“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
Do you have an enemy? It’s always been interesting to me that most Christians would claim to have no enemies. Disputes among Christians are often in church and revolve around eternally important matters like the color of the new carpet or the volume of the organ (or drums). They respond to one another with snide comments, gossip, hard feelings, and holding grudges. This kind of mischief is highly infectious (all evil is), yet the involved parties would still claim they do not have an enemy!
Be honest. Is a grudge still there? The hard feelings? Do you share your irritation or complaint with anyone who will listen? Some of you have genuine hurt and real wounds from the actions of others. You still might say “that person is not an enemy.” All right, but don’t you sense you still have a long way to go before you can genuinely love and pray for that person?
The passage for this week’s GraceWaves takes us to the core of the Sermon on the Mount and the core of grace. We can read and understand this passage. You could repeat the lesson and teach others. But living it out? That is another matter completely.
When teaching the Sermon on the Mount one of the basic statements I give the class before we get into the text is that Jesus did not give us a new Torah in the Sermon. He was not providing a new list of rules. He was not standing in the long line of rabbis providing new commentary on the Old Testament teachings. Nor was He trying to replace Judaism (Jesus was a Jew, for goodness sake!). You could say that the Sermon’s purpose was to replace legalism, but even that does not go far enough.
The sermon is the quintessential new wine in new wine skins. Jesus’ singular purpose in the Sermon was to change the direction of religion. He drove home the point again and again, that real and good religion works from the inside – out.
The Sermon reflects in many ways the Suffering Servant we find in Isaiah. True, but I would say the most accurate prophetic connection is with Jeremiah, for the Sermon perfectly illustrates God’s intent “to put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). With a transformed heart, we truly become His people and He truly becomes our God.
So now, let’s go back to the context of “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The ultimate context is the one you are in right now. As you read this GraceWaves from your office, your cubicle, your breakfast bar, etc. you are surrounded by people, family and colleagues, employees and clerks. Some of them have given you trouble. Some of them are trouble! What is your response?
You must discern what is in your heart and then invite Christ to transform your heart and let Him love through you. On a very practical level, consciously reject the hard feelings as they surface and pray for the genuine blessing of those who are “your enemies.” Make a commitment to not utter a negative or judgmental word about that person. This kind of love and goodwill makes you vulnerable (it led Jesus to a cross), but it also makes you available to God’s transforming grace.
The heart is a hard muscle and difficult to change. The transformation takes a lifetime. Sharing grace speeds this transformation. As you have received grace, give it out to others, especially your enemies.
Dr. Terry Ellis