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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The Uncomfortable Choice to Love Our Enemies

By S. Daniel Rushing
Mar. 24, 2013

The older I get, the more I dread visiting the doctor. It isn’t so much the checkups or even the examination that bothers me the most. It’s the awkward conversation that normally follows the visit.

You know, when the doctor reminds you you’re getting older and you need to start considering certain routine exams that are less than inviting.  No one wants to be reminded of that. I would much rather get my diagnosis, my treatment plan, and the bill, and forget talking about other unpleasant realities.

As a pastor I have found Christians often have the same reaction to certain unpleasant truths, or commands. We come to church wanting to hear the message, get our plan of action, and a have a chance to respond. But no one wants to be reminded of those more unpleasant words of Jesus — those words that call us to deny ourselves and to act against our very own wills in order to please God and love others.

Yet, those nagging truths are still there. Moreover, those truths often play a vital role in our spiritual well-being and cause us to walk in the image of Jesus. One of those teachings is found in Matthew 5:43-48:

“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 sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV).

Perhaps no other teaching of Jesus is avoided as much as this one. Especially in our world where we find it difficult to speak to or about such things when our nation is at war, and it is increasingly hard for us as a church to know how to love our enemies and those who wish to do us the most harm.

This one call, though, is central to the gospel; it is one of those teachings that, when practiced, testifies to the world that everything has changed. This is the new way of living; this is how we are salt and light. It isn’t even that new a concept.

In 2 Kings 6:8-23, Elisha was divinely enabled to get the upper hand over a dangerous enemy. After miraculously blinding an attacking horde of Syrian soldiers, the prophet led them into the capital of Israel. This enemy had been raiding Israel for some time. Now Israel’s soldiers surrounded them, and they stood helpless before Israel’s king.

When the king asked Elisha whether he should kill the Syrians, Elisha told the king to feed them a meal. In one of the strangest narratives in Scripture, the king of Israel spread a table for his enemies and fed them.

We have all heard how God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Here, centuries before the coming of Christ, God commanded Israel through His prophet to prepare a table for their enemies in His presence.

So how do we respond when God calls us to feed our enemies? How do we love those who do us wrong? How far does loving our enemies need to go? Here are five imperative truths to remember when striving to follow Jesus by loving our enemies.

1. God’s grace toward us, while we were still sinners, is the same grace we should extend to others. Jesus ends His command to love our enemies by reminding us to be like our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48). Our love for others must stem from an understanding of God’s love for us. As He is, so we are to be.

While we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). If our holiness is to be rooted in the pursuit of God’s holiness, then to love those who do not deserve it must lie at the heart of our behavior. We must love those who oppose us now as if reconciliation is at hand.

2. Daily and seasonal blessings of divine sustenance cover all of humanity, preserving those who have rejected God alongside those who embrace Him. Jesus said His Father sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous; the sun rises on the good and the evil. We are to love equally as if all people are our neighbors, even those we deem in the here and now to be our enemies.

3. Loving those who do us wrong does not mean abandoning justice or orderly living. In the story of Elisha and the Syrians, God never rebuked the people of Israel for defending their borders. Nor did God ask them to abandon taking up arms. In fact, before the end of 2 Kings 6, Israel was again at war with Syria. Romans 13:1-7 teaches us God establishes authority in government. These offices are His arm of justice in our world.

4. Loving your enemies does not mean approving of their attacks; nor does it mean we are to abandon all defense. Instead, it means we are to do good to them whenever possible. There are times when you have every right to be angry; there are times when you need to set boundaries and defend yourself against harm others wish to do to you. But, given the option to destroy or feed your enemy, feeding them is always the way of Christ.

5. Every time we love our enemies, we are showing them, and the world, we recognize God has the final say in how we live and how we treat others. Love for our enemies is the law of God. And when we live according to that law, we promote the spread of the gospel and bring about true change in our culture.

The apostle Paul summarized the Christian life this way:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

S. DANIEL RUSHING is lead pastor of New Harvest Church in Asheville, N.C.

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