Romans 12: 14, 17 – 21.
Patience (Rom 12:12; Greek:
What are Paul’s instructions for practising patience towards those bent on evil towards us? Firstly, bless those who persecute you (Rom 12:14; c.f., Matt 5:44). An attitude to ultimately bless your enemies and to consistently pray for them remove the poison of retribution from our heart, and align us with the Divine Spirit (c.f., Matt 5:7-11). In blessing our intimidators and forgiving them (Rom 12:17,19) are possibly the most difficult mindset shifts. Not unlike most emotional attitudinal changes, forgiveness is extended before it is felt, as our heart learns to tease out the reality of forgiveness posited by our will. If forgiveness is withheld for a prolonged length of time, we may sabotage the grace available in Christ for our own peace of mind, and thereby, possibly compromising our long-term health. There are situations where forgiveness is particularly challenging (e.g., sexual, physical, and emotional abuse for instance), where the victim must not be coerced into immediately forgiving. Paul advised that as far as is possible, we ought to live at peace with everyone, inclusive of the person(s) who had persecuted us (Rom 12:16-19). This does imply that we attempt to remain on friendly terms with them and to desist from cutting them off completely, by seeking their overall welfare for good (Rom 12:20; c.f., Prov 15:1-2; Prov 25:15b). Trusting someone (e.g., an alcoholic or a thief) who had harmed you seemed counter-intuitive, but undoubtedly it does not rule out protecting oneself against further attacks. It would certainly require God’s wisdom if there is a desire on our part to continue to maintain a witness for Christ to see the perpetrator change and grow. Challenging indeed!
Being patient in the face of oppositional invectives or physical assaults is counter-cultural and against the grain of natural human behaviour. However, Paul also exhorted us to desist from occupying the judgment seat of God, to leave revenge-taking to Him (Rom 12:19). The reason is quite clear: our ignoramus background knowledge of the perpetrator(s) cannot be compared to God’s omniscience in the matter of their complete circumstances; though their reasons can never be an excuse for their aggression(s). The prohibition of vengeance in both the Old Testament and Judaism tends to be confined to relations with co-religionists (Deut 32:35), which reflected Jesus’ revolutionary ethic. Furthermore, it is always best to resist our counter-productive ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude towards those who offend us in judgement. The Apostle reminded us that God had accorded us mercies in forgiving our sins (Rom 12:1-2), and therefore, we need to patiently and with humility extend grace and lovingkindness to others and respect them (Rom 12:14-17). Our need to justify ourselves goes contrary to the sacrifice of Jesus, as Christ had justified us when He offered Himself on the cross by taking on the punishment that was our due (c.f., Luke 23:34). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.