43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
With Christmas hurdling at us (only two weeks until Advent!) I find my mind going back to some of my favorite Christmas presents as a child. Often they were the ones I didn’t expect, even more so than the ones I had long wished for and anticipated.
This was certainly true for the chemistry set I received when I was 8 or 9. To this day I’m not sure what my parents were thinking. I suppose it was because the chemicals in the set weren’t dangerous. Not that this stopped me from dumping the chemical together to get some sort of massive chemical reaction.
Oddly enough one of the things that fascinated me the most in the set was the red and blue litmus paper. You used the litmus paper to see if something was an acid or a base. I’m not sure why this captured my imagination, only that I remember running around and testing everything.
The interesting thing is you can’t fake a litmus test. The paper reveals what something is. Not what it wants to be, or pretends to be, or tells the world it is. No, the paper reveals what something is at its core.
Much of the world is still shaken by the events of this past week, both in Beirut and in Paris. It shakes us on several levels. First, we are caught by the sheer inhumanity of anyone who could take so many innocent lives purely for ideological purposes. Secondly it shakes us because we begin to wonder if there, why not here? Wil we be next? Which of course is the exact purpose of terrorism. it’s to break us an analyzes us in our lives.
But should we react to such mind numbing violence? How are we to respond? I’m not concerning myself with how a government or governments should respond in this blog. However I do believe Scripture is clear that governments are a God ordained structure, one of whose primary purposes is to protect the citizens of that nation, terrorism must be dealt with.
But I’m more focused today on how we, you and I, are to respond to such atrocities. What will our response reveal about who we are? What will this litmus test say about our hearts?
In our Scripture above, taken from the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus is clear that our response should be Love. Jesus simply says love your enemies. I confess loving your enemies is one of those principles that is easier to do in the abstract. It’s much more difficult when you have enemies, or are undergoing prosecution.
How are we to respond to such evil with love? Because Jesus did. Read the passage of Scripture again, maybe a little slower. Can you see what Jesus is saying? he isn’t saying “love others because it’s a nice thing to do, and I do it.” What Jesus says is love others so “that you might be children of your Father in heaven.” Did you catch it? Jesus is saying if you are truly a child of your Father you will naturally love others, displaying a supernatural love even in the face of supernatural evil. In other words, how we respond to evil is a litmus test of our hearts. It reveals not what we say we are, what we would want others to think of us. It reveals who we are. If we are a child of our heavenly Father, we will respond with love. But how? How can we respond with love?
First because we have hope. In the end, we know evil and terror will not win. Jesus is the victor. he sits on the throne of heaven, He will break and defeat all sin, redeem His creation and bring home His bride, the church, to be cherished forever. We love because we know we face a defeated enemy.
We respond with love and forgiveness because we understand love is not a sign of weakness. Actually just the opposite. Only those who are strong are able to react with love when hatred would be so much easier.
We respond with love because we have experienced it. What has really changed you? It’s not good intentions or hard work, as important as they are. What has changed us is the love of Jesus Christ. He redeemed me from sinner to child of God. If I have experienced a life changing love, how can I keep from sharing it with others even the most evil?
We respond with love because we know, because we have experienced it, this is what will free the world. As I said I believe in government response to terrorism. But I also understand that the world needs a witness of a faith of people genuinely changed by Jesus who can stand and show that evil cannot force a response of hatred. I believe only the witness of the church will usher in the Kingdom of God.
I’d encourage you not to live with this in the abstract. Yes, these events are half the world away. But what about the evil in your world? How are you responding to that? You run across broken, mean spirited unhappy people all the time. People who wish you nothing but evil. If you don’t believe me, take someone’s parking space at the mall during Christmas shopping season and see how they react. Oh yes, I know that’s a small thing. But doesn’t our response reveal what’s in our heart ? Are you loving those around you? Praying for them? What does your heart reveal about you?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><