How do I feel when I find myself in the right and others in the wrong, or in the know when others are ignorant? Do I feel superior, more important, more significant, more valued? Do I tend to get puffed up in my knowledge? (1Co 8:1b) This isn’t love(1Co 13:4); it’s rooted in pride, and tends toward alienation and division.
How does knowing more than others make me better? Why should this move God to love or value me more? It doesn’t; God loves each of us infinitely, because He’s made us each in His image: His love is truly unconditional. (Jn 3:16) I can’t do or be anything to get God to love or value me any more or less.
Yet false religion tries to use spirituality to make itself look better than others (Mt 23:5), to exalt itself (Lk 18:11) because it isn’t grounded in the love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) At it’s core, this is ugly and uninviting, and I think we all know it.
Love is concerned for others who are misinformed, deceived, carnal (Php 3:18) and disobedient (Ps 119:136); Love esteems other better than itself and humbly seeks to help. (2Ti 2:25) This is pure religion (Ja 1:28): without love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2)
The love of God equalizes everyone, levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same invitation to come (Re 22:17), to be as close to God as we like, to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4) and joy in Him. (1Pe 1:8) What we do with this amazing invitation, how we employ our skills, abilities and resources in going after God, is what defines success. (Mt 25:21)
As we pursue God we’ll come to know Him better (Php 3:8) and understand more of His Way. (He 11:6) We should be deeply thankful for such a precious privilege to know and walk with the living God (1Jn 1:3-4); it shouldn’t make us feel better about ourselves (Ep 3:8), or move us to devalue those who don’t get it.
Satan fell the instant he decided he didn’t need God, that he was sufficient in himself without God, that he was free to displace God and treat himself as if he was God. (Is 14:13) He’s been God’s enemy ever since.
Eve fell similarly, as she preferred being likeGod to being withGod, discerning right and wrong for herself (Ge 3:6), knowing good and evil. (Ge 3:22)
The tragic Fall of Man, bringing ruin and misery upon the entire human race, was a single, simple step away from God, breaking a dietary law, the least of His commandments. (Ja 2:10) What seemed so small a step for man was in fact an infinite leap for all mankind; no willful sin is little.
The Fall continues in us whenever we doubt the goodness of God, or question His justice: we’re essentially presuming we know better than God. Our bitterness, discontent and resentment testify that we’d rather be in charge, that we’d be doing a better job than God in avenging evil and rewarding good. (Ps 119:75)
Similarly, whenever we sin willfully we’re putting our own will first, displacing God’s, putting ourselves in the epicenter of the universe and dishonoring Him. (He 10:26-27)
Put very simply, in every sense that we’re feeling independent of God, that we don’t need Him, that we can do without Him, live apart from Him … as we ignore and neglect Him … this is the pride of life, the very heart of wickedness. (1Jn 2:16)
These are the many shades of pride, self-exaltation exuding from the heart, spilling out continually on every side. The careless, carnal mind, that isn’t continually abiding in thankful, reverent fear, joying in God, and cares not for this, reveals a child of the wicked one, in and through whom the devil freely lives. (Ep 2:2)
God commands us to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us. (Mt_5:44) This is so unnatural for most of us it’s almost scary; we deeply struggle to seek the best for those who’re harming us. Is this because we’re afraid justice won’t be honored? Let’s see.
Think of such a person, someone who’s done you much evil (2Ti 4:14), someone you have a difficult time loving, helping and serving. Are you wishing them the best, and acting accordingly? Does the thought of them being blessed and doing well threaten you and make you uneasy?
Now, imagine they have a new form of cancer, and they’re clueless about it. In a few days the disease will begin attacking their central nervous system, compromising all voluntary movement and causing intense pain. The pain will continually increase while their ability to move and respond diminishes. Conscious, yet completely immobilized, they’ll spend the rest of their lives in the most extreme suffering imaginable.
If it’s any easier now to serve and bless and pray for them sincerely, the cause is unbelief. If we don’t believe justice will prevail, in the perfect time and in the perfect way, we don’t trust in the ultimate goodness of God, and it will be difficult for us to love as He has commanded.
Our intrinsic desire for justice is good; we’re all made in God’s image. God is just, and we instinctively align with Him in calling for wrongs to be made right. But God forbids us to retaliate: vengeance belongs to Him (He 10:30) since all sin is primarily against Him. (Ps 51:4)
If we think we know better than God how and when to apply justice, that we’re somehow thwarting justice in loving the wicked, it’s because we don’t know the end of the story, how God’s going to right all wrongs perfectly, in the perfect way at the perfect time, in spite of the fact that we’re blessing our enemies. (Pr 16:4)
Neglecting to love our enemies, to seek their welfare as appropriate (Pr 25:21), is actually being passive aggressive (Pr 24:17-18); it’s withholding proper good from them to try to force God to judge them (Pr 3:27), according to our own purpose and timing rather than His. It’s seeking a sort of back-handed vengeance, denying God what’s rightfully His.
To overcome this we must be convinced that the judgement of God is according to truth in dealing with every single sin that’s ever been committed by anyone. (Ro 2:2) All sin will be perfectly accounted for and dealt with, completely and ultimately and finally. (Ge 18:25) The truth is that God will be much more severe in His response to sin than we can possibly imagine. The worst tortures human beings can devise pale in comparison. (Mt 10:28) It’s only as we’re armed with this knowledge that we will be empowered to love our enemies as God has commanded us to.
But what if we perceive our enemies to be believers, justified by the death of Christ such that they’ll get a free pass, Christ becoming their sin and taking their due punishment, setting them free? The problem with this concern is that it’s unfounded: every believer in Jesus Christ both loves Him (1Co 16:22), and also loves all those that belong to Him. (1Jn 5:1) Deceived believers who willfuly harm us will be fully dealt with in this life – no exceptions. (1Pe 4:17) No one gets away with anything. (1Co 11:32)
When we’re struggling with loving our enemies, we must keep the end in mind, the goal, trusting in the ultimate love and justice of God. While keeping healthy boundaries and protecting ourselves, there’s no room for malice; we must benevolently pursue the ultimate welfare of those who hate us, and leave the outcome to God. He must let His enemies act like enemies in order to reveal Himself and them. (Ec 8:11) In the end, He will be glorified in every single event that has ever transpired. (Ro 11:36); For those of us who love Him, this is enough (Ro 8:36-37); He’s working it all out for our good according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28)