Persecution was something with which Paul was very familiar. Indeed, it was almost a daily reality for the early Christians, just as it is in many parts of the world today. As we know, our own country persecuted the followers of Jesus at several times in its history. There is no reason why we should imagine it will not happen again. So what should we say when people oppose us for being Christians?
It is obvious from Paul’s words that the persecutors were not a distance away from him, so we could describe it as hands-on persecution. So our response may yet be done looking into their faces. Paul tells us that in such situations we have to be alert to the possibility of a natural temptation, which would be to reveal hatred by the use of a curse. In contrast, our response should be in the form of a blessing. I assume that what Paul has in mind is that we should share the gospel with them.
Paul would have been aware of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he said: ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:44).
It is worth asking when Paul may first have seen such a response and the answer to this question could be the martyr Stephen who prayed for his persecutors, led by Paul, as they stoned him to death. And Stephen was imitating the actions of his Master who prayed for those who nailed him to the cross. The soldiers later were affected by what happened through their cruel treatment of Jesus, and Paul was affected by the witness of Stephen.