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Romans 12:14-21

In verses 9 through 13, Paul has explained some of the most basic principles of how to love your brethren. Now in verses 12 through 21, Paul turns to the other side of the coin; how to love your enemies. The principles he addresses in these verses will be fundamental in helping you deal with those who will hate you. Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The issues we are about to consider are some of the most difficult for anyone to put into practice in the Christian life. These principles are easy to talk about, but are hard to do. 

Paul declared, 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 set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:14-21). What is the message that is taught here, and how can you apply these commands in your own personal life? Let me give you five principles that I see in these verses.

1. Love for your enemy requires that you control your mouth.

It is pretty clear that when Paul begins with, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” that he believed it was essential to control what comes out of your mouth in the midst of persecution. As I just said, this is easy to say, and another thing to do. But this is God’s command, and if He commands you to do something, then He will enable you to do it (Phil. 2:13). Now I know some of you reading this right now are thinking, I can’t do that. I’ve never been able to control my mouth when someone is offensive with me. This is just not possible. If these words are going through your mind right now, I would totally agree with you that you can’t do this on your own! But, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). So, don’t think you can’t control your mouth when it comes to your enemies. With God’s help and His power flowing through you, I believe we all can bless and curse not! Remember Jesus also said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus is in total agreement that you can’t do anything that He commands without Him! Without Him you are weak and inconsistent. With Him you can do all things through Christ who will strengthen you (Phil. 4:13). I hope that you have come to this conclusion about every command that God has given. If you know this truth, then this is what drives you to seek Him daily, so that you might abide in Him.

In addition, it is essential that you understand what it means to bless your enemy. Note the short antithetic statement at the end of this verse, curse not. These words are the antithesis of what it means to bless your enemy. In other words, don’t turn around and do or say to your enemy exactly what they are doing and saying to you. What you need to do is to speak to them differently than they are speaking to you. The word bless simply means to speak well of or to speak kindly to people. Therefore, when you have someone cursing you, calling you foul names, how do you respond? Do you cuss right back at them, or do you speak kindly to them? If you speak kindly to them, that reveals that your mouth is under God’s control. I don’t believe that God is commanding you to mechanically say, “Bless you, bless you, brother.” I don’t believe that is Paul’s point. He is teaching you to not respond to people the way they are talking to you. Your mouth must be under control, and if it is, you will speak kindly to them. Speaking kindly to them will also entail speaking the truth to them.

Why is responding in this manner so important? Because God has promised you a blessing if you do. In 1 Peter 3:8-9, Peter said, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” Notice that these verses are literally a commentary on what Jesus taught the disciples. Peter is telling his readers to be courteous to those who do evil to them, not returning evil for evil, but speaking courteously. Have you ever had this experience? Someone is reviling and cursing you for some reason, and you speak calmly and kindly in return. What happens when you walk away from that conversation? Don’t you walk away blessed within yourself, because God has enabled you to show love and not sink to their level? This has happened to me many times when I have gone out to share the Gospel at the beach. I walk up to people and some are extremely receptive, and we have a great conversation about who Jesus is and what He has done for them. But others will curse at me and call me names, and I respond with, “Have a good night.” When I walk away, God blesses me every time, because I know this is exactly how people treated Jesus. If I would respond with anger or by mocking them, I have not represented Jesus. In fact, I have actually given that person a reason to blaspheme God even more (2 Sam. 12:14).

Another way that you will be enabled to respond to your enemies kindly is with prayer. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-45, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Notice in this teaching that Jesus told His disciples to, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Prayer is the key to loving your enemy. Here is where the power of His love will come and flood your heart. Be assured that loving your enemy will never become a reality in your life if you are not a man or woman of prayer. I can tell you that I have done exactly what Jesus taught here, and it works. I have had people call me on the telephone and use every four-letter word you can imagine, because they don’t like something I’ve done or said. As I’m listening to this abuse, I have sensed my heart wanting to react in anger. I’m thinking to myself; I want to tell this person where they can go. At that moment, if I don’t start praying, I will surely say the things I am thinking. However, when I have prayed, at that very moment, I have immediately experienced the power of the Holy Spirit come and control my heart and my mouth. Those of you that have done this, you know what I’m talking about. God shows up and saves you from yourself. If you have not had this experience, try it next time, and you will see His power manifested in you.

