Love Your Enemies

The Ukrainian pastor could not believe what he saw. He had arrived at the situation innocently enough. A few days earlier, an elderly woman had come to his office seeking help to secure her dying son’s diabetic medication. Wanting to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the pastor secured the medicine and then brought it to the woman’s home. But when he walked into the back bedroom, he did not see just any man. He saw ‘the man,’ his former security guard. For ten years, this guard had wiped his feces on the pastor’s toast. To top off the torture, the guard had also blindfolded and then tied the pastor to the execution post. The guard demanded that the pastor recant. He refused. But instead of gun shots, curses rang out. The guard then untied the pastor, drug him across the prison floor, and tossed him out of the gate. That chapter of the pastor’s life had ended just a few months earlier. Now he stood over his abuser unrecognized and full opportunity. Here was his moment, his chance for payback, justice, and revenge. What should he do?

What would you do if you had the opportunity to get even with that one person who had destroyed your childhood, ruined your marriage, or trashed your reputation? What would you do if you had the opportunity to get even with your most hated enemy?
The Sunday school answer (of course) consists of us loving and forgiving those who hurt us. After all Jesus had told his listeners in Matthew 5:44, “But, I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Still, this is not so easy to do when applied to the real world. Jesus knew this. In Matthew 5:43, he describes the general religious approach to dealing with enemies when he states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Though modern ears get a touch squeamish around the word “hate,” they still very much tolerate the concept that characterized second temple religiosity. One does not have to go far before he or she will hear people qualifying their love for others with appeals to the concepts of negativity and toxicity. We love those who support our passions and who give credence to our hurts. On the other hand, we hate those who push unkind, toxic, and destructive vibes into our souls. We shun them because they are bad for us. They always bring us down with their criticisms and judgement. Like the people of Jesus’s day, we tend to love our friends and hate our enemies. Despite our disposition towards hating, Jesus still calls us to love our enemies. After all, God sends rain on the just and the unjust and defines love according to his extraordinary character.

What does Love Look Like?

Before we dive into why we should love our enemies, we need to grasp what this love looks like. Namely, it looks like prayer. When men and women insult us, hurt us, and harm us even though we are peaceable, we are to first rejoice for such persecution proves that we are suffering as Jesus suffered (Matt 5:10-12). But then we pray!
If we truly love someone, we should want them to know the peace and joy of Jesus. We should hope and pray that those who have tortured us with their hands and words become members of our churches. This is not to say that we sidestep the legal system when crimes have been committed. But even as our enemies wind their way through the court system, our prayer should be for their salvation. Augustine helpfully defined love’s perfection as the ability, “To love our enemies, and to love them to the end that they may be our brothers.”

At this point, some will object because of the magnitude of their opponents. They believe that this unchecked politician will destroy their very way of life. This pastor will ruin the church. Or this boss will ruin their career. Such concerns are often not unfounded. But it does not change the Jesus’s mandate to love and pray for one’s enemies. As the British Pastor, John Stott noted, Jesus prayed for the men as they drove the nails into his hands. He then writes, “If the cruel torture of the crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride prejudice or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?” None can. For the Christian only one class of people exists: those whom we love and pray for.

Sun and Rain

Such prayer-filled love is not optional. As Matthew 5:45 makes clear, all the sons of God pray for their enemies because the sons reflect the character of their Father. He makes it rain on the just and the unjust (5:45). Though many religious people assume the presence of a new car, or their recent promotion reveals that God is pleased with them, they have no biblical basis for such thought. In his love, God cares for both the wicked and the righteous alike. The farmer who faithfully loves his wife and the farmer who has as many sexual partners as he does ears of corn can both plant, harvest, and sell corn with great success. God does not wipe sinners out the moment they sin. He patiently endures their evil (and our evil for that matter) allowing the sun afresh on both the righteous and the unrighteous. When Christians pop out an umbrella or marvels at the red sunset, they should remember their father’s caring disposition to them and to those who torment them. God loves his enemies. How can his sons and daughters do otherwise?

