Meditating on the Commands of Christ (42): Love Your Enemies??

“You never know God is all you need until God is all you have” (Rick Warren, but possibly from Mother Teresa first). Here is where the rubber meets the road. It’s hard enough to love well even those we do love, but where in the world are we to get the grace to love those who are our enemies . . . those who hate and hurt us, or even those who are opposed to our values and obstruct our freedom to pursue what we believe to be right and good?

Who are our enemies, anyway? In many countries around the world, Christians are miserably persecuted, and so it’s obvious who your enemies are. I pray for you, and I read often about the terrible ways in which believers are tortured and killed. If you are reading this and among those who are suffering persecution for your faith, my heart goes out to you. Psalm 56 provides comfort for those who are pursued by deadly enemies. The title says, “Upon Jonath-elem-rechokin,” which has been translated, “the silent dove in distant places.” Is that you? In this psalm, we learn from David that it’s only through placing the whole weight of our burdens on God that we can overcome fear with faith and overcome evil with good. Jesus was able to go beyond faith to actually love his enemies. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). I read these words, and I know the “theory,” but I would have to be tried by fire to be able to say that I could ever love people so well that I could be put to death and respond the way Jesus did, although I’ve read testaments to martyrs who’ve come close.

In America and many parts of the Western World (and Australia), it’s often not obvious who our enemies are. We’re so well protected by our government that many of us do not have known enemies. For example, can you name your enemies? When I stop to think about it, I can’t! I’m oblivious. Probably if someone doesn’t like me, s/he simply quietly disappears from my life. Is that being an “enemy?” I don’t think of it that way; it seems more like not choosing to be a friend, and in a world of lovely people, of course we all have differences in personal taste and choose to spend time with people who see life most similarly. That’s not being an enemy; that’s just being free to use our limited time to be in community with those we enjoy the most.

So, where are our enemies? Do I need to go out and find some so that I can love them? That brings to mind the admonition about stirring up trouble (Proverbs 26:17). I don’t think God wants us to go there! We have myriad spiritual enemies who are out to destroy our souls, but God doesn’t tell us to love the minions of Satan! Rather we are to resist the devil (James 4:7), flee lusts, and keep company with those who are seeking God (2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart“).

So, we shouldn’t be looking for enemies, but maybe we (or at least I) should be more on the lookout for understanding whom my enemies are. Studying through the Bible passages that speak of enemies, I found three verses that stood out as speaking about God’s enemies:
*Psalm 68:21 Those who continue in their sins
*Romans 5:10 Those who have not yet been reconciled to God
*Psalm 66:3 Those who have yet to submit their wills to his

I’m listening to Running with the Giants (by a New York Times’ best-selling author, John C. Maxwell), and he makes the point that “Submission is laying down the terrible burden of always wanting to have your own way.” I love that! Have you submitted your will to God the Father and Jesus Christ his son yet? If so, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and not only friends but family! If you have not, then technically, we are “enemies” in the sense that we have opposing views on the reality of the God of Love and Light and his worthiness to be our Lord and Master.

God calls us to love our enemies, whether they are abusive people who actively try to hurt us, or dearly loved people with whom we disagree on spiritual matters. Either way. From the most wicked to the most kind—however others respond to us—we are called to love them! Love God; love others—both friends and foes. If we have to, let’s learn to bleed love. How is this possible? Only through experiencing the love of God in our lives and allowing His love to flow out through us. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Texts for this study: Matthew 5:43-45, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies.” Luke 6:27, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies.” Luke 6:35, “But love ye your enemies.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (39): To Resist or Not to Resist

The real problem with meditating on the commands of Christ is that many of them seem (and are) totally contrary to our human nature and therefore very confusing. It’s as if we’re on a hurdles course, and each new hurdle is higher or harder than the last in some respect. Last week, we learned about the need for a heart transplant, but at least we can rest in the knowledge that God, as our Great Physician, is standing by, ready to perform the surgery that only He can perform: Birthing within us a new spiritual heart that lives and breathes the pure, eternal life of Christ.

That is mystery and miracle enough, but what about today’s texts?!:

*Matthew 5:39 “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

*Luke 6:29, “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.

Wait a minute! This makes no sense at all, and I can prove it with a lot of other texts:

*James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

*1 Peter 5:8-10 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

*Hebrews 12:3-4 “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Well, these verses clearly teach us to resist the Evil One and sin, but I guess they don’t really tell us to resist any and everybody who might be trying to take advantage of us. In fact, the New Testament teaches, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). Some scholars believe that Jesus’ commands to withstand the abuses mentioned regard submitting to unjust authorities, since it was possible for a Roman soldier to demand a civilian to give the soldier his coat or carry the soldier’s burdens for a mile (or so I’ve heard).