Now, by speaking kindly, this does not mean that you can’t speak the truth in response to the hatred coming your way. Speaking courteously doesn’t mean that you can’t refute the lies that are being spoken, or speak against the evil that someone is doing. It’s just the way you speak that is important. This is exactly what Jesus did when He responded to people who were condemning, criticizing, and falsely charging Him with doing evil. How did Jesus respond? In Mark 14:6, after a woman came and anointed Jesus with costly oil, and the people criticized Him for allowing this to be done, Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good thing for Me.” What a great example is this! Jesus told them to let her alone. He stood up for her. I am absolutely confident that even though Jesus reproved them He did so respectfully and without yelling at them.

In John 7:19, when the Jews spoke against Jesus, He said to them, “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill me?” Here is another reproof from Jesus as He speaks the truth in love to these men. I don’t believe that He was yelling at the top of His lungs at them. He was speaking firmly and directly to them.

Also, notice the exchange between Jesus and the high priest recorded for us in John 18:20-23. “Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.’ And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’” Jesus called it like it was. Again, I don’t believe Jesus was being rude or yelling at the high priest. He was speaking the truth and standing up for what was righteous according to the law.

The reason I bring these examples up is because people think that if you are to bless and not curse, then you have to be all nice and apologetic, never dealing with the real issues. But Jesus did deal with the real issues of truth and righteousness every time. Follow His example! That would also entail not speaking kindly to your enemy’s face, and then cursing them behind their back. That, of course, would be hypocritical.

Another reason I bring up these examples is because of the error I hear in the news media today. They say that if someone speaks against the gay rights movement, the transgender movement, or what Muslim groups believe and what they want to do here in our country, then you are labeled as being unloving, or as a hater, using hate speech. Have you ever heard that? That idea is completely false! To speak against sin and evil is free speech, guaranteed by our constitution. Jesus spoke against adultery, fornication, theft, idolatry, and many other evils throughout His ministry. As long as you are accurate and respectful in the way you speak, you are free to speak the truth (Eph. 4:15). Jesus is all the proof you need that speaking in this manner is acceptable behavior. It is not hate speech to disagree with someone on moral or religious issues. If you can’t disagree with someone, then the founding fathers of our country were guilty of treason when they spoke against the moral abuses of England. Was that hate speech? Absolutely not! There is a total difference between condemning a person, and making a judgment about what someone is doing, whether it is right or wrong (John 7:24; Luke 12:57). If you can’t make your own moral judgments about what is right and wrong, then how can God make these judgments in the Bible, and not be charged with hate speech? If this is a person’s definition of hate speech, then the whole Bible is hate speech. This is exactly what governments and the UN today are trying to assert. But, if their definition of what is hate speech is correct, then they are committing hate speech against us as Christians, because they are making moral judgments on our behavior. This is why this truth is so important to think through in your own mind, and understand the examples that are given to you in the Scriptures. This will keep you balanced and walking in the truth.

2. Love for your enemy requires that you have a tender heart like Christ’s.

The second thing that enables you to love your enemies is the fact that you can, Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Paul is referring to a quality of heart that is so important. It is the ability to be sympathetic and caring for those who are hurting and those who are being persecuted. At the same time, you must be able to rejoice with people who are happy and rejoicing, because of great blessing in their lives. Why is this heart so important for anyone who wants to love his enemies? This is the heart of Jesus! In other words, if you have this kind of heart that is tender towards others, it proves that the selfish part of you is dead. Jesus had that ability to love and show compassion toward those who were hurting, as was witnessed by the way He dealt with the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. But this ability also enabled Jesus to have compassion for those who were killing Him. This is why He could say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Was this not an expression of Christ’s love for his enemies? This is exactly the same heart that Stephen had for those who were stoning him to death. The Scripture records, “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60). It is no coincidence that Stephen’s words were very similar to that of Christ’s. Stephen had the same heart toward people that Jesus did.

My question to you is, do you have this heart toward people? Can you weep with people who are hurting? Does your brother’s struggle or hurt touch your heart? Is your heart tender like this? Can you rejoice with others who are blessed and succeeding in life, or who have experienced great victory over their difficulties? If you can, then you have a tender heart, and it reveals that self has died.

