Summary: Our Lord, our Leader, our Savior, our Forgiver...do we really follow in His steps?
“Am I Really a Christ-Follower?”
Has anyone done something to you recently that was just wrong? Something that hurt you, harmed you? Made you angry? How about something a long time ago? A deep and lasting hurt that penetrated deep into your heart and soul? Anything come to mind? It wasn’t very “Christian” of them, was it? Today we’re going to look more closely at that statement and discuss what it really means, from the perspective of Christ Himself.
We have been studying the ever-increasing purity requirements in the character of those who claim the name of Christ. At the end of this section in Chapter 5, Jesus summarizes the core heart difference for every child of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Just the other day, I heard someone make the comment, “He obviously isn’t such a good ‘Christian’ after all, is he?” Those words have such a piercing sting to them, don’t they? The first thought that popped into my head was the question, “Do they think that way about me?” I certainly hope not. People have an immediate concept of what a Christian’s behavior is to be, whether they themselves are a Christian or not. Also, they seem to have a perception that Christians are standing around being harshly critical of others. And, many times, that assessment is more accurate than not. Lately, I have taken to referring to myself simply as “a believer…a sinner saved by grace”. But, the incident gave my mind fodder to mull over and reflect on. Those involved in the conversation I overheard made a simple mistake that we all make so easily and so universally – which we will look at a bit later. Without having been there, what would you guess was the nature of what they had heard or observed? Matthew 5:43-48 is the most concentrated section of Scripture that deals with the Christian ethic in personal relationships. Even those who never darken the doorway of a church know that Jesus taught this, and they very often condemn those who profess to be Christians for falling short of this standard. If we are going to try to live this out in our own lives, then we need to have an accurate understanding of just what Jesus is teaching.
There are four Greek words for love, only two of which are found in the New Testament. The first is the word storge, and is a word that describes family love – the love that parents feel for a child and the child for the parents. It is not found in the New Testament. The second, which is also not in the Bible, describes the erotic love between a man and a woman. That word is eros. The third word is phileo, and describes the deep and true love between friends who are closer than brothers, friends who share a deep affection for each other that is tender and caring. The fourth, which Jesus uses here, is the word that describes unconquerable benevolence and invincible good will – commonly known as godly or heavenly love. This is agape-love. If we regard a person with agape, it means that no matter what that person does or says to us, no matter how they treat us, no matter even if they insult or injure us, we refuse to allow any bitterness against them to enter our hearts. Instead, we will regard them with the unconquerable benevolence and invincible good will that seek the highest good for them. How are we doing so far?
Okay, let’s look at what Jesus is and isn’t saying. First, we have already seen that Jesus is not telling us to love our enemies with the same love that we love those who are nearest and dearest to us. It would not be possible or right to love an enemy the same way we love a spouse or family member. Remember, Jesus is using a completely different word here because He is asking us to love in a completely different way.
Agape is a love we choose to have and use; it is not a feeling or emotion of the heart. We talk about “falling in love”, which most times is a phenomenon that, when it happens, happens to us quite unexpectedly and overwhelmingly. On the one hand, love is a natural reaction we have to some people. What Jesus is teaching us is that we are to love with a love that is the opposite of a natural reaction. This is a great part of what distinguishes a true believer from an unbeliever. Agape is the God-given power to love those we do not like and who probably don’t like us. It is the choice we make to seek the good of those who have done bad to us. How are we doing now?