Summary: This continues a series on the book of Romans. An extreme gift of grace calls for an extreme response. Paul calls us to love our enemies. Sometimes God’s grace calls us to places we’d rather not go.
This summer we have been traveling the Roman Road Of Salvation with Paul. We began by hearing that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. We will never merit the love God has for us. No matter how good we are, or how bad we can be, God still loves us.
Our wrong doings separates us from God, but has provided a way back home to God through his son, Jesus. This way - God’s grace - is open to everyone from every walk of life, no matter what.
For Paul, this meant for Jew and Gentile alike. For us, it means for every woman and every man, every adult and every child, every person of every nationality and every economic status...for every person no matter what criminal or moral wrong doing he or she may have committed.
Such information, such a gift of grace, is like a glass of water in the middle of the Mohavi Desert. Our frustration can end. Our worries are over. Our search has ended. We now have hope, we now have love, and we now have life, no matter who or what we are.
But then Paul goes on. In these last 5 chapters of this letter, Paul goes on to describe what it means to lead a life under such a promise and such hope. God’s grace encompasses every inch of us and is all consuming. It is a gift in extreme.
Paul invites us to be living sacrifices to Christ. We are called to live a life constantly pursuing the best we have to offer in every area of our life, in the name of Christ. Paul calls us to live a life of an outward sign of the grace within us, a life representing the grace we have received, and a conveyer of that grace to others as well.
Now that’s a tall order to follow. Such a life is a life of commitment, and such a life doesn’t allow us much resting on that commitment.
But now, Paul continues, and Paul gives us instruction that may be a bit hard for us to swallow as we live out a life of salvation which we have received.
“Bless those who persecute you...”
We are to love our enemies.
Something within us hollars, “Now wait just a minute!”
It seems this Christianity thing has gone too far, crossed a line somewhere, asked us to bite off more that we can chew.
Craig Barnes has a book called, When God Interrupts. He talks about times in our life when things don’t go the way we planned, the way we want them to go. He’s not talking about life’s small disappointments. He’s talking about catastrophic illness, divorce, death of a loved one. Craig is talking about life’s big disappointments.
In his discussion, Craig talks about the danger of loving Jesus. He says the thing is, Jesus has a tendency to lead us away from places we’d rather be and to places we’d rather not go.
Craig uses the story of Jonah as a great illustration of this point. God called Jonah to go to a town called Nineveh.
Craig describes Nineveh this way:
“Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the enemy of God’s people. It was a strong city that had grown sick and decadent and needed to turn toward the grace of God. Nineveh illustrates what is wrong with the world, and what is oppressive to the church. Nineveh doesn’t care about our Savior. Nineveh hurts us all the time.”
When God called Jonah, he had a choice to make. He couldn’t stay where he was. He either had to follow where God led, or he had to turn and go the other way.
And we, as Christians, are faced with the same decision when we hear the Good News of God’s love - respond or turn away.
God called to Jonah, and told him to go to Nineveh and tell the people there about God.
But Jonah had had a different idea in mind. Jonah didn’t like the idea of going to Nineveh. There were evil people there who didn’t care for God. Remember how Craig Barnes described Nineveh - it hurts us all the time.
Jonah began to think he’d rather go to the city of Tarshish. Craig describes Tarshish this way:
“Tarshish was a far-off idealized port city, a kind of ancient Shangri-La. Solomon’s fleet went there to get gold, silver, ivory and peacocks.”
It was a great city, an enjoyable place. It was a good neighborhood with a low crime rate. Most everybody got along. Most everybody tried to be good citizens. Most everybody was fairly well off and had very little needs. It was kind of like a paradise. Jonah could be happy in Tarshish. Jonah really had Tarshish more in mind when God called him to Nineveh.