Romans 12:!4-15: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and
do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those
who weep.”

Notice how radical this behavior is. It does not just say: Don’t
retaliate. You might use your willpower to do that. You might have all
kinds of hateful and resentful and vengeful and prudential motives for
not striking back. But the point is not only behavior. The point is
your heart, and you can see it in the words, “Bless those who
persecute you. Bless and do not curse them.” This is a partial
quotation of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:28 where Jesus says, “Bless those
who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” The word “pray” shows
that behavior is not the only issue. Prayer is the expression to God
of what you long for. So blessing someone is not just the way you treat
him. It includes the longings that you have for someone. And Jesus says
they are to be longings for good, not longings for a curse. That’s what
“bless” means. Bless them and pray for them. Pray for what? Their good—now
and forever. And the greatest good is seeing and savoring and showing
Christ without end.

So the Christian life is radical. It cuts to the root of who we are
and what we long for. And now we can see where this kind of radical
behavior comes from and what it means. It comes from faith in Christ.
And it means that Christ is all-sufficient. It comes from not thinking
of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but thinking with sober
judgment each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned
(v. 3).

If we are going to be treated unjustly, and even hurt unjustly for
Christ’s sake, and yet bless our adversaries and pray for them, then
our natural obsession with self-preoccupation and self-infatuation and
self-exaltation must die. But that death will accomplish nothing by
itself. It must be replaced by Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation
and Christ-exaltation. That’s what faith is: beholding and embracing
the all-satisfying treasure of Christ.

How Does Faith in Christ Motivate Us to Bless Our Enemies?

Therefore this faith in Christ is the root of this radical behavior.
It’s the root of not cursing our persecutors and the root of blessing
them and praying for them and longing for their everlasting good.

It works like this: Faith in Christ involves turning from our natural
self (including even our bodies) as the source of our main contentment
and security. So the self (even the body), in that sense dies. Threatening
this self with belittling speech or with pain or with death is no longer
an ultimate threat. That old self is not our life, not our treasure,
not our greatest and durable joy. So we are free from the raging impulse
to retaliate that once rose up in this old self.

At the same time faith in Christ does something even more important.
Not only does it turn from our natural self as the source of our main
contentment and security, it turns to Christ. It sees Christ and embraces
Christ as our all-sufficient contentment and security. This looking
to Christ motivates in three ways us to bless our adversaries and make
us tender-hearted to those who weep and rejoice.

First, the Christ that faith beholds and embraces blessed those
who cursed him.
As he hung on the cross he said, “Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Since faith savors
everything it sees about Christ, it savors this. You cannot say, “Christ
lived a beautiful life, but blessing those who persecute me is stupid.”
If you see and savor mercy in Christ, you will love being merciful.

Second, the Christ that faith beholds and embraces did not just
bless his enemies in the abstract, he did this for me.
For me.
And for you. Romans 5:6, “While we were still weak, at the right time
Christ died for the ungodly.” You cannot rejoice that your life
hangs totally on the undeserved mercy of being blessed by Christ when
you were his enemy, and then turn around and curse those who persecute

Third, the Christ that faith beholds and embraces has made our
future absolutely secure forever, by dying for us and rising again.
our persecutors cannot destroy us, and we do not need to have the last
word on earth. God will.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather
fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two
sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

The root of radical, Christ-like love is death to self and invincible
delight in the person, the performance, and the promises of Christ.
If you struggle with feelings of bitterness and revenge, go deeper with
Christ, until you know him and love him the way he really is.

How Does Verse 15 Relate to Persecution?

And what about verse 15? “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with
those who weep.” Perhaps we’ll say more next time. But if you think
it’s foreign to the situation of persecution, and just dangles here
after verse 14, listen to these words from the February issue of Voice
of the Martyrs
, reporting the situation of Khun, a woman of the
Khmu ethnic group in Laos. Her husband is in prison today for preaching

Khun urges Christians in the West to pray for her husband Khamsay
and their family. She also asks us to pray for the people of Kasy district
and for greater freedom for Christians to practice their faith openly
without hindrance from local government officials. Even though our cultures
are different, we are one in the Body of Christ. Khun boldly shared,
“Our business is your business, our hurt is your hurt, our happiness
is your happiness.”

The apostle Paul wrote, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer
with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it”
(1 Corinthians 12:26). As Khmu family members suffer for Christ, we
suffer with them. When Khamsay rejoices in prison because he’s won another
inmate for Jesus, we rejoice with him.”1

That may be the most eloquent exposition of verse 15 I can give.
I leave it there for now. In the situation of persecution, bless those
who persecute you, rejoice with those who triumph in suffering, and
weep with those whose suffering makes them weep.

1 Nate Gary Lane, “Walking With
Christ in Laos,” Voice of the Martyrs (Feb. 2005): 4-5.

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