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Be Like Your Heavenly Father…Love Your Enemies

Thu, Sep. 04, 2014 Posted: 03:45 PM

This week’s Epistle reading in church was Romans 12:9-21. These thirteen verses contain some thirty (count ’em!) directives about how we should live. As in all his epistles, Paul is presenting kingdom values—the standards for living in the Kingdom of God—which are usually at odds with worldly values.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught the true ways of God, which often meant unteaching the false ideas held by the people. We see this correction clearly in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus’ pattern is “You have heard…, but I say to you…” Over and over He states a commonly accepted idea and then proceeds to give the true understanding of that concept. He is not at all abolishing the Law; rather, He is fulfilling it and teaching what it really means (Mt. 5:17).

One thoroughly mistaken notion that Jesus and Paul tried to correct was about how to treat one’s enemies.[1] In Romans 12, Paul counters commonly accepted beliefs by saying

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (v. 14).

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone (v. 17).

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (v. 18).

If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink (v. 20).

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v. 21).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states the misconception and then His command:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:43-45).

The same principle is given in Luke 6:

I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Lk. 6:27-28).

Jesus even said that the principle of love for God and neighbor underlies and summarizes the entire Law:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:36-40).

When Jesus talked about our neighbors, He didn’t mean the folks who live next door. He meant our fellowmen, the whole human race. The Jews thought they were supposed to love just fellow Jews (and maybe not even all of them!), but Jesus expanded the command to include Samaritans and Romans and Gentiles of all kinds—the whole world.

In correcting the Jews’ understanding of how to treat their enemies, Jesus was also correcting their understanding of how God treats His enemies. Our love is to be a reflection of the infinitely greater love of God. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, our love for our enemies is evidence that we are children of a loving God:

I say to you, love your enemies…, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…. You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:44-45, 48).

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 (Lk. 6:35-36).

Jesus commands us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us. Would He command us to do more than God Himself does? Would God tell us to love our enemies but hate His own enemies? No! Our heavenly Father is the model for this kind of love. Any notions of true love that we may have do not originate within ourselves; they come from God Himself. He is loving, He is perfect, He is kind, He is merciful. He is kind even to ungrateful and evil men. Jesus taught us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others; can we not trust Him to forgive at least as much as we fallen, finite creatures forgive?

Someone might point out that Romans 12 tells us not to take revenge, but says that God will do so. Yet the fact that we are told to leave vengeance to Him does not mean that He will execute some vindictive kind of revenge, as we might. His vengeance is nothing like ours; God will enact perfect justice according to His infinite wisdom, righteousness, and goodness.

Are we, like the Jews, clinging to warped or inadequate or fleshly views about God’s love? Do we put human limitations on how broad we think His love and forgiveness ought to be? Do we believe Him to be in some way unable or unwilling to love all His creatures in the way He commands us to love them? Then we need to listen to Jesus’ words with a humble heart and repentant spirit so we can learn who God the Father really is and how we can be like Him.[2] And as Paul says,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:1-2).

Thankfully He is more than able to bring His whole creation to respond to His inexhaustible love and in turn to worship Him in heartfelt adoration. As we sang in our final hymn on Sunday:

All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine,
didst yield the glory that of right was thine,
that in our darkened hearts thy grace might shine.

Thou cam’st to us in lowliness of thought;
by thee the outcast and the poor were sought;
and by thy death was God’s salvation wrought.

Let this mind be in us which was in thee,
who wast a servant that we might be free,
humbling thyself to death on Calvary.

Wherefore, by God’s eternal purpose, thou
art high exalted o’er all creatures now,
and given the Name to which all knees shall bow.

Let every tongue confess with one accord
in heaven and earth that Jesus Christ is Lord;
and God the Father be by all adored.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

F. Bland Tucker

And let us pray the Prayer for the Persecuted Church, which we use in our church:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you.

[1]Note: I am not saying that these commands about how to live our personal lives should apply on the level of government. In these passages Jesus and Paul are addressing our interpersonal relationships. The issue of how to deal with criminals, enemies of society, terrorists, etc. is a discussion for another day.

[2] This essay follows up on one that I posted on February 1, 2014, “Does God Love Everybody?” It also introduces a topic that I plan to explore further in a future post entitled “Should We Love Everybody?” The love of God is a recurring theme of my essays, for example, “I Have Called You by Name,” “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” and a reprinted chapter from Hannah Whitall Smith entitled “The Unselfishness of God.”

Diane Castro