What does self-seeking have to do with love and compassion for the hurting, and joy when others succeed? When life is all about you and your success in life, you will only become envious of others when they succeed, and you will have little compassion on someone who is struggling. When life is all about you and your happiness, then you have no time for those who are hurting. You simply think, That’s too bad for them. But I don’t want to listen to another sob story. When you see a news report of a woman pleading for the return of her kidnapped child, I hope a tear comes to your eye! I hope the first thing you do is pray for this mother and the return of her child. This is compassion! This is the heart noted by Matthew as he spoke of Jesus and said, “When He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus was so moved with compassion toward this world that He came to give His life as a ransom for each of us. If we are His disciples then we will also be moved with compassion. But when self-centeredness makes you callous to the hurts and the struggles of others, it’s because your heart has not been captured by the love of God.

Neither can self-centeredness rejoice with someone who is being blessed. Probably the best example of this lack of love is found in the story of the prodigal son. Remember the harshness and judgmental attitude of the elder brother? When the younger brother came home after wasting all his inheritance, the father forgave him and threw a party to welcome his son home. But the elder brother said to his father, “‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, and you killed the fatted calf for him.” (Luke 15:29-30). Notice the elder brother called his brother, “this son of yours,” not even acknowledging him as his sibling. This is pretty sad when someone can’t even rejoice when their brother is saved from death and returns to a right relationship with his family. The reason he couldn’t rejoice in this fact is because the older brother was simply focused on himself. Why couldn’t you have done this for me? Look at all the things I have done for you all these years. This was all self-centeredness! May God keep each of us in the place that we can have compassion on the hurting, and joy in the victory of others. It means you have a heart like Christ!

3. Love for your enemy requires that you will be impartial with everyone.

The next requirement to love your enemies is found in verse 16. There Paul declared, Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” Note that Paul addresses several more attitudes of the heart that enable love for those who are not like us, or who hate us. This is a warning about the attitudes of pride and partiality. These two attitudes destroy your ability to love anyone, let alone your enemies. Ask yourself the simple question of why anyone would refuse to associate with the humble of this world? Would it not be because of the pride, arrogance, and the partiality within a person’s heart? Of course it would. This would kill any possibility of love between two people. If you can’t love the humblest people in this world, then how could you ever love the person who is your enemy? It would be impossible. But this is exactly what Jesus did. He loved tax collectors, harlots, fishermen, and yes, even the Pharisees and religious leaders who hated and despised Him. He could do this because He saw all people the same. He saw no distinction between people. They were all just sinners in need of a Savior. Paul referred to this truth earlier in this epistle when He said, For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved’” (Rom. 10:12-13). Paul also taught, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). This is the way God sees us all. There is no difference between us. This is a key to loving your enemy, because you must simply see all people the same; all are in need of His forgiveness and salvation.

Is this the way you look at people in the church today? Do you realize that the people who sit with you each Sunday are just forgiven sinners, and if they were not forgiven, would probably despise you? God wants us to love all people no matter whether they love us in return, or not. If you allow partiality and pride to control your heart, then you will stop loving others. In addition, if you allow yourself to become “wise in your own opinion” of yourself, then likewise, you cannot love. Why? Because pride destroys love. This was what destroyed the Corinthian church. Those believers had become arrogant, and it divided the church. This is why Paul wrote to them saying, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up” (1 Cor 13:4). In other words, love and pride are polar opposites. These two attitudes of the heart cannot coexist. So, if you want to love your neighbor as yourself, or you want to love your enemy, then you must keep yourself from pride and partiality.

One last thought on this topic. Have you ever wondered why the Scripture declared concerning Jesus that, “The common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37)? Why was this the case? Because the common people knew that He loved them. Jesus didn’t have the arrogant attitude of the Pharisees. He talked to people with compassion and humility (Matt. 11:28-29). People could sense that He really cared about them, because He would associate with the humble. However, this same love of Jesus caused the religious leaders to hate Him, even though He also loved and reached out to them. Therefore, don’t expect anything different to happen in your life. If you love others, you will be accepted and loved in return, but you will also be hurt and betrayed by the arrogant and pharisaical. But, don’t let that stop you or cause you to harden your heart. You must keep on loving others as Christ has loved you! This kind of love will enable you to love your enemies.

