Hello, my friends, I hope this finds you well in these crazy times in which we are living. I am sure you are well aware that there so many things to stoke anxiety and fear within us. Like a chain reaction, fear fuels anger, anger ignites hatred, and hatred results in a lot of disunity, destruction, and unhappiness. All one has to do is turn on any news program or social media to find a myriad of reasons to be afraid, angry, and even hateful. In fact, there are certain individuals, groups, and organizations whose ambition is to propagate these in various forms.
Recently I began reading the Gospel of Matthew again. I have been stuck re-reading and reflecting on the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 and Luke 6). These teachings are not about what one is to strive to become, but what one will increasingly become as he or she surrenders to Christ and His teachings. Yet I admit, I posted on Facebook, “I’ve grown a lot, but the Beatitudes remind me I still have a lot of growing to do.” See, the Beatitudes are the seeds that must begin sprouting before the rest of the Lord’s teachings can become fruitful in one’s life. Have you read the Beatitudes lately? Blessed are:
- the poor in spirit (spiritually destitute and acknowledge such)
- those who mourn (for their own sinful wretchedness)
- the meek (humility + gentleness + self-restraint [e.g., not reacting in anger, etc.])
- those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness
- the merciful
- the pure in heart
- the peacemakers
- those persecuted for Christ’s sake
Meekness, God’s righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution without retaliation are made possible through humility and the sacrifice of one’s own agendas and sense of entitlements; and these become possible through genuine love. Many of us like to think of ourselves as these incredibly loving individuals, but how many of us handle it well when our spouses, family members, or friends humiliate or upset us, let alone strangers or foes? How well do many of us handle other drivers? Yet, check out what Jesus teaches:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. ~ Luke 6:27-28, 35
Did you catch these? Love your enemies; do good to them; bless them; pray for them—all without expectation. Our adversaries might not ever change, but we are called to still do good, extending goodness. Now, this does not mean to ignore justice. For example, if a man murderers or violates another, love does not turn a blind eye for the sake of “forgiveness.” This is not love. But love does not delight in cruelty, torture, and for its foes to die a thousand deaths and suffer the flames of hell. These are the traits of hatred. Love, on the other hand, desires redemption, restoration, and reconciliation.
Our society talks a lot about love and justice, but these go hand in hand. Yet, are you seeing the difficulties? Love is both patient and kind, and it delights in the truth; it is neither envious nor resentful; it does not demand its own way (see 1 Cor. 13:4-8). Do you and I see these being lived out in society?
Love must begin with humility. When going back to the Beatitudes, the poor in spirit recognizes he is no better than anyone else, and he knows he, too, is in need of mercy. The one who mourns grieves over his own sins rather than simply hark on others about theirs. The meek refrain from retaliation, even though their blood might be boiling. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire what is right, and they know that man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God (see James 1:20). Love extends mercy rather than seek to distribute retribution. The pure in heart does not view others as objects or pawns, nor does he pursue his own agendas at others’ expense. The peacemaker is willing to extend a hand instead of a fist, to let bygones be bygones and try to find a way to live in peace without compromising principles.
A practical description of love is shared by the apostle Paul:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9-21
“I’m not going to show them honor!” “I’m not going to pray for them!” “I’m not going to live in harmony with them!” “Eye for an eye, baby!” If this is our attitude, then why bother talking about love or justice?
A passage that is often taken out of context is when Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus is not saying to never make judgments, but rather cautions us as to how we judge. Jesus tells us to get the board out of our own eye before we try to get the chip out of another’s eye. Is this not one of our major problems today? We want to demand people to get the leaves out of their pools while ignoring the sewage and toxicity in our own? Only as we begin dealing with our own will we gain compassion and proper perspective in helping others. Indeed, we must make judgements, wrongs and evils will always be wrong and evil. But we must begin with dealing with the wrongs and evils creeping in our own hearts, and only them can we properly judge others with mercy. Jesus says, “and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).
You and I can talk about love all we want, as well as our devotion to Christ, but only to the extent we are willing to humble ourselves and surrender our rights and agendas do we really mean business. Contrary to popular belief, love is not for sissies. Genuine love is difficult, painful, and costly. Love is easy to talk about, but not easily demonstrated and lived out.