REDISCOVERING THE ANCIENT PATH—Week of June 6, 2021
Bless Others, Especially Angry, Hurting People: Rom. 12:14
We are in Week 18 of our examination of Benedict of Nursia’s rules for Christian formation. This week we’ll look at Rule 4.32: Bless Others, Especially Angry, Hurting People. I had a former pastor who used to frequently say when others said hurtful things, “Hurting people hurt people.” And I used to think to myself, “Yes, and now that I’m the hurt one, it’s time to exact some revenge.” Of course, that was not at all the response he was trying to elicit from me. So, what exactly was that pastor trying to say? In fact, what was Paul getting at when he admonished us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”?
The word translated as “bless” in this passage carries with it several connotations. It can mean to praise or celebrate. It can mean to cause to prosper or make happy. But it also means to consecrate something with solemn prayers. It is the same word used to describe the prayers Jesus offered before breaking bread, and I think that it is this connotation that is the most intriguing in the context of this passage. A little further down in verses 19-21 of this same passage, Paul fleshes out this concept further, and he uses a metaphor that is frequently misquoted and misunderstood. Paul states that when we show kindness to those who persecute or malign us, we heap coals of fire upon their heads. Though this is often seen as a picture of God’s divine judgment on an enemy, that is a complete misunderstanding of the cultural context in which Paul was writing.
In Paul’s day, the hearth was the heartbeat of the home. The fire was always to be kept burning because if the fire went out, it could create a dire situation for the family. If the fire did go out in the home, the woman of the home quickly sprang into action, as it was her responsibility to keep the fire burning. She would place a pot on her head and rush to her neighbor’s home to ask the favor of some hot coals to rekindle her home’s fire. So, the ultimate kindness that neighbor could show her would be to heap coals of fire on her head. Do you see the spiritual parallels? Showing kindness to those who persecute us is not about some sort of Christian karma that will cause our enemies to receive more wrath in the end. Giving blessings instead of curses is about seeking to rekindle the fire of God within the soul of another. We are to show kindness so that the door may be opened for the Holy Spirit to do his work of restoration and reconciliation in the heart of the other.
When we are persecuted or cursed by others, we have a choice: to respond in kind, which leads to escalation, or to respond in love and understanding, which leads to reconciliation. We can curse the other, which is the same word used to describe someone condemned to hell, or we can bless the other, which is the word used to consecrate someone or something to God. Though our natural response may be the former, as followers of Christ shouldn’t we follow his example and pursue the latter? When we do pursue reconciliation instead of escalation, when we take time to understand the hurt and anger that is driving the actions of our persecutor, it gives space for him to do so as well. We stoke the fire of reconciliation in a heart that has grown cold with hurt.
- What do you think of when you hear the word “bless”? How does the definition of “bless” referenced above change your understanding of what we are called to in this passage?
- Re-read Rom. 12:19-21. What imagery popped into your mind in the past? How has that imagery changed with this cultural context?
- Read 2 Cor. 5:16-21. How does our ministry of reconciliation intersect with this week’s rule? How does it change your view of those who hurt you when you consider your mission to see them reconciled them to God? Be honest—is there anyone who has hurt you whom you don’t want to see reconciled to God?