Sunday sermon on the Epistle to the Romans 12:6-14
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Bless those who persecute you, bless, and do not curse them.”
In the letter from Saint Paul to the Christian community in Rome, that we just heard from, the Apostle tells them to bless their persecutors. He repeats his exhortation to emphasize his point – bless, and do not curse them. This means three things: that Roman Christians were persecuted; that they cursed their persecutors; instead Paul wants them to bless them.
So, what is the deal with blessing and cursing? Today, we bless and curse as much as any other generation, but there is an argument to be made that we do not really know what we are doing when we bless or curse. We do not use them properly.
For example, when we call someone an S.O.B., what exactly are we saying about their mother? Or when we use a particular four-letter word, what do we wish upon a person? Or when we say, “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, is it a superstitious thing to say or is there an actual blessing in that phrase?
Words are not arbitrary, whether we like it or not, they have meaning, even power. For example, in Matthew 5, that’s part of a big block called “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘Do not kill.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with anyone, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult anyone, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ (meaning, call names) you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Words have power, we are judged by what comes out of us. So, let’s consider the meaning of blessing and cursing.
Let’s begin with cursing. First thing to note here, cursing does not just mean profanity. When we curse someone, we wish them ill, even death. Biblically speaking, cursing is never to be taken lightly.
Also Biblically speaking, God is the first one to curse someone – after the act of disobedience by Adam and Eve. God cursed the serpent, who deceived our first ancestors, and He cursed the ground because of Adam and Eve, and He cursed them by banishing them out of Eden (Genesis 3).
Most of the time when God curses someone, however, it’s not the final act of condemnation, but an initial act on the road to redemption. And this includes Adam and Eve. One day I will have to talk about how the banishment from Paradise was actually a blessing, or at least done for the benefit of Adam and Eve and all humanity, and not a punishment. But for now, let’s just keep in mind that God cursed them for their disobedience, and this curse is the first one ever.
Jesus also curses, but in this case a fig tree that was not producing fruit (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14). This curse is a warning to the faithful to not only look good and pious on the outside, but to be fruitful in our works also. Otherwise, we will wither away and die like the fruitless fig tree.
God’s power of curses is much stronger than ours, obviously, but we would be foolish to think that our curses have no power. The power of curse is such that it pollutes our own mind before it does anything whom we wish to curse.
But enough about cursing, let’s look at the meaning of blessing now. Just like with cursing, God is the first ever to bless. When God created the first human beings, it says in the first chapter of Genesis, He “blessed them, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28).
There is one common thing to both blessing and cursing – both use a spoken language, words. However, with blessing it’s not just any words. In Greek, Latin, and bunch of other languages, the word for “blessing” literally means “a good word.” More specifically, a good spoken word.
Biblically speaking, we also see that there are sometimes actions that go along with blessing. Such as Jesus placing His hands on the children when blessing them (Mark 10:16). Or where He lifts up His hands to bless His disciples before the Ascension (Luke 24:50). Some places in the Old Testament, such as the Psalms, speak about lifting up our hands when blessing the Lord.
So from this we see that blessing often involves physical actions, usually using hands by laying them on someone or lifting them up before someone.
Therefore, how do we bless? If we use good words to bless, then we intend a blessing. If God uses good words to bless, then He intends a blessing. The same goes for whatever gestures are made in giving a blessing. These good words are spoken with a specific purpose in mind, with a specific action being intended. We do not have to use some magical words and actions to bless. If the intent is to bless, then using good spoken words and good actions will produce a blessing.
Knowing now some of the mechanics of how to bless, one question still remains – why give a blessing? Why does God bless? Blessing can’t be just a greeting, not if anything in the Scriptures is taken seriously.
Blessings and curses, as was mentioned previously, have power. They have a real power to influence us and/or the people we bless or curse. Saint Paul talks about blessing and not cursing those who persecute us, meaning our enemies.
Now, these persecutors might all just be in our heads or they might be actual human beings. Whoever they are, if we use the words that intend to curse, we shape our relationship with ourselves and with these other people to be a very negative one. We are setting up ourselves for misery. Curses have power, and that power effects, first and foremost, us.
Blessings have power too; good spoken word can actually heal. However, when it comes to curses, it doesn’t take much effort to remember or even invent new ones. With blessings … it can be a bit harder. It’s easy to say, “God bless you,” but actually mean, “I hope you die.”
So, how do we bless in a Christian way? By speaking good words, even when we don’t feel like doing it, even if it’s counterintuitive to bless our persecutors.
I would like to offer two small examples of how to bless. We have a rich abundance of prayers in our Church. One such prayer is called “A Prayer for Pacification of Animosity.” It begins with these words, “We thank You, O Master…” We thank you. Is there anyone persecuting us? Give thanks. Makes no sense, right? Give thanks.
And the second example is personal, not because I have mastered blessing others, but because I have found something that works for me and would like to share it with you. Whenever I am persecuted by my own thoughts, which may or may not be influenced by actual people, instead of dwelling on dreams of arguments, and how I am to crush and defeat my opponents, and put them in their proper place (thoughts that, by the way, do nothing for my spiritual and physical well-being), instead, pray.
I cross myself (an action of blessing both myself and those I am about to pray for), and pray in these simple good words, “Remember, O Lord, so-and-so (name your persecutors by their name), and bless them with Your heavenly blessings, and forgive me for judging, despising, and hating them.” There are days when this prayer has to be said numerous times. But, whatever it takes, speak good words and bless those persecuting you.
I am not saying that I have stopped cursing others, but this prayer does help orient the mind on the right thing – the Lord.
Therefore, to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Who through His Apostle Paul teaches us to bless our persecutors, we give glory, honor, and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
This sermon was inspired by another sermon by Father Andrew Stephen Damick, which can be found here.