Every Christian knows the following teaching of Jesus, but let’s be honest, very few of us have much interest in actually doing that.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
This passage is pretty straightforward. Regardless how others treat us, we are not to be unkind to them. Period. God expects us to be god-like in that regard. Does that mean God “likes,” enjoys or admires his enemies? Apparently not. The Old Testament is full of stories of God killing his enemies, or ordering them killed. He was so unhappy with the Israelites at Mount Sinai that he threatened to kill them all. And these were his chosen people! Nevertheless, he was kind and gracious to them – he says he “loves” them even when he was unhappy with them.
So, how does Jesus command actually work in the life of a Christian? Here’s what it cannot mean; I cannot, by an act of my will, cause myself to admire or enjoy someone who is making my life miserable. Of course, the Holy Spirit could cause this to happen, but that’s not a choice I can will my heart to make.
However, I can, by an act of my will, choose to be kind, generous and gracious to people I do not like or admire. If I do, and when I do, I am being obedient to Jesus commands. I am loving them the way God loves his enemies. Not with warm fuzzy emotions and admiration, but without retribution, by being more kind to them than the world would say “they deserve.”
So, who are the enemies in your life – people who have made you miserable, taken advantage of you, gossiped about you, or hurt you deeply? Perhaps they are still doing it. I have just such a person in my life right now.
I’ve never wished this person ill. But, I’m ashamed to admit how often I wished other people knew how unkind and difficult this person has been to me, so they would be unmasked, and I would be admired (Pride!). I’ve also fantasized having a conversation with them, where I was brilliant and spiritual and they finally broke down to where they saw their sin, asked for forgiveness and of course I forgave them. What else would a super-Christian do?
And every time I have those thoughts, the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sin, and encourages me to continue being kind to my enemy, even when I’d prefer to never have to deal with them again. In the spirit of Matthew 5:23-24, I’ve tried to reconcile with this person and actually have no idea why they do not like me. To no avail.
I wrote this in my book The 10 Second Rule: “Being taken advantage of by others is an occupational hazard for the true follower of Jesus.” Allowing that to happen without bitterness or retribution, and still be kind is the Holy Grail of my life. I’m nearly 71 and I wish I could claim total victory in this area, but by the grace of God, I have tried to love my enemies – mostly.
Next week, we’re going to take a look at what happens when Christians fail to forgive. I doubt you’ll feel any better after reading that blog than you did, reading this one. The Bible is full of inconvenient truths.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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