Love in Action (10) — Loving Our Enemies

This morning, we come to the very last lesson in our series on “Love in Action”. And I hope that I’ve challenged you just a little bit over the past few months to step out of your comfort zone and make the transition from merely talking about love to actually showing love. Because it’s easy for us to sit here in this room and I can say that we all need to love everybody, always, and you can nod and say “amen” and we can all leave this room without doing anything different than we’ve ever done before. But love, if it’s true love, will always be love in action.

We’ve talked about a lot different aspects of love throughout this series, but I’ve saved the most challenging lesson of all until the end. This morning, I want us to take love one step further and talk about the need to love our enemies. Jesus said in Luke 6,

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31)

I don’t know about you, but I think that this command has to be one of the most difficult things that Jesus ever told us to do. F.F. Bruce has a book called “Hard Sayings of Jesus”, where he lists some of the things Jesus told us to do that we have the most difficult time obeying. This one is number 16 in that book. I don’t know how he decided on the order to put them in, but if I had written that book, I think this would probably be at the top of the list.

How is it even possible for you to love someone who doesn’t love you? How can you love someone who wants to hurt you and tear you down?

Now, I realize there may be some of you who don’t have any actual enemies, people who are actively trying to do you harm. But we all have people that we tend to avoid – maybe because they’ve hurt us, or maybe it’s because they’ve lied to us and we don’t trust them, or maybe they just rub us the wrong way. These are the people we might call the “difficult” people in our lives that we have a hard time getting along with.

And, as I said, of all the things Jesus commanded, loving our enemies is probably the most difficult. I may not love God like I should, but at least I’m trying. I may not love Sueanne the way I should, but I constantly work at it. I may not love my neighbor as I should – but I have nothing against trying. But love my enemy?

These are the people who have hurt you. They’ve said mean things about you to others or to your face. They’ve stabbed you in the back. Maybe they’ve even caused you bodily harm. The truth is I don’t even want to love these people… And yet, here’s Jesus telling us to love them — not just tolerate them; not just to “ignore them and go on”, but to love them.

Now I have to admit, my favorite way of thinking about my enemies is summed up in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” There is a sense of comfort that comes in knowing that even if I don’t take revenge against those who have done me wrong, I have a God who will do it for me.

Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal lawyer, once joked: “I have never killed a man – but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”

And I can relate to that sort of attitude! But let’s be honest… that’s not really “loving my enemy” is it? And yet, Jesus said to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

It’s been a while since I’ve shared with you a story from Bob Goff, but I want to do that this morning. I’ll even share with you the end of the story.

One of Bob Goff’s passions is a desire to help the people of Uganda, especially the children in that country. One of the problems in Uganda is that witch doctors in villages abduct children, mutilate them, and then offer them up in child sacrifice. In fact, there are almost a thousand children abducted and killed in that country every year. The belief among witch doctors is that the body parts of their victims have magical powers. And so, they will use them in ceremonies to help someone to have success in their life or to get rid of something bad like a drought.

Thousands of people in Uganda have been affected by witch doctors, but in the history of that country no one had ever taken on a witch doctor in the legal system. In part, it’s because the young victims never survive. The other reality is that most people, including many of the judges, are afraid of the witch doctors.

But one day, there was an 8-year-old boy named Charlie who was walking home from school when he was abducted by a witch doctor named Kabi. Kabi took Charlies off into the bush, cut off his private parts and left him for dead. Kabi was arrested a short time later and Charlie survived. For the first time in Uganda’s history, there was a victim who was alive who could testify in court.

Bob Goff is a lawyer, and so he helped plan out the case against Kabi. The trial took a week, but in the end, Kabi was found guilty and was sent to prison to await his execution.

Bob was thrilled that justice had been served. But then he started thinking about Kabi. Every fiber of his being wanted him to rot in that jail that would be his home for the rest of his life. And Bob was okay with that.

But he start thinking about what Jesus said. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to go to church more, or not chew tobacco or dance. He said if we want to please God, we need to love our enemies.

The minute he attacked Charlie, Kabi because Bob’s enemy. He wasn’t just a little evil; he was pure evil. And Bob learned that it’s easy to talk about loving your enemies until you actually have one.

So Bob decided to visit Kabi in prison. When Kabi came into the room with Bob, he fell to his knees and told him how bad he felt about what he had done to Charlie. Then he said, “I know I’m going to die in here. What I really need is forgiveness.”

Bob’s first thought was, “Absolutely not.” Kabi had tried to kill the little boy that Bob loved. But something inside of him started to change. The two of them talked for a while, and then Kabi said he wanted to put his faith in Jesus. In time, Bob and Kabi became friends.

My guess is that none of you have any witch doctors in your life. But I’m sure you all have someone who is difficult for you to love, maybe even someone who has hurt you or someone you love deeply in the past. Listen again to what Jesus said,

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Jesus said there are three things that we are to do that go along with loving our enemies. The first is this:

I. DO GOOD TO THEM

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27).