4. Love for your enemy requires that you will seek reconciliation whenever possible.

If you love your enemies, one of the key requirements is that you must always seek peace and reconciliation whenever possible. This is why Paul commanded believers, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Vs. 18). First, it is important to notice that just by the fact that Paul writes, “If it is possible,” reveals that sometimes complete reconciliation is not possible. How can I be so sure of this fact? I have met many people who are just too hard-headed and arrogant to ever be able to talk calmly and reasonably with you. There has never been a more loving and humble man that ever walked this earth than Jesus. But the Pharisees could not live peaceably with Him. Did Jesus try to love and minister to them? Yes! But they would have none of it. All they wanted to do was to trap Jesus in His words so they could condemn Him. I am confident that everyone reading this article right now has someone in their life who they have an unreconciled conflict with. You had angry words, and hopefully you tried to reconcile with them, and they refused. This only proves that sometimes it is not possible to reconcile with every person.

However, if you are the person who has refused to reconcile with someone, or has not even attempted to reconcile, you need to go to them and at least attempt to reconcile. Why? Because Jesus commanded you to do so! Listen to His commands! He said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17). These commands refer to a time when you are offended by someone else. Jesus said, “go!” These are the steps you must take when you go to them, until it is clear that the person is unwilling to reconcile even at the encouragement of church leaders. However, Jesus also addressed the situation when you know that a person is angry with you, and has not come to you to resolve the issue. Jesus said, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Notice again that Jesus said, “go” and seek this reconciliation. In these verses Jesus shows just how important He considered reconciliation is between two people. Christ is more interested in getting you reconciled with a person than He is in you coming to offer a gift, or to worship Him. Jesus also taught that He wanted us to all make every effort to reconcile when He said, “When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison” (Luke 12:58). The words, make every effort, reveal that reconciliation is very important. Is reconciling with people this important to you? Do you go out of your way to make every effort to resolve issues with others? If you do, then you understand what real love is all about, and you will have the right attitude to love those who hate and despise you. Surely, your enemies will also know that you are sincere.

So, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Do whatever you can to try and reconcile with others. But remember, know that some people will not want to be peaceable with you. Sometimes you will try two or three times to resolve an issue, but to no avail. Remember, you can’t make someone reconcile with you, any more than God can force people to reconcile with Him. God requires every man to make a choice to hear His Word, believe, and follow Him. He will not force anyone into His Kingdom. There are some people who go to their death and take their last breath still cursing God’s name. If there are some people who will not reconcile with God, then there will also be some who will not reconcile with you.

5. Love for your enemy requires that you refuse to seek revenge.

The fifth and last of these truths concerning how to love your enemy is found in verses 17 and verses 19-21. Paul wrote, Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There are several very important truths taught in these verses. The first command Paul gave is to not repay evil for evil. Why does God not want us to repay others with exactly what they have done to us? It is very simple. If you repay evil for evil then you have become the very thing you hate. You are no different than those who are persecuting you. I realize this is one of the most difficult things you will ever be commanded to do, but the only way you will be able to actually not repay evil for evil, is if Jesus is truly in control of your life. His love in you is the only way this command can be obeyed.

An important balance to this truth of repaying evil for evil, is that this command is not referring to civil justice or our civil justice system today. When a murderer is put to death for his or her crimes, this is not repaying evil for evil. Why? Because in this context, Paul is talking about personal revenge, not civil justice. In fact, in Romans 13, Paul will address civil justice and the fact that the civil government is to act as the “avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Without civil justice being carried out, we would have anarchy in our cities. So, keep the balance between these two issues.

Taking personal revenge upon another is only proof that you have been overcome by evil in your own heart. We are commanded to overcome evil, and not allow it to overcome and rule in us. This is done by refusing to allow hatred and resentment to control our hearts, and choosing to forgive those who are hateful. You have to trust that God sees and knows all that has happened, and He will repay those who do evil. The phrase “give place to wrath,” in verse 19, simply means to give opportunity to the righteous Judge to deal with the evil. God states that “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” If you trust God, and do not take the opportunity to repay evil for evil, then you are allowing God to have the opportunity to do so. This attitude requires a real faith that God knows and sees it all, and that in His time and in His way, He will do what is right.

