Tuesday, August 23, 2016

23 August 2016

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
“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 children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NRSV)
            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Today we consider retaliation-revenge, if you prefer-and love for enemies. These are not easy verses-not the kind you can skim over, pick up a surface meaning and move on. They have some potential for abuse; we will that as well so as not to be led astray. When considered in this way we will find some practical-if difficult to follow-teaching concerning Kingdom living.
            ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ in v.38 refers to civil law-cases that would be tried in court. It was originally intended to ensure the punishment was proportional to the offense. In vs. 39-42 Jesus, I believe, has in mind individual relationships; principles by which we deal with others on a personal level. The idea is to avoid retaliation when insulted and thus escalate the conflict. Repaying evil for evil will only make matters worse. Be peacemakers. Break the cycle of hostility. Remember Proverbs 15:1-“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Paul, in Romans, makes a couple noteworthy points-leave room for God’s vengeance; do what is noble in the sight of all. Again we see-people are watching, and are very much in need of seeing non-retaliation in action today. Our hostility does not invite people into the Kingdom.
            We also see the idea of doing more than what is required, ‘going the extra mile’. Give generously, beyond what is necessary, whenever you can. Paul tells the Ephesians to work and not steal, that they may have something to share with those in need (4:28). There is a relationship between non-retaliation and giving more than is required, a foundational principle of Kingdom living. It involves putting the needs of others before our own needs, trusting the Father to care for us. This is meekness and humility in action. This is Kingdom living we can practice in our day to day lives; the kind of habitual service that helps us put off the old and put on the new.
             One word of caution is necessary here. Let me be clear-I am not saying it’s ok to be a doormat. There are times when the only safe response is to walk away. If you find yourself in one of those situations, do not use these verses as justification to endure bodily harm. Do not allow anyone else use them as justification for causing you bodily harm, or emotional harm, or any other harm. I understand these verses to be about insults, not physical violence; I think I’m on pretty solid ground here.
            Verse 44 brings us to the conclusion of the matter; the goal of everything we have seen up to this point. Vs.45-48 tell us why. Loving our enemies is probably the most unnatural thing we will ever do. In fact, we simply are not capable of doing it on our own. We need Divine intervention to carry this one out. The important point here, one of the more important teachings in the entire Bible, is we are to love our enemies because God loves our enemies. Jesus reminds us God showers His blessings-His common grace-on the evil and the good. The reason, I believe, this is so fundamental to our understanding is simply this-God desires all humankind to be saved (see, for example, Ezk 18:23; 33:11; Ro 10:8-13; 1 Ti 2:1-4; 2 Pe 3:8-9). Now, at this point I have to say God bestows His grace on whomever He will for reasons known only to Him; He is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases with His creation (as Paul makes quite clear in Romans 9:16-24, see also the Exodus conflict with Pharaoh) . But after reading the above verses, I think you have to at least allow for the possibility that He wants all humankind to be saved, and Mt.5:48 (and 1 Pe 1:15-16) seem to indicate He would like us to imitate Him in this regard.  
            Getting back to praying for our enemies, I might have said this before-I have tried it, and came away noticeably changed (me, that is, not my ‘enemies’). Not that I have any enemies (that I am aware of, anyway) but there are people with whom I strongly disagree. I simply said “God, I am praying for this person but I don’t want to; I am only doing it because You command it”. God is big enough to take prayers like that-He knows it already anyway. This is an easy thing to try for yourselves-keep at it for a while and see what happens. Not necessarily an enemy; maybe an obnoxious neighbor or a hard boss, or a rude post on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe nothing will happen, but then again, maybe something will.
            There is one more aspect to this that I hesitate to bring up; that is praying for people who have abused you in the past, seeking to forgive them. Again, I am not talking about allowing abuse to continue. I am talking about forgiveness, asking God for blessing and restoration on their behalf. Now, I have never been in an abusive relationship. I have been close-intimately close-to a couple people who have, close enough to see the long-term effects. I am not saying this is easy; only that it is what Jesus commands. All forgiveness has its roots in God, who forgives us all our trespasses and who, as I mentioned above, desires all humankind to repent and turn to Him. This kind of forgiveness may be a most effective demonstration of Kingdom living.
            Here is something a little easier. Think about a time or two when you might have profited by ‘turning the other cheek’ but did not. How might the outcome have been different if you had? Read through the Ezekiel, Romans, Timothy and Peter passages. Do they change the way you think about God? About others? Again, this is foundational Kingdom stuff, radical, revolutionary Kingdom stuff. Salt and light stuff.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

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