Extraordinary Love

Moreover, the simple ability to love those who love us falls short of the essence of God’s supernatural love. Jesus points out in Matthew 5:46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Jesus then restates the idea with Gentiles in verse 47 to help his listeners understand that even the most unreligious person will love those who love them back. Though we should love our friends, spouses, and those that share our interests. We must not boast in this love for it is common to all. Both the Christian husband wearing a tie to church and the lesbian husband wearing her black leather pants understand the importance of caring for their sick partner for both know that a happy wife equals a happy life. What sets the believer apart from the unbeliever is that the tie wearing guy should be just as ready to help his lesbian neighbor as he is his own wife. As the martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “No sacrifice which a lover would make for his beloved is too great for us to make for our enemy.” With this in mind, can we say that we truly love our enemies?

When Jesus saw us laying helplessly on the bed of life after having devoted all our energies to openly undermining, attacking, and insulting him and his loving glory, he loved us afresh. He went and died on the cross so that we might live. And then he ascended to the throne where he intercedes on our behalf. Salvation exists because God loved his enemies to the point where they became his sons and daughters. Should we not do the same?

What Did the Pastor Do?

The Ukrainian pastor knew the surpassing love of God. Instead of exacting vengeance so he could get some closure, he gave them man his medicine. And then when the mother asked, the pastor prayed for her son, he did. By God’s grace he loved his enemy.
Will you?

Did Jesus Believe the Bible?

Jesus epitomized the spirit of transformational revolution. He sought to revolutionize the religious system of his day which cared more about wearing the right clothes and eating the right foods than caring for the sick into system that valued the outcasts and that listened to the hurting. He replaced the ethic of persnickety self-righteousness with the ethic of love, asking us to do “whatever you wish that other would do to you (Matt 7:12).”

What Was Jesus Up To?

Though scholars, ethicists, and the average church goer all applaud Jesus for reinfusing kindness into religion, they still debate the nature and goal of his reformation. One popular idea that floats through the halls of academia and occasionally relaxes in the lounge of pop culture states that Jesus came to create a new religion. In stark contrast to the angry God of the Old Testament who huffed and puffed away whole civilizations, Jesus forgave the prostitutes and ate dinner with the tax collectors. In other words, Jesus came to unbox religion from the constraints of a tradition waylaid with sacred texts that had obscured the guiding star of divine love.

Other thinkers claim, Jesus that came to show humanity that religion was in a constant state of evolution. Jesus discovered that faith was not found in static texts but in the cultivation of one’s hidden eternal spark found. As souls developed their kernel of divinity, both humans and God would develop better and truer ideas of tolerance, kindness, justice, mercy, and love. In other words, Jesus came to help men and women evolve into Godhood. People like the apostles who tried to place both Jesus and faith within the Scriptures profoundly misunderstood the revolutionary ethic of Jesus.

When we confront the above ideas in literature, the classroom, and YouTube, we must return to the Scriptures and see what Jesus says about Jesus’s revolution Spirit.

Did Jesus Toss the Bible?

In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus defines the radical nature of his ministry and teaching. He does not agree with the world’s assessment of him. He tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus does not see himself at war with the God of the Old Testament. He does not find the stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah in the Wale, or Sodom and Gomorrah embarrassing or intolerant. He did not think the the Scriptures needed to evolve. In verse 18, Jesus says that until heaven and earth pass away, his word will stand. The expression “heaven and earth” was a colloquial phrase used to convey something similar to our phrase “when pigs fly.” Jesus’s point is rhetorical and clear. The Old Testament will never be outdated.

