Called to Live Love.
When we observe the state of our world, regardless of the historical era or geographical setting, we find a place that can be rather brutal to the human spirit. The most common characteristic that describes almost all peoples is the open and pervasive expression of bigotry. Blind hatred towards others has fueled our wars and inspired continual episodes of genocide, ending the lives of untold millions of souls. Even today the most pervasive violence that we see stems from those who think they have a license to kill anyone who does not believe what they believe. The Christian community may look outside of itself to observe such sinful behavior unaware that much of the bigotry and persecution over the years has been executed in the name of God. However, even more significant today may be the amount of such behavior that still exists in the church today. Many may be in denial of their own prejudices, while others may not truly understand what it means to be a Christian.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What makes one person a Christian, and another not, even though both may profess to being so? The United States regularly conducts a census in which the people of the country are counted, and information about each is gathered. This census provides information for the government to assist in the proper distribution of resources. One of the questions asked refers to religion, and many people across the country respond with a declaration of Christianity. Of 284 million counted, 217 million, or 76.4% claimed to be of the Christian religion.1 I would like to be able to ask a question of each of those 217 million people: "What makes you a Christian?" The answers would probably be quite revealing. Some might say that they are a Christian because:
- "My parents went to church"
- "I attend a Christian church"
- "I believe in Jesus"
- "I believe that everything in the Bible is true."
- "I believe that Jesus is LORD"
None of these answers are professions of faith. The first two answers rely on a "salvation of association," attained when one chooses to associate with the Christian church. Salvation does not come from knowing other Christians, from associating with other Christians, or from being related to other Christians. The last three answers rely on a "salvation of belief," attained by a sincere belief of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The ineffectuality of this form of salvation would surprise the vast majority of those 217 million who make such a profession. The problem with a salvation of belief is that even Satan believes that Jesus is LORD. Satan knows that all of the content of the Bible is true, and scripture states that this first hand knowledge of the truth leaves Satan shaking in fear (James 2:19). If association with other Christians cannot save, and believing in Jesus cannot save, what is it that makes a person a Christian?
- False salvation by association sincerely testifies that "Jesus is our lord",.
- False salvation by belief sincerely testifies that "Jesus is the lord",
- True salvation by faith sincerely testifies that "Jesus is my LORD".
This is what Paul wrote to the church in Rome when he stated,
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
Such a profession does not rely on the faith of others, and such a profession goes beyond simple belief. Such a profession comes from the heart, fully recognizing and embracing Jesus' Lordship, and is a response to faith. Satan does not make the profession of Romans 10:9 because he fails to make Jesus his personal LORD and Savior. Many people today who call themselves Christians have never made such a profession of faith, and instead, rely on a profession similar to that which Satan himself can make: simple belief. The scriptures do not say "Believe in Jesus" and you will be saved. The scriptures always present the wording in some form of "Believe on the name of Jesus" and you will be saved (24 references: John 20:31, Acts 2:38, Acts 4:10, Acts 4:18, Acts 4:30, Acts 5:40, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:16, Acts 9:27, Acts 9:29, Acts 15:26, Acts 16:18, Acts 19:5, Acts 19:17, Acts 21:13, 1 Cor. 1:2, 1 Cor. 1:10, 1 Cor. 5:4, 1 Cor. 6:11, Eph. 5:20, Phil. 2:10, Col. 3:17, 2 Thes. 1:12, 1 John 3:23). When the scriptures refer to the "name" of Jesus it is referring to who He is. To believe on the name of Jesus is to appropriate for one's self a personal acceptance of who Jesus is, including Savior and LORD. Jesus is not one's LORD if one has not given Him that authority in their life. This is where many who erroneously think they are saved fall short, and it is where Satan wins the victory. Satan wins when people slumber in their secure belief, never to actually turn to Jesus Christ as their personal LORD. Such people remain the LORD of their own lives, or they give that authority to another, other than God.
So, how does one live a life that is characterized by submission to Jesus Christ as LORD? The answer to that question is less a matter of living according to a list of rules as it is living a life that has a Christ-centered nature. As the seal of a believer's commitment to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart and life of the Christian. The Spirit places the word of God in the heart of the believer, and choices that one encounters in their daily walk can be submitted to that word. The Spirit gives the believer a peace in knowing what is the godly response to the events of the day.