I want you to understand that this was a teaching that was totally foreign to the Jews of the first century. Even the religious leaders were confused by what Jesus said. They shouldn’t have been, because even in the Old Testament, God said things like, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.” (Exodus 23:4)

But the rabbis at the time of Jesus were teaching, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Which makes a lot of sense. And my guess is that most of us would be pretty good at following that rule.

It’s so much easier for me to love people who already love me. I don’t have any trouble at all loving Sueanne. We got married because we love each other. We enjoy being with one another. Sueanne is genuinely interested in who I am as a person, she cares about me.

I don’t have any trouble loving my children or grandchildren. They’re a part of who I am. I do everything I can for them and have a genuine interest in their well-being..

But Jesus comes along and tosses in this monkey wrench of an idea by saying that not only are we to love those who love us but we’re also to love those who don’t love us!

In fact, Jesus said that if you love your spouse and your kids and all your close friends, so what? Anybody can do that! “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6:32-33)

When Jesus calls us to love those who hate us, he’s calling for us to do something that’s totally contrary to our human nature. Human nature tells us to get revenge! Human nature tells us when somebody messes with us, they’re going to have to pay the price.

The thought is if we get back at them, they’ll know not to mess with us anymore. Plus, we think that revenge is sweet; that it’s going to make us feel better. But guess what? It doesn’t. In fact, just the opposite. Hatred is a horrible thing that destroys us – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

The story is told that Leonardo da Vinci once had a terrible falling out with a fellow artist just before he began work on his painting, “The Last Supper.” According to this story, he was determined to paint his enemy as Judas. He put him in the picture and thought it was a perfect likeness. But after that, he started painting Jesus in the picture. But no matter how hard he tried, nothing seemed to look right. Finally, he realized that he couldn’t paint the portrait of Jesus as long as his enemy had been painted into Judas’ place. Once that was corrected, then the face of Jesus came easily.

The same thing is true for us. It’s impossible for us to connect with Jesus if there’s anger or bitterness in our hearts toward our enemies. So how do we get rid of that anger?

Jesus said that we do it by doing good to those who hate you. You see, we can’t control most of what happens to us. We can’t control how people treat us. But one thing we all have control over is how we respond in return. And Jesus said that we must make the choice to respond to those who hate us by doing good to them.

“Do good to those who hate you.” I don’t know what that looks like in your situation. Maybe it means baking a loaf of banana bread to share with someone who irritates you. Or maybe mowing the lawn of a neighbor who treats you unkindly; volunteering to fill in for a co-worker who drives you nuts, or being helpful and kind to an ex-spouse.

If you do these things, you’ll be surprised by the freedom you feel from not being tied down to the anger you have towards those who have mistreated to you. You may even be surprised by the impact you have on the life of your enemy.

The second thing Jesus said is:

II. BLESS THEM

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

We’ve all heard the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I don’t need to tell you that’s an absolute lie. There aren’t many things that carry more power in life than the way we communicate with one another.

The Bible tells us over and over the great power that’s found in our words. And, unfortunately, it’s much easier for us to use our words in a negative way than a positive way. It’s much easier to lash out at people than it is to use our words to build them up.

But when we choose to use our words to lash out at people who have harmed us or hurt our feelings, all we’re doing is throwing gas on a fire. And so, Jesus tells us that one of the best ways to respond to our enemies is by blessing them!

Kind words have a way of healing wounds in people’s lives. The wise man Solomon said in Proverbs 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Some of you may have had the experience of making a mistake that you just knew would cause your spouse to be angry with you. But instead of responding in anger, they came up to you and said, “It’s OK, I love you anyway.” Isn’t it wonderful when something like that happens? It totally changes the mood. It causes you to put down your defense mechanism and relax.

A kind word, a word of encouragement can actually remove the anger a person has towards you. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I truly believe that most of us would have fewer enemies if we learned how to speak in a way that built people up instead of tearing them down. Harsh words put people in a fighting mood. Kind words soften their spirit.

So, the next time you see a person who irritates you, think of a kind word to share with him or her. Not because it’s easy. But because you want to be more like Jesus.

The third thing Jesus says about loving your enemies is.

III. PRAY FOR THEM

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Have you ever noticed when you’re angry with someone that it can easily become the focus of your life? It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, your thoughts are completely on that person who has wronged you and you become trapped in this hatred to the point where it’s hard to even function properly.

Have you ever been there? Times when people have wronged you and instead of just moving on, you dwell on what they did to you and it just consumes your thoughts. It will make you absolutely miserable.

Well, Jesus had a solution to that problem. It’s to pray for those who mistreat us. And he’s not telling us to pray for our enemy to get run over by a truck. He’s not telling us to pray for revenge.

