It’s dangerous to read the Bible. Even more dangerous to believe it. In fact, if you are the kind of Christian who wants to stay nice and safe, then I would recommend reading something else. The Bible isn’t safe and is often terribly discomforting. Recently, I have been renewing myself in reading the Scriptures in a devotional way and as I’ve been doing this, I’ve been struck by the commands of Christ regarding love. As I study scripture and grapple with the call to love – not only the call to love God, my family and friends, but to love my enemies as well – I am overwhelmed. First of all, let’s just admit that It is difficult to understand the Love of Christ. It is ridiculously unfathomable and I am convinced that even if we did understand it, we could not begin to actually show the Love of Christ without the Holy Spirit working in us. The Love of Christ can only be produced by Communing with Christ. Saying it another way – Intimacy with Jesus is what produces the Love of Jesus. This must be true, because the call to love is so unfathomable, that we cannot hope to display it if we are powered by our own steam. We catch just a glimpse of the incredible call of Christ’s love when we read Matthew 5:38-44.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 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’s tough to swallow. It’s tough to comprehend this kind of love and even tougher to actually display it. And yet, I do believe that this is the kind of love that Christ calls us to. I don’t think he’s just kidding around. Before I go any further, let me insist that I am no pacifist, and I do not believe that in Matthew 5, Jesus was espousing what we have come to understand as pacifism. I firmly believe that there is a time when it is appropriate to take up arms to defend ourselves. And yes, I would in a moment defend my wife and kids against an aggressor. I believe that Jesus not only allows this, but expects it. We are called to protect the weak and helpless. And yet, as crazy as it seems, Jesus also calls me to love that aggressor; to love that enemy. There should be no false dichotomy drawn between these two things. I am called to love and fight at the same time, and I am able to do this only inasmuch as the Spirit of Christ enables me.
In my own strength, I will quickly turn the appropriate fight against an aggressor into permission to hate my enemy. Then, instead of defending myself, I become the aggressor, the hater, the avenger…the dangerous man. We must admit that Jesus never gives us permission to hate anybody, even our aggressors. Jesus best displayed this on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” At the same time, we must also admit that not too long before Jesus made this statement, he cleansed the temple with a whip. He defended when it was time to defend, and he laid the whip down when it was time to lay it down. He fought and loved at the same time…and he did this perfectly. In Jesus we see the perfect Love of God put on display.
On one hand Jesus chided the Pharisees, “You whitewashed tombs (Mat 23:27).” On the other hand, he chided Peter for cutting off a Roman soldier’s ear, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword (Mat 26:52).” On the surface this looks confusing, yet we have to understand once again that fighting and loving are not opposite of one another. If they were opposites, then my marriage would have been over long ago. In fact, I suspect that the false dichotomy that is drawn between fighting and loving has been the ruin of a great number of marriages. We must understand that Fighting and Loving at the same time are what make relationships strong, not weak. But, we must love! And love greatly. Love like Christ loves. We cannot simply fight and “let the chips fall where they may.” We must fight as those constrained by the Love of God. This is true on every level – whether I am fighting with my wife, with my friends, or when I am fighting with one who calls me an enemy; even when I am fighting against one who seeks the life of my family, friends, or nation. Fight we should. But not without the love of Christ as our taskmaster – for in every fight we must long for the moment when the Lord, “shall beat (our) swords into plowshares, and (our) spears into pruning hooks: (when) nation shall not lift up sword against nation, (and) neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).”
If we think this kind of love is hard, then I would suggest that we have not heard it correctly. It is not hard. It is impossible. This is why we need Jesus; why we must repent and to keep on repenting – turning our hearts to Christ, who is the author and perfecter of our faith, resting in the arms of the One who is able to do abundantly beyond all that we may hope or think.
May we be fully clothed in the Love of Christ, even as we stand firm against those who raise the sword against us.