“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Talk about culturally abrasive! Jesus does several things here. First, he corrects a misuse and misunderstanding of the Old Testament. Second, Jesus radically readjusts the separation between friends and enemies by connecting the issue to the nature of God whose benevolence extends to all via common grace. Third, Jesus says you’re no different than a white-collar tax cheat (1st century tax collector) or a gutter level scumbag (the way Jesus’ Jewish audience viewed Gentiles).
Why should I obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies? A Christ-follower should love his or her enemies because it showcases the radical difference Jesus has made in his or her life. In a culture that says you should either hate enemies or throw them on the trash heap of ruined relationships, sort of like George Strait’s All My Ex’s Live in Texas, Jesus teaches extending love to one’s enemies. One thing we see Jesus repeatedly doing is giving a strong dose of “here’s what you’ve heard…but I say to you…” reverse brainwashing.
For starters, one will look in vain to find a command in the Old Testament to hate one’s enemies (Leviticus 19:18, 34 and Zechariah 7:10 teach quite the opposite). Not only that but Jesus’ hearers had been duped by a curious Pharisaic omission… “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To speak of loving someone is often about as clear as the tax code. Yet when you tag it with “Love them as yourself,” it comes into sharper focus. We’re great at loving ourselves. We give ourselves what we want to eat, only take good selfies, untag pictures on social media that we don’t feel do justice to our own awesomeness, and give ourselves excuses that we feel we almost certainly deserve. Loving others as I love myself requires dying to myself. Jesus hammers out loving only your friends is a sign that you’re in love with yourself; loving your enemies is a sign you’ve died to yourself (v.46-47). This. Is. The. Gospel.
So what does it mean to love enemies? It doesn’t mean enabling them to do wrong. Truly loving a person is doing what is best for them which may require cutting off financial support for a harmful addiction, or requiring a chronically lazy son to find a job or move out. Enabling a person to indulge in what is destroying them is the farthest thing from love. True love, or, in the words of the priest on The Princess Bride, “true wuv,” is doing whatever is in your power to point enemies to Christ. Not only that, Jesus takes it a step further in commanding His followers to pray for persecutors. It’s simple: when they’re trying to make your life a living hell…pray they don’t go there. Pray for their repentance. How do you even the score with an enemy? Love them by praying the best thing for them: brokenness over sin and repentance towards God. Not only does this release you from the chains of bitterness but it also allows you to, in a small way, catch a glimpse into the Gospel as Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
All Christ-followers are fighters; they just know who the real enemy is. Ephesians 6:12 states, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Jesus puts this in practical terms. In the blood-soaked, Rome-dominated, dark world of the first century, He tells his followers “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). But the elephant in the room is: How do you shine for Christ in a twisted world full of selfish people who seem to get a buzz from making others’ lives into a living hell? Simply put, how do I let my light shine when I want to lay it aside so I can make use of both hands to jack up jerks who deserve what they have coming? Jesus’ words are very radical…“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying getting ground and pounded is what we should all strive for in life or that martyrdom is to be sought after as a higher virtue (for a detailed treatment of whether or not Jesus is against self-defense or all use of force, check out the podcast). Rather, the driving thought seems to be that ministry begins the second mile.
Refusing to be controlled by another person’s insults (the idea behind Jesus’ reference to being struck on the right cheek with the left hand), by returning grace rather than hatred is a tell-tale sign of genuine heart change. Our culture feeds on revenge. Without a culture of revenge no one would watch Reality TV which isn’t reality anyway. Revenge doesn’t have to be like cheesy 80’s Steven Seagal shoot em up fest. It can be through the tortuous means of slander or relational silence that screams rejection. Responding with the love of Christ in the face of irrational hatred profoundly confuses the enemy. Yes…the real enemy. Hell has no defense against the power of grace-driven forgiveness.
