Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone, Romans 12:14 – 17a.
Why doesn’t Paul go from Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse, to verse 19, Never take your own revenge…? Surely verses 15 and 16 are a digression; or are they? Surely they are out of place, a wandering of the mind of the great apostle? But perhaps not.
If my estimation of myself is critical to my response toward evil then verses 15 and 16 are not a digression. If I seek to preserve my life, if my life is the center of my universe, if all the planets revolve around me, then I will respond to evil defensively at best, aggressively at worst – and in either case I will lose, and in the worse case I will be transformed into the evil I seek to resist – or at least be fooled into acting out the evil that I resist.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep is a reorientation of my universe; from a universe of self to a universe of one another. Verse 16 brings us back to verse 3; don’t think more highly of yourself than you should; do not be haughty in mind…don’t be wise in your own estimation. Once again, the renewing of the mind challenges us to have a realistic view of ourselves and a loving view of others.
If Betsy ten Boom had been self-centered her heart would not have ached over the souls of the concentration camp guards; if Solzhenitsyn had been an egotistic black hole pulling everything and everyone into himself he would not have known compassion toward his torturers in the Gulag. The egotistic self is the most vulnerable to evil, and it is that element within us which evil seeks out – if evil can evoke a response from the self then evil will propagate itself. It is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life whose seed was sown in the hearts of our first parents, and they are what the Apostle John warns us against in his first letter.
And so in the Body of Christ we are to have the same mind toward one another; as Paul expresses this elsewhere:
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it, 1 Corinthians 12:26
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, Philippians 2:3 – 4.
Forgive my redundancy, but do we see that this is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? As long as my mind is a fortress of myself, as long as I relate life to me rather than to Christ and others, then I have yet to enter into incarnational renewal as envisioned in Romans Chapter 12. What are the words of Christ to those who would follow Him?
Let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.
We mitigate the image of the cross when we make it anything other than an instrument of execution – the execution of me in order that I might live in Christ – Galatians 2:20.
Only a people thus oriented are a people who can bless those who persecute them.