Some of Jesus’ teachings can be difficult to understand. Today’s text is one of them, for if we lived by Jesus’ words, general society would question our sanity. For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Do we really believe we should love our enemies? We might avoid them so we do not get into any confrontation. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies in a personal way. Do we have to love our neighbor who has irritated us from day one and made life difficult? Do we have to love him?
Jesus also tells us to do good to those who hate us and bless those who curse us. Just imagine if you had a friend who suddenly turned and cursed you, even hated you. Would you continue to treat him the same way as you always have, or would you go after him too?
If someone should strike you on the cheek, would you turn the other cheek? Imagine a young boy who comes home all bruised after a fight with a neighbor. What is the logical instruction from the father? “When that boy goes after you, give him what he has given to you!” I imagine many fathers have given that instruction when they didn’t know what to do. And it soon was over. Is the way we react when it comes to the matter of Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor . . . love your enemy . . . love those who hate you and mistreat you.” It could be considered counter culture Ð contrary to what society is teaching us to do and think. While a few may say to rise above it, most often the advice is to retaliate!
When I was growing up, two men in our town Ð Tom and Harry Ð were good friends. They both worked in a large paper mill, which one day went out on strike. Harry decided to join the strike for better wages and working conditions. Tom took the opposite position, and so it was necessary for him to cross the picket line. When Harry saw Tom cross that line, he was so angry that he said, “This is the end of our friendship!” Those two men went to the same church and were faithful in their attendance. I’m sure they often knelt at the same communion table where all things should be confessed. However, they did not take Jesus words to heart to love your enemies.
The years went by and they refused to reconcile, until one day when Tom became very ill and was dying. My mother cared for him, and one night as she was sitting by her brother’s bed, there was a knock at the door. When she answered it, she found Harry asking if he could come in. My mother answered, “By all means.” Harry immediately went to Tom’s bedside, got down on his knees, and said to Tom, “I have come here, Tom, to tell you, I am sorry. I have sinned. I have lived contrary to God’s Word, and I have confessed my sin to God. Think of all the good years we have robbed ourselves. Good years we could have enjoyed with one another. Think of all the picnics we could have had at these beautiful lakes in our state. But we lost them all because we lost love for one another.”
When Tom, who did not even have enough strength to feed himself, heard Harry’s confession, he lifted his hands, put them around Harry’s neck, and said, “I’m sorry, Harry. Will you forgive me?” Their friendship was mended. Jesus had forgiven them and they had forgiven one another. Now they, in the name of Jesus, could forgive themselves.
Do you see the value of Jesus’ words to love those who hate you? Living any other way robs oneself of good fellowship, and then that sin will be brought before the throne of grace.
One day, during Christmas week, I was visiting the home of a lady. In our course of conversation, I said to her, “Are you going to have a big Christmas at your home?”
“Yes,” she said, “I have to prepare a big Christmas Eve dinner for two of our five kids. Then, on Christmas Day, our other three kids will come.” It almost seemed like she had done this for such a long time, it didn’t have much effect on her. Everything was all right. But she continued, “The reason we have to have two dinners, is because there was an argument many years ago over the sale of some land. One of our children thought they were cheated, so he and his brother would not come with our other three boys,” even at Christmas Ð even though it caused their mother extra work. That is how deep hatred can sometimes go.
Jesus tells us in a very practical way that this is not the way to live. It is not good for brothers and sisters, church members to carry hatred in their hearts as they kneel at the communion table. Christians often are so angry with one another that they will not listen to any counsel to come back together. They waste years while on this earth and, unless they repent of it, will carry it with them when they face God in all eternity.
Now I ask you: Are you mixed up with that kind of thinking in your family or your circle of friends? Are there people with whom you will not work with simply because you hate them? Are you trying to cover it over by saying, “Well, I don’t hate them, I just don’t like their ways.”
Face the facts the way they are. If so, God is speaking to you this day asking you to let the Holy Spirit take this text and speak to your intellect and to your heart. Take this passage of scripture Ð which is counter culture, contrary to what society teaches, let it work in your heart. Then you will know what Jesus really means when he says love is powerful and can blot out all evil iniquities. Hear his Word.