By, Isam Itson III
Matthew 5:44, 45 – But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
I want to put my enemies in their place. I want to lash out at people who insult and belittle my sensibilities and way of life. The most difficult test of my trust in God throughout the time of Covid restrictions has been not passing judgment on confessing Christians who disagree with me. Sometimes I pass the test. Sometimes I fail the test. Then I remember God’s faithfulness to me. Sun and rain are blessings to people who live in agricultural societies. No sun, no rain, no harvest. No harvest, no food. No food, no life. God lovingly gives life, and light to everyone. God wants to transform me and the rest of his followers into people who honor his depth of love and faithfulness for others.
In Matthew 7: 12, Jesus says that treating others the way we want to be treated is the sum of the Law and the Prophets. In Matthew 22:35-40 Jesus identified love for our neighbor as ourselves, as the second greatest commandment. In Luke l 0:25-38 Jesus reveals that loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is necessary for inheriting eternal life. When asked the question of who qualifies as a neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
In that story the Samaritan showed mercy to the Jew. In historical context we know that Jews looked at Samaritans as unclean dogs. So when Jesus says love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, he means those people that look at us like we are dogs. Those people who disrespect us and disregard us. Jesus says that when we love our enemies we show that we are children of our Father in heaven.
How does God transform our hearts? He allows us to experience his love for us through the faithfulness of other followers of Jesus Christ. This encourages our own trust and faith in God. Then he calls us to meditate upon his word and the meaning of his word for our daily lives. Then he calls us to express ourselves to him and to listen to him as we pray and turn our attention to his presence with us throughout the day and into the night.
Then God does the thing that tries my love, faith, and patience the most. He draws me into the path of people who offend my conscience and sensibilities. I hear them on the news. I see them on my social media feeds. I encounter them at work and around town. Every one of those encounters reveals how much my heart and mind is focused on God’s presence with me and his love and purpose for me. Every one of those encounters is an opportunity to trust God and become more like Jesus in my actions and attitude toward myself and others. Each one of those encounters is a reminder of how much time and space that God continues to give me to find my sense of peace in his loving presence while his desires are becoming my desires. Then he calls me to extend that same grace to others.
As followers of Jesus Christ our whole focus is glorifying God. Don’t be surprised when God calls you to be merciful and gracious with difficult, inconsiderate, or even willfully hurtful people. God gives us these encounters so that we can practice our righteous calling. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8.
Loving people who do not love us is critical to reflecting the love of God toward others, because that is how we first experienced God’s love for us. On the front end this practice is humiliating. Upon our obedient surrender to God, and for the sake of God ‘s name, this practice is liberating for our souls and deadly to the pride that keeps us from growing closer to God in Jesus Christ.
1. Every day, ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit so you can be kind to others.
2. Meditate on the value of sinful hurtful people to God. He considers them worth the life of Jesus Christ, so certainly we can lay down our lives for their sake.
3. Think about that person that really makes you angry and pray for God to be merciful and gracious to them. And make yourself available to God to be used for their benefit.