I think, more than anything else, Jesus is telling us to pray for their hearts to be changed. You see, far too often we spend our time trying to figure out how to respond to the way people treat us – Should we yell at them? Should we get back at them? Should we stop talking to them and ignore them?

But, however we choose to respond, we’re not dealing with the heart of the matter. The best thing we can do for people who mistreat us is to pray for them. To pray that God will work on their heart and bring about change. And to pray that God will deal with our heart to keep us from being filled with bitterness and anger.

Conclusion:

Let me share with you a little more of Bob Goff’s story. After Kabi was put into prison and sentenced to die, Bob went around Uganda meeting with the witch doctors in every village. His message to them was, this — “If you even talk about sacrificing a child, the same thing will happen to you as happened to Kabi.” But he didn’t just stop there, because he knew that he needed to love his enemies, even these witch doctors.

On one of his visits, he asked the leaders of the witch doctors what they needed. They said, “Most of us don’t know how to read or write.” So, Bob set up a witch doctor school to teach the witch doctors to read and write. Hundreds of them have graduated and hundreds more are currently enrolled. The only books they use to teach them to read are the Bible and Bob’s book, Love Does.

The result is that bad guys who used to sacrifice children are beginning to change, and Bob Goff is learning to love people who used to be his enemies. He has moved beyond just agreeing with Jesus to actually doing what he said to do.

When we leave this building today, the question for us is going to be, “How are we going to respond to our enemies?” Jesus said there are three things that need to characterize us: (1) do good to those who hate you. (2) bless those who curse you. And finally, (3) pray for those who mistreat you.

In Matthew 5, Jesus gave a specific application of this when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:41)

Roman law in the first century gave a soldier the right to force a civilian to carry his pack for a Roman mile, which was slightly shorter than our mile. The law was designed to relieve a soldier in difficult situations, but it caused great inconvenience to civilians. It was made even more despicable by the fact that the Jews were made to carry the equipment and weapons of their oppressors. Outside of combat, a Roman soldier was probably never hated more than when he forced someone to carry his pack.

I would imagine that in those days there was a saying, “If they require you to take it a mile, then take it 5,280 feet, but not one step further.” In fact, I have heard that some Jews put stakes one mile from their house in all directions so they would know exactly where to stop.

But Jesus says, if you’re forced to go one mile, you need to go two. This concept of going the extra mile is so important in our relationship with other people. There are always two ways of doing things. You can respond to the unkindness of people in a way that they know just how much you hate them and resent what they’ve done to you. Or you can respond with a smile, showing love, having a willingness to give, much more than would ever be expected of you.

And I guarantee that if you do that, some people are eventually going to be led to ask the question, “What makes you so different?” to which we can respond by talking about the difference Christ makes in our lives.

Jesus explained that the reason he wanted us to love our enemies was so that we could be perfect, the way our heavenly Father is perfect. But, most of us set the standard for our lives a lot lower. We spend our lives just trying to be nice some of the time, not cutting in line and only calling people names under our breath. And maybe if we’re being generous and if someone begs us enough, we’ll forgive them, at least on the surface.

Our problem following Jesus is we’re trying to be a better version of ourselves, rather than a more accurate reflection of him. Most everybody I know likes Jesus. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s easy to admire Jesus and think he’s a nice guy. But there’s a big difference between liking Jesus and being like him, and Jesus said we will never be like him until we learn to love our enemies.

I understand, it’s a lot easier for us to agree with Jesus than it is to do what he says. But, here’s the thing – loving people the way Jesus did will either change everything in us or it will change nothing at all. It can’t just change a couple of things. But it can change a couple of things at a time. If you want to become love, what will it change for you?

Can you think of someone who’s mistreated you? Someone who’s done you wrong? If you can, then how is love going to change your actions?

If someone at work is always smarting off to you, why not respond to them tomorrow by giving them a word of encouragement. If one of your family members says hateful things to you, start praying that God will heal their heart. And pray for God to increase the love in your heart for that family member. Ask God to show you ways you can demonstrate love to your enemies.

Remember, a kind word will often turn away wrath. But more importantly, loving your enemies demonstrates in a powerful way that you belong to Jesus Christ. Anybody can love those who love them. The question is, are we willing to go further than others do?

I don’t think we have any business telling people what to change in their lives unless we’re willing to change some things in ours. So, don’t just love the people that are easy to love; love the difficult ones. And, if you do that, Jesus said you’ll move forward on your journey toward being more like him. And as you practice loving everybody, always, what will happen along the way is that you’ll no longer be who you used to be. God will turn you into love. Love everybody, always.

We have a special motivation because of what God has done for each and every one of us. The truth is – we have all been at some point in our lives an enemy of God. We haven’t always treated him the way we should. And yet, in spite of this fact, God has chosen to love us anyway. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

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