Summary: How do I love my enemy?
In a recent column in Leadership Weekly, Gordon MacDonald, a retired pastor and editor at large for Leadership, a journal for pastors, reflected on a comment from Louis Berkhof who said, "God does not want us as objects but as covenant partners, partners who can converse. He desires our conversation input, our spontaneous gratitude, our free concurrence, but also our patient or impatient questions (rather than) our silent, unconvinced acquiescence.”
In his reflection MacDonald asked, “Does God want conversation? Does God really desire my patient or impatient questionings?" I’ve got a lot of the latter if He’s really interested. Is he?”
“If I could get my own impatient questions,” he goes on to say, “off my chest and shoot them heavenward with a bit of passion and challenge, maybe I’d feel a tad better. Perhaps… God wouldn’t mind my advice on occasion…advice which he is free, of course, to accept or reject. Would it be all right to shout at God about a few things I think are wrong with me and the rest of the world? Would he mind if I dreamed a bit with him about a world that reflected Kingdom values rather than the ones that it seems to reflect now? Would he be offended if I called to his attention some things going on that I am tempted to feel he doesn’t see or hasn’t heard about?”
Our summer sermon series is entitled “God, I have a question” and for eight weeks we are addressing questions that have been in asked in response to my question, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” Two weeks ago we addressed some questions related to the welfare of children and why they are sometimes in the positions they are in that seem far removed from what God desires for them.
This morning we address a question that is very much a part of our world as it directly relates to the issues of war and peace both in a military and, for most of us here, in a personal situation as well. They are questions about loving our enemies.
One of the questions that I received as I asked people for a question they would like to ask God came at the time of the terrible beheading of Nicolas Burg at the hands of terrorists in Iraq:
“How do we show our love to those 5 Iraqi men who beheaded a young man whom was stated by the national news that he wanted to help the Iraqi people? If we were to stand and look at them in their face, on their own soil what else could we demonstrate to them about God’s love?
Another came from someone who asked, “Why, in Your name, do we suffer so much hatred and death in the world? If we believe in your love and kindness, as others say they do, why does it seem we are bent on destroying one another?”
Good questions. Important questions. However, we do not have to look at Iraq and all of the hatred and strife there to wrestle with the question about loving our enemy. We have only to look inward in our minds and downward at our hearts to come face-to-face with the issue of enemies in our lives and the tension of Jesus’ statement about loving our enemies in Matthew 5:43, “You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
What does Jesus mean? In this segment of scripture Jesus is laying out the beginnings of the new covenant that He would speak of in Luke 22:20 at the last supper, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you- an agreement sealed with the blood that I will pour out for you.” He uses contrast to make clear what this new covenant would entail for those who entered into it.
He states in verses 17 through 20 of Matthew 5 that He has come to fulfill the law of the Moses and the writings of the prophets and that they would be around until their “purpose is fulfilled.” (Verse 18) But starting in verse 21, Jesus begins to contrast what was then current interpretation of the law with what He says is correct interpretation of the law. It is the “you have heard that the Law of Moses says” verses “But I say,” of the rest of chapter 5.
In each of these areas Jesus moves from the issue of the outward acts of murder, adultery, divorce, taking an oath, revenge, and response to enemies to the internal reasons for those acts with this contrast. He is challenging interpretations of these parts of the ancient Jewish law that had grown to distort the original meanings that God had intended by going to the inner motives behind those acts. Our text is a case in point.