As Jesus called his disciples, he selected from among them twelve who would be apostles (Luke 6:12-19). These would be disciples who would be witnesses to all of the events of Jesus life and ministry, and who would be sent out to proclaim Him to the world. After teaching the crowds, he drew these apostles off to the side and taught them the nature of a godly life. Again, Jesus' teaching is not a list of rules, but rather is a list of characteristics that are evident in the life of one who truly has turned to Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. The passage of scripture we will investigate is part of that teaching. In his description of a Christian we will see a person who responds to the world differently than one who is not.
1. LOVING SELFLESSLY
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Note that Jesus discriminates among those in his audience. Who is Jesus speaking to? The word for "hear" that is used here means more than simply the ability to process sounds. To "hear" in the biblical sense means to listen with an obedient response. One who listens and turns away, or one who listens and rejects Jesus' words is not one who "hears" what He says. It is important, therefore, as we seek to be one of those to whom Jesus is speaking, to listen to His words recognizing them as coming from the LORD Jesus, who has the authority to speak them, and who can expect our obedience.
When one is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, one's response to His teaching changes. For each of the imperatives that Jesus presents, one could prefix the statement with, "If you are a Christian, your natural response will be to ... "love your enemies, do good to them which hate you." This imperative of Jesus' teaching is not a rule for Christians to follow, but rather it is a characteristic of the undeniable fruit of a true Christian. The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to love people in the same way that God loves them. God's love for people transcends the nature of their actions. God loves all people while they are yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love those whom God loves, while at the same time, rejecting their sinful acts. Loving people in such an unconditional way (Rom. 12:9) is that one characteristic that overtly identifies one as a Christian (John 13:35). Such love enables Christians to love their enemies while at the same time despise what they are doing. If one loves another, one will seek to do good for them, and a Christian will desire to do good for their enemies with the hope of their redemption.
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
This verse is literally a continuation of the previous verse. The statement continues to describe the response of a Christian to a persecutor. The world's response to such an individual or individuals would be quite different from that of a Christian. One who is submitted to Jesus Christ as LORD will respond to a persecutor differently than one who simply calls himself a Christian. A true Christian's response is quite different from that which is typical for one who is a member of the lost world culture. Jesus describes the Christian as one who will "bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." One blesses an enemy by loving them and seeking to demonstrate that love. One way to demonstrate that love for another is to pray for them. Praying can be directed to the very core of what is causing the persecution. One can pray for the salvation of a lost persecutor, recognizing the wonderful result that such a salvation would produce in the relationship between the Christian, the persecutor, and the LORD. All Christians are human, and will want to, in their own flesh, lash back at the persecutor, but such a response would be tempered and eliminated by the love of God.
And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
The response of a Christian to violence is not reciprocated violence. Again, God's love is the foundation of a true Christian's response to life's events. If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), the place where the Spirit dwells, an attack on the Christian is a direct attack on the Spirit of God. Love, demonstrated towards the persecutor, will not cause one to shy away, nor to attack. Such love inspires patience and endurance, described herein as turning the other cheek. A natural response to attack is to place ones self into a defensive posture which will disallow repeated attacks. However, when one responds in love, trust is demonstrated when such a defensive posture is not taken. Not only is trust demonstrated in love, but so is generosity. The demand for the cloak is clearly one of violence, the taking of a cloak, or shirt, by one who needs it and wants it. If the one so insulted loves the thief, recognition of the need that inspired their thievery would inspire one to give them a coat also, so that they would be warmed. Imagine the response of a thief to such an offer. Such a demonstration of love would surely be a testimony to the love of Christ, and may open doors of communication, a discussion that could lead the thief to faith. .
Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
Jesus continues to describe the nature of one whose love is demonstrated in generosity. Like the previous two-part response, this imperative describes both a simple and deep demonstration of God's love. The first shows simple generosity: one would not withhold something that is needed by a beloved individual. Since Christians are characterized by love, they will demonstrate this type of generosity to all people. However, generosity is certainly not limited to the faithful. One's generosity can be based upon many motives other than God's love. Some of the greatest philanthropists in history were and are not Christians. However, it is the phileo love that makes the difference. A Christian's response goes beyond philanthropy, a generosity that is based upon brotherly love, to a generosity that is based upon God's unconditional and complete love. The second example in this pair describes the response, again, to a thief who steals "goods", objects that meet their own needs. The response of love is not only to love the individual, but upon recognizing their need, love would enable the thief to keep that which they have taken. Like the offer of the coat, such a response goes beyond what the world thinks of generosity and truly seeks to meet the needs of others.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
This imperative, often referred to as the "golden rule," describes how a Christian will treat others as he/she would wish to be treated. This statement that encompasses verses 27 through 31 form a single description of one who truly loves others as God loves them, and responds to others as Jesus does. These characteristics describe someone who is quite different from the typical secular or pagan individual. A person who treats others in such a way would stand out as "peculiar" (1 Peter 2:9). Such an individual will not finish the game with the most toys, as many will be taken by or given to others. The cliche' "nice guys finish last" sometimes describes what the lost world sees in the race of the Christian. However, to the Christian, the race is not to see who can get there first while trampling others along the way. To the Christian, the race is about crossing the finish line while bringing as many others across the line as possible. This is something the lost world cannot understand.
