August 11, 2011

Hard Sayings IX: Loving People You Can't Stand

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." ~Matthew 5:44

Who hasn't been wronged by someone and then had the insuppressible urge to retaliate or at least give them the "how-to" and the "what-for"? I have and sometimes still do. Its the urges and desires getting the upper hand in the battle for sanctification. The flesh (σάρξ) takes over. Things like this are what stand in our way of becoming more holy. It is the "loving your enemies" that makes being a true Christian so hard. Get over it. No  one said this life was easy. If you're gonna be a pansy about this you'd better rethink your situation. If you cannot handle this and have not been abiding in this truth...the term Christian may not be the classification or description that you reside under. I am not saying you should go right now and bake cookies and buy flowers for people you consider your enemy but at the same time, you had better not hate them.

You should also be trying to figure out how to make inroads to repairing the relationship if you haven't tried before. Although you might not love them right now, God does and these "enemies" of yours are still God's creation created in His matter how flawed they appear to you...they still need to be loved. To hate them is to hate God's creation thereby hating something in His image (by proxy). Sometimes the fact that these "enemies" are enemies and are so hard to get along with stems from the fact that few or no one has tried to love them in the past anyway. Isn't this exactly what we as Christian are called to do specifically? Love the unlovable. Eat dinner with the sinners and tax-collectors? We are called to patiently endure and help bear other's burden. Yet I hear it often, "Ehhh, that is gonna be really my enemy? Really?"

Do you think it was easy for Jesus to bear a cross to His death on a scourged back to right the relationship between you and your enemy? To create a point of reconciliation in His death so that people diametrically opposed can meet and get along? Please. Stop the "woe is me" mindset when asked to right a relationship with an enemy. No one knew more woe than the Man of sorrows Himself: Jesus. He endured the pain to right the imbalance after the Fall and to bring salvation to those that accept His work on the cross. The Fall which has a direct hand in the enmity and animosity between you and your "enemy".

Before I am accused of being hypocritical and told, "Why should we, if you can't?", I will state the following. Because of the conciliatory power of Christ...I have loved my enemies on quite a few occasions. My only regret is that I have not been able to right all bad relationships (but not by my choice). Relationships with mortal enemies have in some cases become friendships. I have made those phone calls and built or rebuilt some of those bridges where the reconciling process did not cause more damage. Was it easy? Of course not, wasn't meant to be.

If you have not started sensing a pattern in the Hard Sayings posts, you should now. We need to look at the context of the passage. What did Jesus say immediately before this? "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you..." Jesus is referencing the Old Testament and again He is raising the bar very high for Christian behavior.

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." ~Leviticus 19:18

This is also spoken of elsewhere as the second of the two greatest commandments. The primary obviously being Deuteronomy 6:5's "You shall love the Lord your God ...". So if we only have to love God and our neighbor, we're free to hate everyone else right?

Jesus is very clear in Matthew 22:36-40 in relation to these types of social relationships.

"Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So Jesus in Matthew 5:44 ups the ante. We are to love our enemies. What does this love mean? When Jesus says love it is a practical type of love for interaction with other beings, God or people. We are not to pay lip-service we are to embody the love towards another.

"Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth" ~1 John 3:18.

We cannot just love and walk away. If we love someone we stay and we help them, interact with them or to have a relationship with is an action, a verb, not just a noun. So Jesus tells us to commit to an action and put it to good effect. What does He tell us to do after telling us to love our enemies?

"...pray for those who persecute you [abuse you]"

Why? As the mind leads, the body follows. As we pray for our enemy a change is instituted in us also as the initiator of  prayer. God can do the work in the heart of the "enemy" as I can personally attest to but as you are praying the prayer and Spirit is doing a work in you too. The best way to destroy an enemy (which is all a sinful person wants to do anyway) is to make them a friend. You see, praying for your enemy doesn't always necessarily mean that the entirety of God's grace is directed at that person...sometimes it's direct at you too. What does Proverbs tell us about helping an enemy?

"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." ~Proverbs 25:21-22

The burning coals in the passage refer to shame. Shame is a reaction to one's actions when they know they are wrong. Generally, this reaction produces a heart of contriteness and repentance. Thereby it changes the person from the inside out. This works a lot better than walking up to somebody and smacking them in the head.

If you do something good in addition to the shame a normal human would feel in the presence of a good deed it aids in the lasting effect of changing the person's presuppositions about you. You haven't just said good things about your enemy you have actually produced fruit that shows a truthful heartfelt intent. This often times ends with our adversary realizing... "Oh, maybe he wasn't the jerk I perceived him as the last ten years. Perhaps it was me all along or a little of both, perhaps I should go talk to him?"

I hold this especially close to heart as I know for a fact it works as it has worked for me. As my heart turned towards God and I began to pray that God repair my life and relationships in my life, He laid it on my heart to talk to people I would've otherwise continued to avoid and ignore in animosity. As I prayed and talked the Spirit chipped away at years of misunderstanding, assumptions and presuppositions until it revealed the real people underneath not the ones I thought I was seeing. In the process it chipped away the enemies both in their lives and in my mind to reveal friends. Sometimes the precious diamonds reside within the ugliest rocks of our own making.


Philsthrills said...

This is huge.

Bridget4Jesus said...

Please pray for me as I don't know how to love my own sister. I don't hate her, but those 3 little words (I love you) just won't come out of my mouth in reference to her! She is lost, and I have shared the Gospel with her, but she doesn't believe It. I know that she needs my love, but I can't bring myself to love her for some reason. 1 John 3:10 & 14 "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother...14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death."
I have been struggling with this for YEARS! HELP! Please pray for me. Thank you.

Andy Pierson said...

We will Bridget. Peace of Christ be with you. :)

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