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.
When we speak, we have a reason for doing so, a goal, a motive. We’ll be judged by what we say, and for why we say it, so we should be careful whenever our mouth is open, and set up a kind of gate keeper, a watch, a guard, to check every syllable coming out. (Ps 141:3) What should we be checking for?
First, is what we’re saying true? Is it aligned with reality, as best we know? If it isn’t, we shouldn’t say it; only speak truth. (Pr 8:7) Lying isn’t an option. (Ps 119:163)
Yet even if something’s true, that doesn’t mean we should say it. (Jn 16:12) We need to be thinking about our audience, and considering how our words will impact them. Speaking truth is insufficient in itself; we must speak the truth in love.(Ep 4:15)
We should speak to heal and build up (Ro 14:19), and this requires discernment. (Pr 15:28) Pushing truth on those who aren’t willing to obey deepens their condemnation (2Pe 2:21), and there are deeper truths that only the mature can digest. (1Co 3:2)
How often am I trying to impress someone, showing off? or just thinking out loud, sorting through my own confusion, and simply filling the air with my words? or trying to manipulate someone into doing what I want, focused inward, on myself? Am I ever actually trying to harm someone? (Pr 12:18)
Do I listen to others, trying to understand where they’re coming from? How can I edify you if I don’t know you, without any sense of what you’re struggling with, where you’ve been wounded, how you’ve been lied to?
We’re doctors in a pandemic, amid the sick and dying. We have a cure, a balm, a surgical knife, but most folk don’t want to be well, only to be at ease in their diseases. (Jn 3:19) We can only help those who sense their need and want to be whole (Mk 2:17), and even these we cannot rightly help unless we understand their need. We must ask and listen, observe and ponder, diagnosing our patient first. (Php 2:4) What does the Great Physician in us see? What do we we see Him doing?
Pray before speaking (Ja 1:19); let God Himself be the watchman of our lips. (Ps 19:14)
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)
Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” (Mt 5:44) Perhaps it’s the cornerstone of all godliness, actively seeking the good of others, even those who’d harm us.
This is unnatural, certainly; it denies our self-protective instinct. Returning good for evil enables and strengthens our enemies to harm us even more. Yet it is our God’s example. (Mt 5:45)
Living this way as a manner of life requires an energy from another world, a Life beyond our own. It is perhaps the greatest witness of the reality of God, that we commit our physical care into His hands, just as we have our souls and spirits. (1Pe 4:19) It is only then that we live as children of our heavenly Father.
There is a time to resist abuse, and a time to suffer according to the will of God. It is the wisdom of God to tell these apart, but there is never a time to wish ill to another. (Ro 13:10) Let us not fear to follow God in suffering for His name, for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:16-18)
A week ago I stood at the entrance of Stutthoff Concentration Camp near Gdansk Poland, where countless souls passed to humiliation, torture and death during WWII at the hands of Hitler’s ruthless minions. As I read the accounts of their pain, and stood where they were actually brutalized, I realized again that I know very little of suffering.
Many of these dear souls were doubtless my brothers and sisters in the faith, who couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the malice against their Jewish neighbors, and others in Hitler’s sadistic disfavor. I wondered if I’d have been strong enough to stand with them. What an evil day that was!
In He 13:3 we are commanded to remember those who are suffering as if we are suffering with them. This high calling of God is not for the faint of heart; it takes supernatural strength to live like this. It is where God Himself dwells, sufferingwith His people. It seems to me an inevitable cure for all selfishness, arrogance, self-sufficiency, lukewarmnessand hardness of heart.
Such evil days are upon us again, as many suffer under the brutal onslaughts of Islam. I ask for graceto connect with this suffering as if it were upon me, and if I live to see the same myself, that God will give me grace to sufferwell, to walk worthy of Him, Whose goodness I cannot deserve.