43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NASB)
I have been preaching a series called Church On Fire, which discusses the persecuted Church and how we should respond. It was developed by a group of guys who shared ideas back and forth on Facebook. Some of them I know personally and some of them are friends of friends of friends. Anyway, the series well organized and I thought it would be a great series to do, especially since several other churches were doing it at the same time. It was as if we were all uniting to address a vital issue facing the church. I am thankful for all of the guys who contributed.
Today was Week Three for me (I started a week later than some due to ICOM) so I was discussing the Christian response to persecution. One of the texts for today was the passage from Matthew that I quoted up top. I came right out at the beginning of the sermon and confessed that I have a difficult time with this. When I see those stories on the news and I hear about all of the people being beaten and killed…well…it makes me mad. I sometimes wonder why we (whoever WE is) don’t just wipe them (whoever THEM is) off the face of the earth. That’s what they deserve.
It is difficult to have this conversation with politics bleeding into to, but that’s what I want to try to do just for this moment. I want to forget about the politics of the situation and look at it from the spiritual side of things. I am a Christian. That means I claim to follow the teachings of Jesus. What did Jesus say about persecution and our enemies? When I read those words from Matthew’s gospel I cringe. LOVE your enemies. PRAY for those who persecute you. How in the world can we be expected to do that? He doesn’t mean ISIS or Boko Haram…right?
I confess to you, just as I confessed to those in church this morning, I don’t know. I don’t know how this works. I don’t know how I can forgive those who do inhuman things to others. How can I pray for them? I don’t know. But that’s what Jesus seems to be saying here. I know that are going to be those who disagree with me. I have heard nearly every argument for and against taking in refugees AND bombing most of the Middle East back into the Stone Age. I have heard all the reasons why this country cannot sit back. I know…I know. Honestly, there are moments when I agree completely.
But then there are the words of Jesus. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12, elaborates. Keep in mind, this is a guy who actually persecuted the early church until he met Jesus. After that, he faced intense persecution for preaching the gospel. What does he say?
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14-21 (NASB)
Not only does Pail say we’re supposed to bless our enemies, he says we’re supposed to reach out and meet their needs. What? Really? But Lord…they’re like…my enemies.
Grace and peace