My son was a regional class mountain bike racer who usually took first place or crashed. His intensity to win was never questioned. However, on more than one occasion I have seen him stop in the middle of a race to help another racer who was incapacitated in some way, usually due to equipment malfunction. He would rather lose the race than to see a stranger suffer the disappointment of a failure to finish. He was not an effective wrestler in high school because it broke his heart to overpower an opponent. He would use such situations to teach his opponent how to deal with such an attack, and in so doing, his opponent would break free.
I never criticized my son for his compassion in competition, for the nature of his heart that was demonstrated in these events is an example of how all Christians should spontaneously respond to others in the day to day events of life. The race is never important enough to leave others to choke in the dust we leave behind, and neither is life.
3. LOVING UNCONDITIONALLY
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them..
There is an evident difference between one who is a Christian and one who is not. Christianity is not about identifying with a group. It is about identifying with the Savior who is the LORD, the Savior who brought a new definition of the word, love. This definition was so new that there was no word in the ancient languages to accurately identify it. Paul literally redefined the use of the Greek word, agape, to describe this new form of love that, unlike the conditional love that so defines human nature, is an unconditional love that breaks all of the rules of human culture. Human nature inspires us to love those who we choose to love, and it is easiest to love those who love us. It is easier for us to love those who we judge as loveable. Human nature also inspires us to withhold love from those whom we judge unlovely or unlovable. This world view results in the division and stratification of our culture into a mosaic of mutually exclusive subcultures, each communicating within itself and despising those outside of its narrow definition.
The unconditional love that Jesus brought to man breaks down the barriers in that mosaic as He teaches us that the love of God is given unconditionally to all of His creation, and He calls upon Christians to appropriate for themselves this same love for others, a love that can only derive from a relationship with Him, a love that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Christians have the capacity to love in a way that those who lack the Holy Spirit in their lives cannot. Referring to those as "sinners," Jesus states that even they love conditionally, so love is not the issue. The issue is that Christians are called and empowered to love other without any preconditions. Christian love is afforded to all without any form of hypocrisy (Rom 12:9).
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 34And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
In these verses, Jesus contrasts works that are based upon conditional and unconditional love, showing that many actions that may be done in the name of faith are powerless when they are done in the flesh, as they are done in a manner that is no different than those done by non-believers.
The first example is that of hospitality. It is easy to love someone who loves us back. I have discovered that many who pride themselves on their hospitality do indeed lavish that hospitality on others, but those others must fit a very narrow set of criteria. Their hospitality is not equally shared with all, but reserved for family, close friends, and people from their small subculture of society. That is the hospitality that the world gives. True Christian love is extended to all people without regard to any fashion of criteria. There is no room for any form of bigotry in the faith. There are many who, in the name of Christianity, have persecuted others who are of a different worldly social classification. However, such actions are never godly, and are never characteristic of the unconditional love of a Christian. .
Jesus also speaks of reward. We often interact with others in this world as those in the world interact with each other: with an expectation of reward. Love is given for love returned. Favor is given with an expectation of favor returned. One who has a compassion and unconditional love for others is unconcerned with reward and has no expectation or desire to receive anything in return for love given. Jesus points out clearly that God shows His kindness towards the unthankful and towards the evil, and if a Christian is one with God, their natural, agape-led response would be similar. The reward that Jesus promises is greater than anything that one can receive. The reward is characterized by who you have become: a child of God. It is not what we have that defines us, but rather who we are. God seeks to draw us to Himself and be His children, taking on His nature.
