Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Love Your Enemies


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)


Good day to you all, Brethren. For quite some time, I have wanted to write upon one of the most important subjects of all time. This subject lies at the foundation of Christianity, being not only the  summation of the way in which the Children of God must walk, not only the breath and life of believers, but it is also the foundational element of God and the great gravity which binds together the Holy Trinity. Love is the basis of all that God does, has done, and will do. Therefore, we can rightly say that love is not merely a description of God, but rather that God is love (1 John 4:7-8). 


This reality is arguably the most important reality for us to grasp, and a full discussion of love would last for an eternity, since our God is eternal and unfathomable. However, in this post, I wish to discuss a specific aspect of love, one which is beyond us: love of our enemies.


Out of all types of love, this is probably the most difficult of all. Honestly, it is difficult to love someone who is always attempting to put you down or undermine your faith, or even kill you for believing Christ and obeying Him. It is difficult (to say the least) to do good to those who do evil to you (Romans 12:17-21, cf. 1 Peter 3:8-12). Nevertheless, it is commanded.


So, if we are to understand how we are to treat our enemies, the first question we must ask is: what is love?


Well, I can tell you that love is not a wonderful fluttering in one's heart over, or an infatuation with, someone, although those can be outward signs of love under certain circumstances. How do I know this? God, who is in a very real sense the essence of love itself, does not love in this manner.


"God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.

If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.
He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons;
He makes His arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, he travails with wickedness,
And he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.
He has dug a pit and hollowed it out,
And has fallen into the hole which he made.
His mischief will return upon his own head,
And his violence will descend upon his own pate." (Psalm 7:11-16)


Therefore, God’s love for man does not necessitate giddy infatuation over them. Now, one may look at this passage and say that it shows a god of hate, not love. However, we in the modern church have been emphasizing the word love for so long that it has actually lost its original meaning and power. God is not giddy over sinners (or even us who are saved), nor is He romantically in love with anyone (the Song of Solomon was not a picture of the love Christ has for His Church, quite frankly that idea is absolutely revolting and blasphemous on so many levels). Nevertheless, God does love all men, even those whom He has righteously decreed to be created as hell-bound vessels of wrath. 

 
How is it that the Lord still loves those whom He is sharpening His sword against to slay? How is it possible to be absolutely furious with those who refuse to repent (Psalm 2:4-6), so furious that you command your Son to dash them to pieces with an iron rod (Psalm 2:9) and ultimately cast them into untold, eternal torment and yet love them? Honestly, I do not know. I firmly believe that this is a reality too deep for mortal man to understand, but it is true nonetheless.     


However, I will admit that this still does not seem like love to our modern minds. Honestly, few will look at these truths and see love behind them. Nevertheless, love is there. First of all, the Father does this out of love for the Son (since it was love that motivated Him to give all things into the hand of Christ) (John 5:20-23) and the Son then obeys the Father out of love (John 14:31), destroying the unrighteous and then giving the Kingdom back to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Thus, all this is done in an ultimate sense as a result of the love within the Trinity.


Secondly, God also does this in spite of the love He has for the perishing ones.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

 
This passage is found in the well-known Sermon on the Mount. Here we find a powerful declaration of God’s love even for those who hate Him. Firstly, Christ repeats a statement popular among the unsaved-yet-super-spiritual persons of all time: namely, love those that love you and hate everyone else. However, Christ declared that this idea is completely false. In fact, one must love not only his brothers, but also those who are enemies of yourself and God. Why? Because God does the same thing. In spite of the hatred of unbelievers, God showers innumerable blessings upon them. He grants them rain, sun, snow, food and happiness (Acts 14:17), and all other blessings (such as the sending of Grace and Truth incarnate, Christ Jesus, to proclaim the truth).


Yet, is this love, or is this mere concern for them? Well, we must look at this passage in further detail to determine this.