If you are praying in anger for God to judge people for their sin and wickedness, then this is another sign that your heart is not right in the sight of God. Rather, ask God to do what is right and best in this person’s life, because you never know what God might do with this evil person. What happens if God brings that evil person to repentance and salvation that you are praying for God to judge? This happened to Paul the Apostle (Acts 9)! Aren’t you happy that God didn’t judge him? He was much more useful to Jesus as His apostle, instead of burning in hell. Also, consider yourself. You used to be God’s enemy, but now you are saved. Aren’t you glad that God saved you and did not judge you? Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). The last thing God wants to do is judge people. He wants to save and redeem them. This is what you need to be praying for when someone is offensive to you.

One last thing in this passage of Scripture that you should not miss. What does it mean when Paul said in verse 20, Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head?’” What does this mean? This encouragement is a quotation from Proverbs 25:21-22. This simply means that you are to show Christian love to those who are harsh and mean toward you. The next verse explains why you should take this action. This is how you “overcome evil with good.” So, which will happen in your heart? Will you be overcome by evil and repay a person evil for evil, or will you overcome evil with good? If you are to overcome evil with good, then you have to do something good to the evil person. When you do something good, this is how you “heap coals of fire” on their head. What does this phrase mean? There are two possible ways of looking at this term. Most often in Scripture, “coals of fire” refers to God’s judgment upon the wicked. David declared God’s judgment on the wicked when he said, From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire” (Psalm 18:12-13). Others believe that the “coals of fire” refers to the fire of conviction that burns in a person’s heart after you have shown them love. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Also, John the Baptist referred to one of the primary works of the Spirit as, “The Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). I believe both interpretations are likely correct and happen in the hearts of those who persecute believers.

Let me tell you a story that I think will help illustrate this concept. This is a story of one of the early church fathers whose name was Polycarp. Polycarp was the disciple of the Apostle John. We get this story from the writings of the fourth century church historian, Eusebius. This historian had a letter sent to him detailing this account from the Church of Smyrna, where Polycarp was the Bishop. The letter explained the story surrounding how Polycarp was arrested and was ultimately burned at the stake for his faith. It is one of the most interesting stories to read. It is easily found if you search the Internet. The letter is powerful as it reveals the heart of a man of God as he dealt with his persecutors. The letter is also lengthy so let me summarize the story for you. Polycarp had a vision one night that the next day soldiers were going to come from the Roman government, and they were going to take him prisoner, and they were going to burn him at the stake. The Roman government did this because Polycarp would not confess that Caesar was Lord. When the soldiers came to Polycarp’s door he said, “Would you give me just one hour of uninterrupted prayer? They agreed. Polycarp began to pray out loud while the soldiers stood there. At the end of an hour of praying, the soldiers fell on their knees and repented of their sin, being convicted by their own conscience, and confessed Christ. He then fed them dinner, and Polycarp said, “I am ready to go.” The soldiers took him, but before they burned him at the stake the proconsul pressured him one last time to renounce Christ and declare that Caesar was Lord. Polycarp’s response was, “86 years have I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Then the Proconsul said, “I have wild animals here, and I will throw you to them if you do not yield.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good and to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” The Proconsul said, “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” Polycarp responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.” So, the soldiers simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before You, I give You thanks that You count me worthy to be numbered among Your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as You, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise You for all these things, I bless You and glorify You, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son. To You, with Him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”

In addition, the letter goes on to say that when they tried to burn him a miracle occurred. “The fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this, such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished.” The centurion then took Polycarp’s body and burned it after his death.

What an example Polycarp sets in this story! Because of Polycarp’s love, his kindness, his encouragement to these soldiers, the fire of the Spirit’s conviction fell upon their heads. His loving attitude, his care for them, is what stung their conscience and brought them to conviction and faith in Christ. So too, will be the conviction that you will bring upon the heads of those who persecute you, if you will simply choose to overcome evil with good. May we be witnesses of God’s love and mercy, so that the fires of judgment will not be an unbeliever’s end. May God give each of us the grace needed to respond in this manner.