Forgiveness at its finest …

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you … Luke 6: 27 – 28

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you … Matt 5:44

There’s something here that causes me recoil. I know what it is. It’s the fact that there is something here that I need to do, something that my nature rebels against – love for an enemy.

An enemy is defined as, a person who is actively opposed, or hostile, to someone or something.

This is not someone who insults you about your new hair cut. An enemy is not someone who gives you a dirty look, it’s not your neighbour who accidentally reverses into your rubbish bin for the second time in a fortnight … an enemy is not someone who disagrees with your opinion regarding puppy training.

An enemy is someone who is actively opposed to you, and hostile in their dealings with you. Some of us have these people in our lives, some of us do not. I think those who do not, find it very easy to agree with and perhaps adhere to this the principle without having to actively engage with it. There is no rubber hitting the road here, it purely an academic exercise, which is easy to jump on board with. In fact it’s even remarkably easy to advise others to do this – the words just roll off the tongue.

I’m sure you’ve read those amazing stories in which an individual shows forgiveness and sometimes even love for an enemy, and to some extent you are inspired but you are more often than not equally awestruck as you realise you’d struggle to do it. When it comes down to it most of us think we’d be able to do this under the right circumstances. People who have been wronged usually get to the point that they realise that forgiveness is the best (only) option if they want to move forward, if they want to be healthy and move on.

I know that one aspect of my sinful nature is that I sometimes (more often than not) struggle to forgive. Though at the same time I do know that while I can’t offer forgiveness immediately; if I let the Holy Spirit work in me — it happens. And then before I can feel too pleased with myself, I find myself right up against the verse where we started today.

Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, pray for them

How about we just leave it at forgiving them?

Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, pray for them 

What does this mean? For me it appears to ask the impossible. Love your enemy? I’m okay with “Love your neighbour as yourself” that at least, seems to be possible, until I look beneath the surface, and what I find is the same instruction. Love your neighbour as yourself – my thoughts echo the question the scribes asked of Jesus; who is my neighbour?
Now you know where we are heading … His answer came in the form of the story of The Good Samaritan.
He finds his enemy suffering by the roadside:

… when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’
So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Good Samaritan gives his time, his care, his possessions, his money and even takes responsibility for the well-being of someone who is essentially his enemy (in his case – from birth).
At this point I find it all a bit too difficult to envisage little ol’ me managing to do any of this. But then the self-righteous, perhaps Pharisaical part of me, wants to work out what that means … how can it be measured? Is it time? Is it possessions? Is it money?
When I begin to think this way it isn’t too long before I find myself looking at an imaginary balance sheet. On my side I have a list of things that I can classify as “good” that I could place on the credit side of this transaction … but is love being shown, or am I simply trying to balance the books ..?

Then the Holy Spirit leads me to Corinthians:

love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself,
love is not puffed up;
love does not behave rudely,
love does not seek its own,
love is not provoked,
love thinks no evil;
love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
love bears all things,
love believes all things,
love hopes all things,
love endures all things.

After reading this I need a whole new balance sheet.

Once again the instruction is clear – this is how we love our enemies, it’s how we love our friends. The application of this passage is so much deeper and wider than simply being a suitable reading for a wedding ceremony. This is not meant to be limited to romantic love as its application in wedding ceremonies may suggest.
Maybe we should more readily and willingly apply this to all of the relationships we find ourselves in, the harmonious, the faltering, and the broken.

At the end of it all, this particular verse “love your enemies …” is meant to encourage us to move in a way that is more in line with the life of Christ, and I think it is meant to encourage us to be mindful of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We, none of us, is able to do this one in our own strength.

Yet, as weak and imperfect as the holiness of the best saints may be, it is a real true thing, and has a character about it as unmistakable as light and salt. It is not a thing which begins and ends with noisy profession; it will be seen much more than heard. Genuine Scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life. It will exhibit itself in passive graces—as well as in active. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate of others, loving, meek, and forgiving. It will not constrain him to go out of the world, and shut himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and after the pattern of Christ.
J.C Ryle

Don’t forget that we, as Christians, were, at one time, enemies of God.

Christ loved His enemies, didn’t He?

white-crucifixion-1938

White Crucifixion – Marc Chagall

It’s not as though He is telling us to do something He hasn’t already done.

It’s not as though He is leaving us to do it on our own, or in our own strength.


 

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