What makes this sort of retaliation against revenge possible? A firm faith in God as my defender makes it possible for me to not fight fire with fire. It is a firm reliance on the sovereignty of God and the transitory nature of human power to oppress. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Genuine faith in God’s power to defend us requires a settled defiance of evil. It is a determined, teeth-gritting commitment to defy evil to its face and say, “you will not determine what I will become. I will not be your slave through bitterness and animosity. I will choke the very life out of you with the beautiful fragrance of forgiveness.” First Peter 2:23 says of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” It’s not an MC Hammer-esque, ‘You can’t touch this” sort of arrogance. Rather, the refusal to respond with the vitriol of bitterness is an active, not passive, action of entrusting ourselves to our great defender. Another key in retaliating against the seductive voice of revenge is admitting that God can wield the sword of vengeance with far more skill than we ever could. Romans 12:19-21 reads, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Launching this kind of ordnance into the enemy lines is bound to cause confusion because cruel people do not understand grace or the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) and yet grace may be the only thing to penetrate the cold and hardened heart of an enemy thus circumnavigating a hardened intellect. We think, “But it seems like they’re getting away with it! They need to pay!” They won’t and they do. Yet when you choose to retaliate against revenge by extending grace you are the one absorbing the penalty of injustice…and who does that sound like? Isn’t the Gospel that Jesus, the Innocent One, absorbed every ounce of God’s wrath that was rightfully intended for us? As R.G. Lee proclaimed, there will be “Payday Someday.”1 As difficult as it may be, let’s let God take care of vengeance and until that dreadful day comes, let’s strive for the repentance of our persecutors.
*Check out the podcast for an full treatment of the ethics of retaliation*
1. R.G. Lee, “Payday Someday,” http://www.newsforchristians.com/clser1/lee-rg001.html
I absolutely love children. From feeding my little 15 month old nephew Cheerios to telling riveting Bible stories to the wide-eyed, enthusiastic 3-4 year olds of our Tykes Preschool, I’m able to catch a small glimpse into Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14, ESV). Children portray a beautiful innocence to the sordid details of our twisted planet. If children are among the defenseless ones (mentally challenged, physically handicapped, etc.), in a savage world, then how much more the ‘littlest’ children?
We intuitively know that children should be protected against those who would do them harm. So then why do so many in enlightened, 21st century, Western culture defend the barbaric practice of abortion in which the most defenseless ones among us are deprived of life, liberty, without due process? Regardless of religion or political affiliation, here are a few thoughts to consider:
- Abortion goes contrary to American jurisprudence which errs on the side of life – Simply put, if there’s a doubt that the unborn are fully human, then why not err on the side of protecting life? In other words, is human life valuable? If so, then why take a chance? Human life is something worth protecting.
- Abortion is not a side-show religious issue but one of justice – R.C. Sproul writes, “Do pro-life laws establish religion? The church is not asking the state to baptize human beings, but to protect the lives of unborn humans.”1
- Abortion should take into account current science, not that of 1973 – The only difference between a zygote or embryo and that of a fully grown human, genetically speaking, is that of development. The unborn are fully human given that they have all the genetic information that, if not aborted, will result in a full grown human. At the time of Roe v. Wade (1973), ultrasound technology was about as developed as the Dallas Cowboys defense (very poor…and I’m a Cowboys fan). In their book, “Imaging and Imagining the Fetus: The Development of Obstetric Ultrasound,” Malcolm Nicholson and John Fleming write that ultrasound technology “has probably reached more or less the pinnacle of its acuity.”2 Thankfully to the advance of medical technology, this pinnacle is indeed one of crystal clear lucidity. Everything from unborn infants smiling, sucking their thumb, and flashing the “peace sign”3 (a telltale sign of a future hippy) is easily observable via ultrasound. Given these data, arguing that the unborn are merely masses of tissue is a symptom of a serious need for a scientific update.
- Abortion is not the unpardonable sin – The power of the Gospel is stronger than any sin. Through the forgiveness of Jesus, Hebrews 8:12 can become a reality, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
It’s one thing to pontificate on seemingly abstract concepts related to the abortion debate, doing something about it is another. Here are a few concrete action steps to uphold the value of human life in our culture:
- Consider volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or financially supporting such ministries.
- Consider becoming involved in the Pro-Life movement.
- Refuse to support politicians or political groups that advocate abortion or euthanasia.
- Look for ways to show grace of Jesus to women who have had abortions.
- Look for ways to encourage the ill, aging, and unemployed who feel their worth is dwindling.
1. R.C. Sproul & Trevin Wax, “Do Pro-life Laws Establish Religion?” The Gospel Coalition, January, 18, 2014, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/01/18/do-pro-life-laws-establish-religion/
2. Tanya Lewis, “5 Fascinating Facts about Fetal Ultrasounds,” Live Science, May 16, 2013, http://www.livescience.com/32071-history-of-fetal-ultrasound.html
3. “Sign Baby is Born to be Wild,” The Sun, July 9, 2009, http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2525252/Baby-makes-V-sign-in-womb.html