Lavender or Stinkweed? Your Response to Persecution Matters

Most people plant herbs for cooking. I plant them for sniffing. I grow lavender by my front door so I can rub my hands over it when I walk past and carry the scent with me throughout the day. I love how the fragrance transfers to my fingertips. Don’t you wish Christlikeness would transfer to us that easily?

What if we could rub our hands on the pages of the Gospel of John and carry the radiance of His love, mercy, and humility around with us throughout the day. Instead, God uses a molding process—sometimes a crushing process—to produce a fragrant bouquet of Christlikeness in us.

When crushed under the threat of persecution, sometimes we respond like lavender and fill the air with the pleasing aroma of Christ. Other times, our responses reek like stinkweed, returning slight for slight and spite for spite. But Christ calls us to face our enemies like He did—to be like lavender, not stinkweed. But first we must learn to recognize one from the other. 

When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

The Marks of a Fragrant Aroma

1. Lavender Leaps for Joy When Persecuted—Stinkweed Despairs

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23, emphasis added)

Good Friday marks the day on which men perpetrated the highest act of evil on earth—they tortured, mocked, and crucified our Lord. We call the day good despite the evil because Christ’s sacrifice purchased the souls of His children, His Beloved Bride, the Church.

Christ’s enemies leaped for joy on “Good Friday,” but not His disciples. They hid in despair. They didn’t understand what Christ had accomplished. But after the resurrection, their leaping began. 

Don’t forget what Christ has done. Leap for joy in the Lord when persecution heats up. Guard your faith from the type of stinkweed despair the disciples felt on Good Friday. Rejoice! Jesus is the resurrection and the life even when death surrounds us. 

2. Lavender Prays for Her Enemies—Stinkweed Hates Them

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matt. 5:43–44)

Christ’s first words on the cross weren’t for His mother or beloved disciples, but for those who crucified Him. He didn’t call down righteous fire upon them. He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

God answered His prayer with salvation. Two men trusted in Jesus at the cross—the criminal crucified with Christ and the Roman centurion who cried out in faith, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Luke 23:42–43; Mark 15:39).

During World War II, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “This is the supreme command: Through the medium of prayer we go to our persecutors, stand by their side, and plead to God for them.”1 Bonhoeffer spoke out against the evil Nazi regime and prayed passionately for their salvation from the concentration camp where they eventually executed him.

Only love can defeat hate. And only the gospel can transform a hate-filled heart that’s dead in its sin and make it alive to live and love. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit, not of man. So pray! Pray for the salvation of your enemies.

3. Lavender Does Good to Her Enemies—Stinkweed Does Evil

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)

We can’t expect those who hate God to abstain from persecuting others, to embrace Christlike love, and to do good. Christians, however, can and should. As the late Pastor Alexander MacLaren said, “[Christians] are not to be mere reverberating surfaces, giving back echoes of angry voices. Let us take the initiative, and if men scowl, let us meet them with open hearts and smiles.”2 Let’s do them good.

Treat your enemies how you’d want to be treated—in a way that’s in their best interest. Sometimes this involves meeting their needs, blessing them with unexpected kindness, or turning the other cheek. Other times it requires taking appropriate action against them. 

If someone’s sin would harm others and/or themselves—robbery, assault, murder—the most loving thing we can do for them is to stop them. If God empowers you to stop the evil, you’ll rescue a victim (possibly even yourself) from harm and prevent the perpetrator from plunging further into evil. They won’t thank you now, but their momma probably will.

Regardless, God calls us to forgive.

4. Lavender Forgives Her Enemies—Stinkweed Clings to Unforgiveness

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

Pastor John MacArthur encourages us to forgive the unforgivable with a beautiful—and logical—truth. 

He said, 

You’re never more like God than when you forgive your enemies because the whole of salvation is based on the fact that God has forgiven His enemies. We cannot manifest that we are genuinely the sons of God unless we love the way God loves; and God loved enemies because those were the only people that existed. He doesn’t have any friends in the fallen world.3

Through faith, God has forgiven His children a mountain of sin. The height of our sin exceeds that of the Alps, Rockies, or Appalachians. Some days I wonder if my sin might eclipse Mount Everest! Regardless of the size and manner of the sins perpetrated against us, our loved ones, or God, Christ calls and empowers us to forgive as He has forgiven us. (Eph. 4:32)

God Is Committed to Our Transformation

Will we choose to endure persecution with a pleasing fragrance that radiates joy in the Lord? Or will we push against God’s transforming work and stink with despair and bitterness? The choice is simple, but doing it takes the same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead. Fortunately, as Christians, God filled us and sealed us with this power when He gave us His Spirit.

Even so, becoming Christlike isn’t easy, especially in the midst of persecution. But God is committed to our transformation. He won’t give up on His children. The sooner we embrace His molding, shaping, and yes, even His crushing work in us, the sooner we’ll transform into the pleasing likeness of His Son.

Our sin-stink will fall away and leave us with the aroma of Christ in a world that reeks of anger, bitterness, and violence. Some will hate us because we belong to Him (John 15:18–25). Many will turn away or turn against us, repulsed by our testimony. But if our love is genuine, we can trust God with the results—and with our enemies.

Persecution is hard, but Christ is faithful. Do not fear. If you are a child of God, your life is safely hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3). Through His power, you’ll not only be able to endure the bruising, but as a result of it, you’ll spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death,
to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 
(2 Corinthians 2:14–16)

1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 166.

2Pastor Alexander MacLaren; Expositions of Holy Scripture, Luke 6

3Pastor John MacArthur, Sermon: Loving Your Enemies as God Does, Matthew 5:43-48

About the Author

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund is passionate about leading women into a greater understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. She serves Revive Our Hearts as a member of the blog team and a moderator for the Women's Ministry Leader … read more …

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