At this juncture, many theologians and friends will nominally shake their head in agreement before tossing out a, “but.” They assert that the Word of God is eternal but that not all doctrines our needed. For example when the waters of popular opinion become to shallow to sustain God’s view of sexuality or of race, many in the church will encourage us to toss those doctrines overboard so that we can reach the lost and dying with the love and mercy of Christ. Though perhaps well-intended, the impulse to jettison the less palatable parts of the Bible runs counter to Jesus’s understanding of his message. He declares that “not an iota or dot, will pass from the law (Matt 5:17).”

When Jesus tackles the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes, he does not take issue with their text but with their misinterpretation of their text. He repeatedly says, “You have heard…but I say to you.” Jesus will not tolerate those who pull out sharpies and start crossing out lines for the purpose of restricting or loosening the laws of God.

When men and women do begin to edit God’s law, they invariably restrict its application and expand its exceptions, tolerating all kinds of evil. According to the pharisees and scribes, a righteous person could be consumed with anger and bitterness if they did not murder. He could sexually harass her neighbors if he did not sleep with them. Moreover, he could still sleep with her secretary if he went through the divorce courts first. The pure in heart could also lie if the lie was inconsequential. Lastly, the holy people could take out vengeance on her neighbor if she did so with moderation. Pharisees and scribes achieved righteousness but denying righteousness. Those who read through Matthew 5:21-48 can easily grasp why Jesus said in verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

The Fulfillment of the Law

Jesus fulfilled the law when he perfectly obeyed the law. Now, he stands between us and the law not to protect us from the law but to empower us to obey it. When Christians believe, Jesus writes his heart upon their hearts and gifts them the Holy Spirit, enabling to follow the law. Because he fulfilled the moral law, his people can be moral.

But fulfillment consists not simply of obedience. When Jesus speaks of fulfillment, he is also declaring himself to be the zenith of the Old Testament. He is the savior that was promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He is the prophet that Moses was never able to be. He is the shepherd king that David aspired to be. He is the perfect high priest. He is the culmination of the Old Testament. All the stories about exile and redemption were pointing to him. For example, the Passover was pointing to the day when he would be the perfect sacrifice on the cross. Jesus came to fulfill the law. He loves even the odd rules about fabrics and eating shrimp for it points to the saving work of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all that came before. He abolished nothing.

Final Thoughts

Jesus did not take issues with the Jewish Scriptures. He founded his ministry upon them. Rather, he took issue with how the Pharisees and the scribes interpreted the Scriptures. He was revolutionary because he rightly interpreted the Word of God through the Christological lens. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. May we too be found faithful in our pursuit of holiness!

Salt and Light: Evangelism +

Once Christians recognize that the ooze flowing from towards the world’s reservoir is one of hostility, they tend to build sandbag forts around their communities. In the days of old, men and women retreated into the deserts or set up monasteries behind large brick walls to keep the sins and sorrows of this world at bay. In the modern era, Christians construct walls around exclusive social groups centered upon everything from denominational structures to youth sports in an effort to keep out the displeasure of the world.

Though this impulse arises naturally, it contradicts to the commands of Jesus. After finishing up the beatitudes, Jesus tells his disciples to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, Jesus is declaring that his followers have been redeemed in part for the purpose of preserving the world from decay and for the purpose of saving it from darkness. In short, the followers of Christ should not retreat but engage this dying and dark world.

The Need for Salt

When Jesus employs the analogy of salt, he implies that the world is in a state of decay. Though the modern soul gravitates towards notions of evolutionary progress, Jesus shares no such hope. He located evil not in earthly systems but in the hearts of those who create those cultural systems. From the center of the soul comes the evil that “defiles a person (Matt 5:18).” Technology alone cannot change our disposition towards destruction. The great physicist Albert Einstein famously noted,

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.

The technology of this century has also failed to change our thinking. The arrival of the internet has opened new worlds of information to millions of souls and has allowed families on opposite sides of the world to converse through live video chats. Though the internet can facilitate great good, it can also be used to bully teenagers, to steal hospital data, and to traffic in sexually explicit images. Even the medical sciences which enable doctors to create new drugs that can destroy cancer cells can also be used to create the poisons stuffed into missile warhead. Technology and education cannot keep the world from social decay. We need a new way of thinking.

