Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Likeness to the Father

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

Jesus begins with “You have heard that it was said.” And what was said included a portion of Scripture, which was then taken out of context and added to. Here is the correct Old Testament quotation:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NIV)

False teaching often includes some Scripture in order to make what is false look true. Jesus speaks against the false teaching of “hate your enemy.” On the contrary, he says, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Why Love our Enemies?

The key words are love and pray. He gives the reason: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” An assumption is that sons imitate their fathers. If you do this you will be showing your likeness to your Father in heaven and that will prove your sonship. What is that likeness? He does not distinguish between the righteous and the unrighteous when he gives good things such as rain and sunshine. Jesus is saying, “Love your neighbor and love your enemy” because that is what the Father does.

“If you love those who love you,” there is nothing distinctively Christian about that. There are no rewards. You have established your likeness to tax collectors, not to the Father. “And if you greet only your brothers,” you have established your likeness to pagans, not to the Father.

Jesus ends the teaching with “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I have heard many people discuss the meaning of the word “perfect.” The discussion seems to lessen the power of the text. Whatever the meaning is, perfect is like the Father is. If it means “mature,” it is like the Father is “mature.” If it is “holy,” it is like the Father is “holy.” The Apostle Paul wrote, as recorded in Ephesians 5:1, 2:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NIV)

The object is to be like the Father, loving both the righteous and the unrighteous. We are not to settle for the actions (even the good actions) common to unbelievers. We are to go beyond that by imitation of our Father and participation in his commands.

How to Love our Enemies

Because we do not know how to do this, the temptation is to cut down the requirement to our size to make it possible. Let us consider the how of loving our enemies.

First, we start with a proposition that might be true: “I do not love my enemies.” Since that statement is contrary to the command of Jesus, when I say that, I am saying that I am in sin. However, I might be saying it as an acceptable truth, not in confession and repentance. If it is just a statement of fact, then I will not be able to go beyond that. In other words, I will not be able to “love my enemies” on top of “I do not love my enemies.” If I try, it will not be real. I will know it, God will know it, and my enemies will know it. So, not willing to be hypocritical, I will say “At least I am honest. I do not love my enemies.” However, saying that does not get me out of the sin. Honesty about sin is not righteousness. Hypocrisy is not the only sin.

There is hope. I can say the same thing honestly to God in confession and repentance and consequently be forgiven for the sin of not loving my enemies. This in itself will not make me loving, but it will make me clean. Then when I choose to “love my enemies,” it will not be on top of anything except cleanness. There will be no hypocrisy. When I make the choice, God provides the real love to carry out the command.

This is God’s means of drawing people to himself. People who act like God give their “enemies” a good view of God. This loving characteristic of God shown in Christians draws people to God. It is then that we can declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

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