Yes, this phase is actually in the Bible. “Bless people who harass you” is straight out of Romans, chapter 12. Darn you, Paul! Here I was, thinking I am righteous in my indignation over people who harass me. I like to envision myself as a modern-day Jesus, overturning the money lenders’ tables at the Temple when I get royally aggravated at someone. Jesus got angry, why can’t I??
Well, to begin with, I am not the Messiah, and neither are you. An affront to the incarnate God on the steps of the Holy of Holies constituted something that was actually sacrilegious. My offenders are annoying, but they are not committing heresies against the divine. In short, there are many situations where we just need to get over ourselves.
A reader whom I offended confronted me about my “tone.” And as confrontations usually go, I was then offended by HIS “tone.” But we are two people who love each other and listen closely to the leading of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of difficult conversations. We were able to hear each other out and, by the grace of God, we’ve held on to what is good in our relationship. I think Paul would have been pleased with our exchange.
Romans 12 (Common English Bible)
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.
14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.
Where is God calling you to bless someone you would rather curse? Do you have a list? Most of us do. But Paul challenges us to love without pretending, and show honor to each other. This can only be done when you talk and listen to those whom you’d rather curse.
And don’t miss the part about devoting yourselves to prayer! Contending with harassers and enemies has got to come after time has been spent in prayer. It may take years.
Early in my ministry I was attacked by a matriarch of the church. She had no appreciation for what I brought to the table. She complained about my children’s sermons, said that my recruitment efforts to set up team-teaching in Sunday School had failed because nobody liked me, etc. She took those concerns to our Staff Parish committee (basically a Human Resources committee) and they called me in to talk about it. I was DEVASTATED. The committee discussed it further after I went back to my office, where I began to collect boxes to pack my things. About an hour later my assigned committee-advocate found me. He told me that the committee felt the matter was over that night and no action would be taken. But the deep pain I felt left a mark.
My advocate was much older and wiser than I, and advised me to follow the scripture that commands us to “pray for our enemies.” I took his advice. Lo and behold, many years later this woman came to me on a big church workday and called me down from a ladder to tearfully apologize for what she had said. She was sorry for the trouble she had caused all those years earlier. She had been working things out in her personal life at the time, and some of it spilled over and splashed on me. We reconciled in that moment and have maintained a friendly relationship ever since. Later on, when her child came into a time of trouble, she sought out my counsel, further solidifying our relationship. I easily love this woman without pretending.
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.
That last line is so accurate. When we feel offended by someone, we might just be missing an important lesson about our OWN behavior that needs some attention. Paul reminds us that God can do so much more with a humble and contrite spirit than a self-righteous one.
Where is God calling you to change?