Christ alone can change human thinking. He can turn our hearts of hatred into hearts of love. He died to free us from the paralyzing shame of sin and rose from the dead to demonstrate that all who believe on him for salvation can think and act according to the ethic of love through his power. Christians are to share this good news with their decaying world. They are to be salt and light.

The Benefits of Salt

When Christians encounter sin and brokenness in this world, they cannot close their eyes to their neighbor’s suffering. Rather, they are to address it, rubbing salt into this world’s decaying flesh. For example when a Christian sees a city councilwoman misusing the food pantry funds, he should speak up and vote her out of office. When a believer sees her classmate being bullied, she should counter her school’s culture and extend love to the harassed soul. And when a family is wrecked by strife, the saved family member should speak well of all involved and refuse to engage in the gossip. Though such actions may expose the Christian to false accusations, slander, and criticisms of being “too good for the rest of us,” society always benefits from the presence of the Christian. The poor receive better care. The bullied student is pulled back from the edge of suicide. And the entire extended family has Christmas at grandma’s house for the first time in decades. Martin Luther rightfully concluded,

Salting has to bite…If you want to…help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds…denouncing what is not right.

Christians possess the new way of thinking, the salt the preserves society from decay.

When society goes bad and politics devolve, Christians should not point fingers at the decaying world. It is doing what it has always done: decay. Instead, they should examine their own lives. The famed British pastor John Stott noted,

No one reproaches the meat for going bad! It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is where is the salt?

Why Light

The next logical question that comes from Jesus’s discourse is: “Must the salt be recognizable?” Can Christians quietly vote for noble political candidates, donate to good causes, and encourage the hurting apart from the gospel of Christ? In other words, can Christians advocate for good in the public square apart from their faith?
Jesus says no. He says his followers are, “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14).” When Christians interact with the world around them, they do so as little lights. Just as Christ came into the world containing life, “and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4),” the followers of Jesus bring truth to bear on their world because the light of Christ has shown in their hearts (2 Cor 4:6). They do not hide Christ for he is the foundation of their convictions. They share Jesus with the world for the light of the gospel is the only power that can reorient human thinking to the ethic of love. Just as no one would turn on a flashlight and hide it under their covers, no Christians will experience the love of Christ and then hide Jesus from society. She shares Jesus with her family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Moreover, she should do so confidential for Jesus promises to go with the Christian as she shines the light. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus proclaims,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Though the world will hate us and persecute us, we have nothing to fear for God is with us. The light will not snuffed out. It will push back the darkness.

Equipped with this knowledge, the people of God should set out to bring the truth and grace of God to bear on this world. They shine the light of Christ when sitting down to lunch with the unlovables, when taking the sick to the doctor, and when visiting the elderly. And as they do so, they explain who their God is and how his love has lead them to a new way of thinking. They bring the gospel to bear on all of life so that the world may “give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”

Do We Have To?

If a soul can comfortably hide the light of Christ within the confines of private religion and avoid salting this decaying world, that soul possess a worthless faith. Moreover, it is destined for destruction. In verses 13 and 14 of Matthew 5, Jesus bluntly tells his disciples “You are” the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salting and lighting are essential qualities of the faith. If our faith does not preserve and enlighten the world around us, we prove ourselves to have no faith at all. In Jesus day, salt was contained in the rocks around the Dead Sea. As rain fell and evaporated back into the sky, the salt would evaporate from the rocks. The rocks would still have the white hew of salt but would no longer contain salt. Such rocks were good for nothing. They could not keep even a small piece of meat from decay. A professional faith which benefits neither one’s soul nor his neighbor’s is in the words of Jesus, “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Matt 5:13-16).” Faith that lacks salt and light proves to be no faith at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,

Either we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it.

May God help us all to be salt and light.