Read: Matthew 5:43-48
43 “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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
One aspect our human nature seems to struggle to overcome is that of tribalism. Even in today’s ‘global village’ tolerant and inclusive culture, it’s never very far beneath the surface. We take sides with those we know and love, notwithstanding whether they are right or wrong; the banter between supporters of different football teams can often spill over into violence; lack of understanding or unwillingness to understand another’s point of view, perhaps a doctrinal or political position for example, can lead to suspicion, mistrust and hostility. It is too easy to ‘demonise’ a community or person we don’t understand or agree with. But, it is okay to disagree (unless of course, your views differ from mine!), joking aside, disagreement encourages healthy debate and produces balanced relationships.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
“Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches.”
How easy it is to love those who love us, since we are nice, agreeable people! We find it easy, most of the time, to love those in our own families, this includes those related to us, our church and work families. However, even though family life can be difficult and we do recognise that there are always bumps along the way, right or wrong, we often put ‘our‘ family first. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. The Bible is emphatic about how ‘the people of the church’ should get along, in fact the Apostle Paul brings it up time and time again. I wonder why that is? Conflict and disagreement is ‘part and parcel’ of community. We all have differing strengths and weaknesses, we are all at different places in the process of sanctification and we all have different backgrounds and influences bringing us to where we are, so it is incumbent upon us to bear one another in love. Therefore, since we are to show our love for one another in order to have a good witness, in some cases, it may take a bit of effort.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Having agreed together that it’s good to first of all show love towards our brothers and sisters in-Christ, as this shows the world that we are His disciples, we have to now consider if this goes far enough. Jesus says, “do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (5:46). So how does loving those that love you gain you anything? “What reward do you have?” (5:46). What really makes us different is that God’s Spirit within us compels us to love the unloveable, to love the disagreeable, to love those of a different class or social group, to love those with whom we profoundly disagree and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). Since we are to imitate Christ, remembering that He dined with tax collectors and sinners, perhaps we should do likewise. How else will you ever be in a position to be asked to give that reason for the wonderful hope that is within you?
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).
Evidently the extraordinary love to which we are called to is not easy. However, we must always remember that, “God who is at work in you” (Philippians 2:13), does not leave us to figure these things out by ourselves; Jesus, by His Spirit, is always with us and is working in us. It’s when our focus is upon Him and not upon our efforts to please Him, that we are able to find that we can do these things.
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