Jesus' second example goes beyond a statement of love, and describes acting upon that love. It is easy for anyone to do good things for people from whom we can expect good things in return. Such activity among members of a Christian fellowship is encouraging, strengthening, and serves to meet one another's needs. It is even easy to give to those whom we love without any expectation of receiving anything in return. Such love is expressed when a Christian is characterized by a desire to do good things for those who cannot and will not give anything in return. When taken the second step, even the lending of goods and services is a gift that is freely offered, with no expectation of return. Some have argued that the term for lending used here only refers to the exacting of a usury, or interest, or profit. Such a position argues that Christians are free to lend to others and should not collect interest. However, when taken within the context of Jesus' teaching, not only does the Christian not require interest, the Christian does not require repayment. The return of the lent goods is left to the character of the receiver. This takes the concept of kindness and raises it to the point of godliness. The blessings that come from such a nature go beyond the repayment of a worldly debt. The debt that Jesus paid for us overshadows any debt that another can owe to us, and by giving to others we are simply ministering to their needs. The reward for the Christian is a life that is eternal, and a life that is filled with the knowledge of God's blessing and approval. As God extends his grace and love to all, both the wicked and the righteous, it is in the nature of a true Christian to do the same. This is a concept that is quite contrary to the rules of the secular world.
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
This statement that started in verse 27, is concluded with a call for mercy. Mercy is demonstrated as a compassion towards one who has offended that results in a restraint of deserved punishment. God demonstrated mercy to all people when Jesus submitted himself to and suffered at the hands of wicked men when He was crucified, taking upon Himself the punishment that we deserve for our disobedience to God. Having received mercy above anything any person can give, it is characteristic of a Christian to show such mercy to others. A true Christian will not glory or pride in exacting punishment from others. Love is demonstrated when the Christian looks for ways to deal with situations that are consistent with his/her merciful nature, ways to demonstrate love towards the offender without meting out punishment.
These verses are just the beginning of a larger sermon that Jesus taught to the disciples. Jesus continued to describe the characteristics of one who is motivated in their actions by God's love. Jesus described these attitudes and actions as fruit. Fruit is that which comes out of one by virtue of his/her true nature. For example, what makes an apple tree an apple tree is the production of apples. An apple tree cannot bring forth oranges. How does on go about stopping an apple tree from bearing apples? In order to do so, the tree has to be maimed or killed. Jesus describes the attitudes and actions of a Christian as fruit. A true Christian responds in the manner shown in verses 27 - 36 because of his/her nature. To stop a true Christian from demonstrating God's love in their life is as difficult as stopping an apple tree from producing apples.
As Christians we can take a moment and evaluate our own motives, attitudes, and actions, and see if they are consistent with what Jesus describes as the fruit of a Christian. We may find that we have allowed the baggage from our worldly origin to accompany us in the faith, and are experiencing the conflict that such baggage engenders. If such baggage is weighting us down, we can identify it, and reject it. Such is the nature of repentance.
Upon such introspection, we may find that we have been living the Christian life as if it were a set of rules and regulations that must be obeyed. We see Jesus' imperatives as a list of commands that are restrictive and oppressive of our true nature, a nature that would prefer to reject Jesus' teachings. We may have been taught that one becomes a Christian by observing the rules of the church and the rules of the scriptures. However, the resulting attitudes and actions that come from such a profession are not fruit, because they are not coming from the true nature of the believer. The one who lives out their faith in this manner is simply playing the part of a Christian, and their action among the fellowship is simply "playing church." Such an experience will be frustrating as one attempts to live a life without hypocrisy, yet is doing so without the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit to do so. Such an individual has subjected himself to the rules and regulations of the church and of the faith, but has not subjected himself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Such an individual is still unrepentant and in need of salvation. Salvation comes by turning to Jesus Christ in faith, accepting Him as LORD and Savior. Upon accepting His Lordship, one no longer is subject to the rules and regulations, but by the regeneration that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit, one is freed of the bondage of legalism, and free to express love. Upon the expression of love, all of the rules and regulations pass away as they are replaced by the spontaneous actions and attitudes that grow out of a heart that loves the LORD and loves the people He came to save.
Christians face a tremendous pressure to identify with, be accepted by, and act in a manner consistent with the world's ungodly culture. It is sometimes far easier to succumb to those pressures and simply fit into the world so comfortably that it is possible to forget the true nature of God's call. Christians may find themselves withholding love from individuals in the same way that the pagans do, demonstrating a lesser love towards different races, cultures, ethnic groups, or any other of the myriad of subcultures that make up the mosaic of society. Jesus words are a call to all Christians to confess before God our sins of prejudice and the denial of love for others that we have allowed. Repentance is characterized by the decision to love all people unconditionally and lean upon the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our bent to hypocrisy and prejudice.
Over 75% of the American people profess to be members of the Christian faith. Imagine what America would be like if all of those 217 million people demonstrated love for others as we see in Jesus' description of a faithful Christian. This world would be a radically changed place. Though we cannot each influence the hearts of others, we can submit to the Holy Spirit and ask him to change our own. This is the place to start.
1. U.S. Census Bureau. Year 2000 Census. URL: http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-1.pdf