As unpleasant and unpopular as it is, God wants us to submit to those who are over us in authority, such as wives to husbands (Oh, no!!! Oh, yes: Colossians 3:18), those who are younger to their elders (1 Peter 5:5), servants to their masters (and not just those employers who are kind and fair, 1 Peter 2:18: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward“), all of us to the man-made ordinances of government (1 Peter 2:13), and all of us out of deferential love for one another “in the fear of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21).

Wow! That’s a long list of high hurdles God expects us to jump! I understand that God will take care of those who rest in Him when we are obedient but cornered: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13), but are their limits to how much abuse we’re supposed to take, and are we just supposed to become “doormats” for evil people to walk all over?

And, what about in the Old Testament? What about Joshua and David, and all the kings of Israel who fought against the surrounding tribes and conquered Canaan? Is it wrong to go to war against evil and oppression? Some people quote Romans 13:3-5 to say NO:For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” So, it appears to be reasonable, under the authority of your country, to defend “liberty and justice for all.”

I think the bottom line of Jesus’ command for us to “resist not evil” refers not to random acts of violence, but to authorized acts of unfairness . . . even EVIL ones, like the government “smiting us on the mouth” through an unjust ruling in court or demanding more of our money in taxes than we deem fair. Even on the personal level, we are told, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This is a little easier to understand and work out, because it gives us an action point: Overcome evil with good. Seems a little easier than to “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). However, both are implicit in Jesus’ teaching. Sometimes we have to “take it” and sometimes we’re asked to “give it,” but always to give back good, even if we’ve been given evil.

Truly, I don’t think this is possible apart from the grace of God! In my flesh, I resist evil—especially directed against me—with every fiber of my being. But, there are times when God wants us to submit rather than resist, and I think only his Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom to know when to submit and when to resist, and then to provide the grace to do so.

Lest we become weary in well doing, God does give some promises along the way to encourage us: “Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him . . . Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:3,5). He will hear us. He will rescue us (1 Peter 8:10).

Finally, look back up at the verses listed above (and the passage listed below) on resisting. Each hurdle comes with a promise. If we “resist not evil” but submit first to God and then respond with patience and kindness, we will find that:

*The devil will flee from us.
*God will make us mature, establish, strengthen, and settle us.
*We will become partakers of his holiness and bear the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

Sound like what you’ve always wanted? No? Well, it wasn’t really on my bucket list either, but nobody said being a disciple of Christ would be easy or natural. It’s the way of the cross, but it’s the right way, and God wants us to walk in it! Maybe we can pray for each other as we practice trying to jump these high hurdles! God is watching, cheering us on!!

If you’re interested in the real-life struggles of two missionaries trying to grapple with this command, I highly recommend In The Presence of My Enemies, a heart-rending book about a couple who were abducted in the Philippines. I heard Gracia speak at a ladies’ conference a few years ago . . . amazing story of the power of God to transform us! Our heavenly Father is the Great Physician . . .but he is also the Final Head Master! Yes, the Force of All Good is with God alone, but it’s the greatest Force in the Universe!! May this Force be with us!!

Hebrews 12:3-15 “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

Texts for this Meditation: Matthew 5:39 “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Luke 6:29, “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.

Take Courage!!

In a contest between white-tailed deer and Canada geese over owning the waterfront, who do you think would win? I mean, if you think about it, deer weigh up to 100-150 pounds and are 4′ high at the shoulder. Geese weigh in at a hefty 8± pounds  and aren’t as tall as a deer’s leg. So, I was more than a little surprised the other morning at what happened when three deer encountered three families of geese in our front yard! The mother doe paused briefly before scampering across the waterfront and into the brush on the other side, but the twin yearlings—a male and a female, were quite intimidated. They froze in place until the geese rallied all their forces (which only included 6 adults and a dozen goslings). When the gang was all there, the show of force was enough to frighten the deer into turning tail and running back into the woods! The geese really couldn’t have done any serious harm to the deer, but deer are also quite defenseless. Nevertheless, the courage and protective instincts of the geese paid off, and they were able to continue grazing with their goslings.

This incident made me think about a message I heard recently on courage, which Merriam Webster defines as the “mental or moral strength to venture, perseveres, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” We are encouraged to be courageous many times in the Bible, and although it says in 1 Peter 5:8 to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” the fact is that Satan is an imposter. Jesus is not “like” a lion, He is a lion,the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5), and He tells us to fear no one but God: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  I applaud the geese, who led their vulnerable little ones in a confrontation with foes much larger than they were. Let’s stand our ground and be courageous rather than feeling intimidated by what cannot ultimate destroy our souls!

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).