Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Free to Love My Enemies (Because God's a Judge)

Last week I looked at a common western misconception, that the true path to enemy love is ending judgment, so we can begin accepting. Thus, the Biblical God, who demands justice, is a dangerous threat to world peace. In reality, the opposite is true: God's divine justice actually frees us to love our enemies. This week, let's get practical and see how that works. Because "non-judgmental" westerners need to learn enemy love.

Although we claim to hate passing judgment, we actually love it. Consider the proliferation of judgmental gossip magazines and tabloids. People buy People, which proves we're one of the most unabashedly judgmental societies in history. We line our grocery aisles with judgment. We drip with cynicism and skepticism, not about people of different races or genders, but about those who like different food, or movies, or music, or clothing than us. We political careers by bashing rich people or poor people. We look down on those with less education. Our prejudices are alive and well... and petty.

We need a does of divine judgment to free us to love. Here are a few practical points to think on:

1. Leave the sword to the sword-bearers. God is God. God is perfect in his judgment and his punishment, so God alone justly deals justice.* Rather than holding court in our hearts, judging other people's sins, we ought to trust God to judge. Rather than paying our enemies back with cutting jokes and gossip, we can speak graciously before them, and respectfully behind them, because we trust God knows their hearts and takes all into account. We can leave the sword behind, because we trust that God bears it.

2. Know thy enemy. Sun Tzu famously said, "Know thy enemy and know thyself." That's good advice. So, who are our enemies?

Paul writes in Eph. 6:12, "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." When we look into the eyes of a murderer, we do not see our enemy. Our enemy lies behind him, influencing him; our enemy is the devil, the world and the flesh.

Our western materialistic worldview denies the existence of enslaving spiritual powers, which means that we see criminals as either mentally ill (it's not his fault, he's just sick) or fully culpable (he chose, and must bear the consequences). As Christians we acknowledge a deeper complexity. He is sick with sin, he did fully chose, and he was influenced by dark powers outside himself. That frees us to show compassion on our fellow man. He is a criminal, yes. But he is also a victim of the devil and the world and his own flesh. Our greatest enemy is also the criminal's greatest enemy. Knowing our enemy helps us to love the sinner and the hate the sin.

We may understand "enemy" in another sense. Although we may not pursue enmity with others, others might pursue enmity with us. For instance, there were enemies of the cross in Philippi, although the cross was not their enemy (Phil. 4:18). Our enemies today might gossip about us, mislead us, steal from us, or worse. Such people, are in one sense our enemy. They wish us harm. Toward these people we must follow Paul's advice, 

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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
We can show love to those who hate us, because we know that all due justice will come from God. There's no need to level the playing field by seeking vengeance today. God's justice actually frees us to love.

3. Know thyself - Do we know ourselves? "While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:10). We all deserve to receive divine retribution for our sin. No one's hands are clean. But we were saved by God's divine enemy love. We were set free because Jesus died for us, his enemies.

If we really know our story in Christ, it will humble us. We will fall in awe at the power of enemy love. Not the cheap western kind, that blindly demands, "Stop judging!" No, the weighty kind of enemy love, where justice is served. Jesus paid our penalty. Enemy love costs deeply, but it has the power to change our lives and the world.

Who are your enemies? How has God freed you to love them? How might he use your love to work great change in their life?

*The also Bible says that God gave his sword to governments, to dole out justice today (Rom 13:4). We must allow government to protect our human rights to life and liberty, without taking justice into our own hands. 

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