“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:27-36
I’ve read that scripture many times over my life. I have sucked at following it.
Before I jump in to why this particular scripture is such a challenge for me… there is one thing that bugs me about it… It doesn’t really deal with the why. Not the “why should we live our lives this way?” but the “why is it just understood that we will have enemies and people who hate us?” I hate when someone hates me. It drives me crazy really. No – I am not thin skinned. As a pastor – I know that there are things I am going to say or do that are going to either really disappoint someone or totally piss them off. It’s inevitable. Sometimes it is totally unpreventable because there are just too many different personality traits, different philosophical points of view, etc… I also know there are times that I fail or let someone down and those situations carry the greatest hurt and guilt. I am certainly the farthest possible distance from perfection in every aspect of my life – and well, the title of this blog is “An Unlikely Pastor.” One of the pastors at Saddleback said at a conference I attended that he knows on any given Sunday when he walks in the doors at Saddleback that there are probably 30% of the people in the room that have a strong dislike or even hatred towards him. Considering there are about 20,000 people on a weekend there… that’s a lot of dislike. Being disliked – or even hated – by some people when you are a pastor is going to be inevitable. I get that. I wish it wasn’t true – but ok. As a person too – I know that there will just be some people who do not like me… I know that is so hard to believe if you are reading this and you know me… or maybe it won’t be hard to believe at all
But when we talk about an enemy – that’s a much bigger deal isn’t it? I mean you don’t make enemies just by having a different idea about how life groups should be developed or because you have an argument. Enemies become enemies when there is a deep division, a deep wound that has been inflicted. Do you have any enemies? I think most people would answer that as no. I mean we have people that we have strong disagreements with – we even have people we just don’t particularly like or they don’t like us … but enemies? Why did Jesus even talk about that if most of feel we don’t have any enemies? I mean I guess he could be talking about people who hate us for our faith – I am sure actually that He was including them in that statement. But Jesus usually liked to talk about things more personal to us. He liked to convict over things close to our own hearts. I think it goes to something much deeper.
The creation of an enemy is as far as I know – impossible without at least 2 parties. If you are an enemy to yourself… you have some major issues that this blog is not going to help with. So assuming that the possibility of an enemy requires at least 2 parties – there is some wrong that has been created between them. 99.9% of the time – there is some wrong on both sides of the conflict. True – one side is probably guilty of “initiating” the feud but as they say – “it takes 2 to tango.” Somebody had to start it but somebody else had to respond to it.
I think that we all actually have someone or multiple someones who if we really think about it fall into the category of enemy. Someone we haven’t spoken to in 10 years. Someone we avoid going to certain places because we are afraid we might run into them. Someone we would rather take a beating before being in the same room with. RIng any bells?
Jesus is convicting us on both sides of this. If we have an enemy – we have either initiated the problem or we have fed it. In response – we have to right the wrong – whether we were the instigator or the fan to the flame. It’s not enough to just say – ok I have an enemy – and I love them. (That is ok to apply maybe to men you see on the news in some far away country chanting “Death to Christians” as they burn us in effigy … if you buy a plane ticket and try to go hug one of them – you might be in some trouble.) It is not however ok to simply apply the prayer of “God – I love (enter name here) and I know they hate me but please forgive them.” First – we have to try to figure out where things went wrong. I bet that won’t take long to remember… then we have to attempt to make amends. This may not be easy to do… regardless of who started it. It takes humility on both sides. It takes a willingness to forgive – on both sides. It takes a willingness to let go of bitterness and self righteous anger – both of which can feel like comfortable old blankets that we hesitate to let go of. But the importance is not how they respond to it – it’s in the genuine heart felt effort we each put into the attempt. Ultimately of course we cannot control how people respond to our extended hand.
This scripture will be the toughest thing we ever attempt to follow. It is hard on every level. It will test our humility, it will test our faith, it will test our heart. I fail at it a lot – and I hate to admit that… But compounding the sin of failing at it with the sin of telling a lie wouldn’t help…