First, Christ states that we must be perfect just as our Father is perfect. Moreover, we are to be sons of our Father, and sons are called to become images of the Son (Romans 8:29), and Christ merely does what His Father does (John 5:19). Therefore, whatever we are commanded in this passage to do is what our Trinitarian God does.  


So, what are we commanded to do? Agape our enemies. In this text, Christ uses the word agape (ἀγαπᾶτε specifically) to denote what kind of love we must have for our enemies (those who hate us and thus hate God). This is not merely being nice to the other person, rather it is true love.

 
Yet, what is this love? Well, I would argue that the best summation of agape love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.


Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)


This love, agape love, is the love which we must have for all men, not merely fellow believers. This is not to say that we love those outside of the Church in the same exact way as we love those inside the body, for we are commanded to give especial love to the Church (Galatians 6:10). Nevertheless, we must be patient, kind, selfless, humble, gentle, enduring, hopeful, unfailing, never keeping a record of how they have wronged us. 

 
This has huge implications for us. For example, this is one of the reasons why we Christian workers are called to do good to our unsaved masters (Eph. 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18, Titus 2:9-10). In all of this, we are to work hard, as for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24). Why would we do so? Well, we love both God and man, and we long for all men to escape the wrath to come. Like our Lord, we do not take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, but rather long for them to turn from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23). We realize that living a holy life will make an impression upon those who are outside of the faith, and thus our hard work may lead to the repentance of our unsaved bosses. This is love, and this is what motivates us in all our dealings with the unsaved, even those who hate us.


Again, we are called to love those outside of the Church. This is key, since if we love only those inside the Church, what reward do we have? It is easy to love those in the Church, because they will love you back. However, it is so much harder to truly love those outside of the Church because they will often hate us in return. Nevertheless, it is still commanded of us, and is a demonstration that our love for God and man is far greater than the “love” which the unsaved have for one another.


Now, does love always bring peace? No, for Christ came to bring a sword, not peace (Matthew 10:34-36), and our love will inevitably stir up hatred, even possibly amongst those closest to us. This is not because we are unloving, rather our patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control, etc., is of the Spirit, and God is light. As I have said before, men love darkness and hate light (John 3:19-21), and therefore will hate our love. Moreover, they will really hate the message which we lovingly preach (Eph. 4:15), which is Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), and this reveals their sins, which is something they fear (John 3:20). Therefore, it is the very love we have for them and the message it compels us to preach that will both draw some and repel others. As wise men have said, love hurts.


Because of what we originally declared about this passage (from Matthew 5) being based upon a command to be like our Heavenly Father, loving whom He loves and in the same way, we must also conclude that God has this same required love for those who hate Him and will hate Him eternally. God must love all men with agape love, otherwise He would be no better than the unsaved. It is this love for all, coupled with His justice, fury, holiness, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, gentleness, goodness, and all of His other attributes that sets Him above all men. Moreover, the degree to which we imitate this love is the degree to which we are set apart (sanctified) from those who hate the Lord.


God’s love for all men is the type of love described in 1 Cor. 13. Look throughout the Bible (especially in the life of Christ), and we see God’s patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, lack of swift provocation, forgiveness and passing over the times of ignorance, not retaliating against those who spat on Him, hatred and sadness over evil but joy over truth, bearing all things, full of hope, and enduring even the worst of trials unscathed. Overall, His love never failed, and never will fail. What love is this!


One could go for an eternity about this subject, but I must close sometime. So, let me close with this. We must love all men, even those that would kill us. We must never cease to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10), not only through teaching them the truth, but also through doing general good things for them (Romans 12:19-21). We must be like the Good Samaritan, showing mercy to and loving your neighbors, even those who are of a nation which collectively hates you, in our case, those who are citizens of the kingdom of Satan (Luke 10:25-37). Ultimately, it is not enough to love those within the Church. We must also love those who hate us, for that is a love beyond humanity: the agape of God.


Grace and peace to you all.