(Matt. 5:43-48 ESV) 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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We’ve covered this one several times — but to me, it’s at the core of the gospel. We are saved so that we’ll become like God. The Spirit is given to us so we’ll become like God. Jesus died for us so that we’ll become like God. All this restores us to his likeness and image. It fixes what was broken in Eden.
The goal is not merely to get us to heaven — but for us to become people suited to live forever in the very presence of God. And that means becoming like God. Church is about theosis — becoming united with God by becoming like him. We become kings and queens and priests — and everything changes because we become our natural selves. We are returned to factory specs. And in this is found true joy — if we have any faith at all.
But faith is essential because it’s far from obvious that Jesus’ plan for us will really work. It goes against everything our culture tells us. I mean, “Love your enemies“? Even the Iraqis? Even illegal aliens? Even Democrats and Republicans — both? Yes, but far more. It’s not love in the abstract. We must pray for them. And we must do what God does — making it rain on the just and the unjust. Now, we don’t have the power to send rain, but we do often have the power to meet needs.
How would we make it rain — metaphorically — on illegal aliens? On Syrian refugees? You see, we can disagree all we want with our politicians about how to deal these issues — but Jesus says we have to love these people — indeed, especially those among them who are genuinely among the oppressed and vulnerable — and we have to be willing to help them. Maybe not the way the politicians and bureaucrats want, but some way. In this country, we are free to argue for all sorts of alternatives — and to undertake some of our own alternatives. We aren’t permitted to enable sinful behavior. But neither are we free to instrumentalize, objectivize, use, or otherwise treat them as less than fully beloved by God.
And that’s hard. I mean, “Love you enemies” may be the hardest command in the Bible, in part because we find so few examples of it in the church today. Who among us, if we were about to be arrested for a crime we did not commit and subjected to torture and crucifixion contrary to law, would not let our disciples fight for us? Would heal the soldier’s ear? (John 18:10).
We live in a society built on capitalism, and so competition is second nature to us. Our legal system is the “adversarial system,” meaning each side argues for its own version of the truth. There is no pity for the other side. Our political system gives everything to the winner. Second place is for losers. And so it’s no wonder that we think and feel in polarized terms. We live in a polarized world. And business, law, and politics all push us hard to take one side and oppose the other. It’s not about cooperation, compromise, or even truth seeking. It’s about winning and losing.
And Jesus tells us: “Quit.” We must love our enemies — in fact. We must do loving things for them, especially when we’re speaking of real needs. We can’t be about ourselves only. We must put others ahead of ourselves. Like God. Who gave his one and only Son for his enemies.
(Matt. 6:9-10 ESV) 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
I like NT Wright’s punctuation in the Kingdom New Testament better:
9 “So this is how you should pray: ‘Our father in heaven,
May your name be honored,
10May your kingdom come,
May your will be done
As in heaven, so on earth.”
Wright, N. T.. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (Kindle Locations 821-825). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Notice that “as in heaven so on earth” modifies all three preceding clauses. We are to pray that God’s is honored, his Kingdom comes, and his will is done on earth as it is now done in heaven. That is, we pray for all people and all Creation to submit to God as King.
How does this happen? Well, largely through evangelism. But evangelism isn’t working so well in Europe, Canada, and the US. And the problem is that the church can’t extend to others what it doesn’t have in itself. Until we submit to God’s rule in church, we can hardly ask others to do the same.
If we see God’s mission as being about getting people to heaven when they die, well, we’re Americans. Surely we can sell salvation from hell. But the goal is to become like God — not just obedient but changed so that we really do love our enemies. And until we learn that lesson, all else is futility.
And how on earth do we love our enemies if we can’t love the Baptists? Or the Church of Christ down the road that believes differently than we do about the church treasury? Or the visiting couple that sat in our pew?
Well, we’re Americans. There ought to be a pill for that. Or a book we can buy. Or a consultant we can hire. We should be able to fix it with money.
But Jesus will have none of that. Nor does imposing strict, legalistic rules on ourselves get the job done. Nor does pretending that grace is so powerful that we’re excused from obedience. We’re not.
Discipline 6: Read the Gospels. Over and over again. Together. In accountability groups. In small groups. In Bible classes. From the pulpit.
Discipline 7: Pray. Together.
We are an impatient, busy people with far too much on our plates. And everyone adds prayer to his list of church solutions — because we know we’re supposed to, even though we’re lousy at it. But this is one case where the connection between prayer and results should be so clear that we should find motivation easy.
I mean, if I hear a brother pray for me or my family, how can I not love him? So maybe we need to learn to pray for each other, by name, outloud. I don’t know — maybe we do three families a week, and whoever is charged with leading prayer that week has to call those families and ask what prayers they need.
It could work …