But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35,36 NASB)
The whole of the teaching in both sets of “Sermons on the Whatever” are difficult to receive, hear, read, even believe? For instance, in Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” he records Jesus’ words about loving enemies (6:27-36). Most people, regardless of culture or where in the world they are from, read that and find it hard to swallow.
I know that in a sense, I’m projecting. I have difficulty with it and I project my difficulty on the rest of the world to help me cope with my difficulty. Sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. What culture doesn’t have war? What peaceful people group doesn’t argue, no one lies, or doesn’t hold resentments? People do that regardless of cultures, and some cultures actually encourage such behavior.
But Jesus’ words drive home and leave us unsettled because of how He puts it. In the middle He says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you (verse 31).” But at the end, to wrap it up, Jesus supports His charge by saying that this is how God interacts with people.
Love Regardless, Like God
Honestly, my first reaction to that was, “Oh! Great, then I have an out because I’m not God, and not perfect, and He is!” But look at why or rather how Jesus uses God as an example. God behaves in ways regardless of what we act like. It’s one of the reasons so many people have such trouble believing He exists! Stuff happens regardless of whether they “appease” Him or not. To them, He makes no difference. We look at that as a failure and He looks at that as model behavior. And now we leave comfort and stomp all over toes.
God is “kind”. Actually that refers to a pragmatic quality. It means not just a wrench, but a really good quality useful wrench. God is of pragmatic good to ungrateful and evil people. He’s not just kind to them, He’s helpful! Be honest. That is an infuriating quality of God for His followers. We want Him to show up with power, shock-and-awe, and judgement on our/His enemies and “show them Who’s Boss”. And He doesn’t behave that way. Let that sink in.
Okay, so we’re not supposed to be that way because He isn’t. But why isn’t He? What’s God’s motivation for being helpful to the ungrateful and evil? Paul says in Romans 3 that all people are without excuse because God’s qualities are evident all around them. I believe that God behaves this way, partly, to reach all His creation. Unfortunately, we, His followers, don’t act this way, and His plan begins to erode at the point of His worshipers. If we don’t act this way and supposedly He does, we’re hard to believe, and by extension, He’s hard to believe in.
But wait, there’s more! Lovely. God also has this fearless, unassailable quality because He is heavenly. He lives there, Heaven is His real Kingdom, and His sovereignty is undisputed there. He’s not even threatened by Satan coming and going from there. It’s easy for Him to not really be phased by “ungrateful and evil people”, but we have to live with them. And that perspective indicates our problem. We are to be focused on heaven above where Jesus is seated at the right of the Father. But we’re not.
Yes, God is our example therefore Jesus is our example, and yes, He lives not just lived this way. And yes, He (God) is in heaven and is, to a degree, untouchable. But this is more His holiness than it is His heart. These ungrateful and evil people still hurt the heart of God. He is still near the broken and contrite in heart. He is still the One gathering His people to the shelter of His wings. He is other in the sense that He is holy. But He is also immanent in the sense He is present with every believer, present in this world, at this moment through His Spirit. So Jesus’ call is to also live in this “dual status” kind of life in which God lives. Essentially, Jesus shut the front door escape, and than nails shut the back door.
We have no excuse not to love our enemies. None. And of course, I hope it goes without saying that this “love” is of the agape sort that loves without dependence on the object of that love. It should go without saying since the meaning is inherent in the command to love enemies. Therefore we have no excuse.
Love God First
This agape sort of love means we are to love our enemies in much the same way we love God. Do you get that? We are to love God in much the same way we love God. Which is actually pretty pathetic if you really think about it. How well would you say you truly love God? I totally suck at it personally. As Brennan Manning said, I acknowledge God with my lips, and I deny Him with my lifestyle. It really is unbelievable.
Difficulty loving God is probably why we have such trouble with loving enemies. If we truly loved God, from the very core of our being, loving enemies would, more than likely, characterize our lives anyway. But there is a gain or benefit that often gets missed in all this distracting difficulty.
God’s holiness is truly unassailable. In a very real sense He is unfazed by ungrateful and evil people. And that sense of security can be ours as well. But in our resentment, animosity, and self-justification, we miss out on the peace of God. If we are heavenly minded, then we too have nothing to lose in loving enemies. Therefore, the degree to which we are heavenly minded becomes evident in how we love our enemies.
Love God, and only treasure heaven. Got it. It really sounds easy that way. But it’s not like this is new info. It’s still brutally difficult.
What are your thoughts and views through the knothole?