Christian Radicalism

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It is assumed that we care for our friends. But even the unchurched does this. What about our enemy? More specifically, how about the terrorist? Here’s a radical thought—love them. This is Christian radicalism: to love, not curse our enemies. But they hate what we stand for; they are hostile toward our doctrine; they slander and lie about us; they are violent and angry. Yes. But that does that mean we can’t care for them or respond in kindness and gentleness? We have been graced with salvation, cleansed from our sins through Christ. We were enemies of God made friends, even sons and daughters in His family. We do not need to defend our honor. Let it stand on its own. Let our good works be our defense.

Romans 12 contain some of the most demanding of all commands in the Bible in my estimation. Because of God’s mercy towards us, we worship Him. The chapter describes a foundational element of Christian living. That essential element is an extraordinary, radical love.

Radical Love: Bless Your Enemy

In Romans 12:14, Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Paul echoed one of Jesus’ most shocking exhortations in His Sermon on the Mount, to bless our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). The context implies a religious kind of persecution, but the application is not limited to just this. This command was so well-known amongst believers at that time that Paul didn’t need to cite them as Jesus’ words. The church in Rome would’ve recognized it as the very words of Jesus.

But what did Paul mean when he exhorted the Roman church to bless and not curse our persecutors? The NT concept of blessing simply means to pray God would pour out His favor on someone. So Paul is speaking here of our attitude and disposition towards those who personally want to oppress us. We should want our persecutors to experience the grace and mercy of God. We should love them and pray for their salvation. The temptation would be to wish evil upon them, perhaps that God would allow you call down fire upon them just this once. I know this could be tempting at times. The struggle is real. But brothers and sisters, we are called to love not only our neighbors, but our enemies. That means we must desire the best for them.

Radical Love and Justice

What about justice for our oppressors? Would that be wrong for us to desire? It depends on what you mean. Does it mean that you will do anything to take justice into your own hands and avenge your oppressor? If so, then that is a warped view of justice. Only the government has the authority from God to dispense justice. Unfortunately the government, who is run by sinful people, does not always get it right. That shouldn’t surprise us nor should it worry those who have a Biblical view of man. That is where trusting in God’s ultimate justice is important. In fact, Paul continued in v. 17 saying, “Never pay back evil for evil with anyone…” The second half of the verse implies that if we respond with evil, we will not be blameless in the sight of all men. Furthermore, vv. 19-20 says emphatically, “never take your own revenge…” and “to leave room for the wrath of God…” God promises to repay. That is one of the most comforting truths for me. God does not neglect evil. He ultimately will punish unrepentant people and it is not going to be pretty.

So if you mean justice to be that you desire God to judge the unrepentant sinner, then yes, I can agree with you. It would seem that blessing is one side of the coin and justice is the other. We should desire God’s favor upon our persecutors, but if they don’t repent, we can be assured that God will indeed vindicate us and judge them accordingly. The imprecatory Psalms are infamous prayers of justice (5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140). Those who do not understand them may conclude that these are angry curses, but it is very much the opposite. Granted, some of these psalms seem harsh at first glance, and they are at some level (the dashing of little children against the rocks, Ps. 137:9), but here are a couple of considerations in order to reconcile them with Jesus’ revolutionary exhortation.

First, there is a difference in tone with the authors of the imprecatory psalms versus flat out sinful anger and the desire for personal vengeance. Second, these psalms seemed to function as a means of comfort to a persecuted people, to remind them of God’s promises and the vindication they will receive from God’s own hand. In other words, they can take comfort that God will judge the unrepentant evil of man. In his book, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walt Kaiser writes about these psalms saying, “They are not statements of personal vendetta, but they are utterances of zeal for the kingdom of God and his glory. To be sure, the attacks which provoked these prayers were not from personal enemies; rather, they were rightfully seen as attacks against God and especially his representatives in the promised line of the Messiah.”[1]

Thus, we can graciously bless those who persecute us as well as desire ultimate justice if they do not repent and worship God. It’s both/and—God is both a fiery righteous judge as well as loving self-sacrificing savior. He is all of His attributes all the time. If our ultimate goal is to honor God, then we would want to see all people turn to God and be saved, and for those who remain unrepentant, to be judged.

Radical Love: Caring for our Enemies

What does radical love look like practically? Look at what Paul wrote: ““But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink;” (Romans 12:20a). Radical love cares for the practical needs of our enemies. It would be one thing to pray for our enemy’s salvation, but to leave him hungry and thirsty is not acceptable to God. Furthermore, the verse uses the metaphor of burning coals on the head as the reason why we must care. In other words, it would place the burden of guilt on our enemies in order to encourage their repentance.

To love our enemies, to bless them and pray for them would seem like a radical concept for the world. But for Christians, it is who we are and what we do. Why? because we ourselves have been radically loved. We were once enemies of our Creator-God, now made sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Because we are His children we ought to have the same heart as Him. God loves the world. He is kind and loving, slow to anger, and His children are to be the same way too.

We live in a country where being persecuted for our faith is not an everyday reality, at least not yet. But the principles here are so very applicable in our lives, isn’t it? What is our attitude towards those against us? To those who disagree with us? Do you lavish grace and mercy or spew out anger and vitriol? The heart of the matter is this. Love cares for others. Love cares even for the well-being of our enemies. So the next time you are tempted to curse the terrorist, just remember that Paul was once one too until Jesus saved him. Bless and do not curse.
[1] Walt Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 172.

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