“Love your enemies,” Jesus said.
This command is difficult to explain to small children, I have found—or at least to mine. They’re always ready with the same carefully reasoned counterargument: “But he hit me!”
Adults and even nations use basically the same logic as my kids. But Christian adults are a little more sophisticated. Instead of dismissing the command to love their enemies by an appeal to their enemies’ heinous aggressions, they redefine Jesus’ command to make it more manageable. They lower the bar. “Clearly,” they’ll say, “love here can’t refer to my feelings, only to my choices; what Jesus is calling for here is that I do good to my enemies no matter how I feel.”
We’ve just spent four days looking at Scripture passages which make this an unlikely solution to the apparent impossibility of loving one’s enemies.
Is it any easier, after all, to love your enemies than it is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”? All your heart? Can you honestly say that you meet that standard? I can’t.
Is it any easier to love your enemies than it is to “love your neighbor as yourself”? I don’t know about you people in YouVersion land, but I find that bar to be pretty high. There are times when I lavish the same love and attention on my wife and children that I naturally lavish on myself, but those times are rare. Most of my lavishing, I admit, tends to be lavished on Number One.
1) Supreme love for God and 2) love for neighbor that equals my natural love for myself are like high-jump bars at the giant olympics. I think I can just make out those bars up there in the clouds if I squint, but I know I’ll never jump that high. If I’m to make it up and over, I’ll have to be carried.
From our earliest days our hearts have been drawn to sin. David in his famous confession in Psalm 51 connects his rape and murder not to environmental factors (“But she tempted me!”) but to hereditary ones: “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5).
The Christian heart says with David, “I want to love what God says I should love, as much as he says I should love it! I want that love—or at least I want to want it—but I’ll never make it! Wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
If that’s you, that’s humility, and I’ve got good news: the Bible says God gives grace to humble people (1 Pet 5:5).
God graciously reveals in Psalm 51 the extent of his power on behalf of sinful people. You are encouraged to pray, following the example of David, not just “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,” but “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
If you dial down the love commands of scripture so that they are more manageable, you rob God of the greatest display of his power, his ability to create new hearts. The promise of the new covenant is that he will give out these new hearts to his people (Ezek 36:24ff; Jer 31:31ff), so that they will love like they ought.
If you don't love God or neighbor like you ought, ask for what David asked for—as you read Psalm 51.
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