One of the Marks of a Man or Woman of God, perhaps the most important Mark, is LOVE. As noted each time we address this, I want to remind you that love “is not a mushy feeling or sentimental emotion.” This is especially true when we come to Jesus’ radical teaching to love your enemies! In Matthew 5 He instructs us:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
No other teacher in all the world or in any time ever advocated so clearly such an astounding behavior from his followers. Nor did any of them ask for such a difficult thing! We’ve all been around people who are pleasing and agreeable. This simply means “they agree with me.” Most of us have been with people with whom we disagree, but amicably, nicely, kindly. We simply “agree to disagree,” but that is as far as our battle goes.
But here is what Jesus expected from His followers: Turn the other cheek when someone strikes one side of your face! Forfeit your rights in a legal argument and give up your material possessions if sued! If someone demands you carry a bag for a mile, offer to carry it for another mile!! Give to beggars and do not refuse to loan to one who needs!!! Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!!!! All in Matthew 5:39-44.
I have never personally seen this so vividly and literally lived out as in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Selma marchers in the struggle for civil rights in America, when I was a child. The night before a fateful march to the Alabama’s governor’s mansion in Montgomery, Mr. King went up and down among the marchers and exhorted them, “If you cannot allow a white man to beat you with a stick without fighting back, get out of the line! If you cannot let a man spit on you, attack you with his fists and carry you to jail, get out of the line!” He only wanted people who would heed these words of Jesus in struggling for the rights that white citizens of Selma enjoyed without thinking about them. He wanted the marchers to be loving in the face of cruel hatred.
I have only read about others who discovered the truth of loving your enemies, such as Louie Zamperini, made famous in the film, Unbroken. In the book, but untold in the movie, was the liberty Mr. Zamperini found in forgiving the guards who had tormented and even tortured him and other prisoners-of-war in WWII in Japan. Particularly, there was one guard, Matsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed The Bird, who seemed demon-possessed in his obsession with torturing the prisoners, with special attention to Zamperini.
For five years after his release in September, 1945, Zamperini, who was having flashbacks and nightmares of The Bird tormenting him, had one obsession: to kill The Bird if he ever had the opportunity! But in October, 1949, just five years and one month after being released from the torture of The Bird and his POW camp, Louie Zamperini invited Jesus Christ to enter his life. He prayed, “If you will save me, I will serve you forever.” Like a cleansing rain, all the fears of the flashbacks and nightmares disappeared, and all the hatred was washed away. “He felt something for his captor that he had never felt before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.” L. Hildebrand, Unbroken.
This is not an exercise you can master in your own strength or ability. You may be able to behave gently toward an enemy for a moment or two, but in our own strength we will shortly revert to the “natural man” and lash out against our enemies. But in realizing Jesus has forgiven you, you can discover His power in your heart to love even your enemy. C.S.Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, put it this way, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Challenged to love his neighbor, an expert in the law tried to justify himself before Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). I would like to challenge you to love your enemy, to which we may ask, “Who is my enemy?” For some of you dear readers this is not a difficult question to answer. There are those who would like to kill you because you do not share their views on religion or politics, or because of who your parents are, your nationality or your race. But for many of us “my enemy” is much more subtle.
Perhaps it is the coworker who annoys you to no end, or the boss who is unreasonable in his demands, or the neighbor who lets his dog poop in your yard. For me, it is usually the driver who does not know how to obey the rules of the road, or at least uses poor sense and interrupts my plans. I must begin to recognize the driver in that other car is a person Father loved enough to send the Son to die for! And I should love that driver as much as my Father does!!
These probably seem very small and petty to those of you whose enemies would shoot you with a gun if given the opportunity, but the heart is the same: without Jesus in charge of our lives, we live for ourselves, love only “our neighbors” and hate our enemies. So let’s together be challenged to bear this Mark of a Man or Woman of God: let us love, first our families, second our neighbors, and then, even our enemies.
Now there are practical considerations for loving one’s enemy that must be recognized, but very possibly not what you expect, and I will address some of these next week, February 22, 2015. In the meantime, remember me in prayer “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Corinthians 9:27.)