FOR THE LOVE OF ELEPHANTS AND DONKEYS (Part 1 of 2)
by Jeff Hagan
If you have taken the time to start reading this article I imagine many of you are asking yourself, “What's up with this title?” Some of you who can read between the lines may already have an idea of where I might be headed. Either way, I want to talk a bit today about loving our enemies. I want to address the issue of loving those we disagree with.
Given the hostile state of our country at the moment, I chose the elephant and donkey as they represent Conservatives/Republicans and Liberals/Democrats respectively. At no time during my 54 years of life have I seen this country so divided. Social media, the news, anywhere and everywhere it seems as though enemies are doing “battle” at any given moment.
Of course loving our enemies goes beyond mere politics. As Christians we are to love our enemies regardless of the context. But how do we do that? How do we love enemies who are so hostile to our values and worldview? What is involved? I can't think of a better way to end this introduction portion than with a few passages from the Word of God on the topic.
Matthew 5:44 - “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” (ESV).
Luke 6:27 - “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (ESV).
Proverbs 25:21-22 - “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (ESV).
Easier Said Than Done
Okay, so we know we are suppose to love our enemies. The Scriptures make that clear, the example of Jesus Christ proves it. But actually doing it?...such a struggle. Think about it, love your enemies. Okay, but what about the guy who cost me my job? Show love to sinners...okay, but what about when they parade around with blasphemous pride pushing agenda that I know is wrong? Numerous examples could be given but what does love actually look like in these types of circumstances?
Let's take a look.
First, biblical love must be done individually. Trying to wrap your mind around humanity and the entire world is not an easy task, but people cross our paths and enter our lives as individuals and that's where love needs to start. Don't focus on whether or not God wants you to love a specific group, focus on whether God wants you to love the particular person from whichever group that He has brought into your life.
This can be difficult. To give an example I'll borrow from an article I read related to this topic(2). Given what has happened in our country in the past, let's say the threat of Muslim terrorist attacks is a hot button issue for you. Perhaps you even feel called to speak out against the threat and bring the possibility of such a threat out in the open. If this is the case, it should also be your responsibility to seek out an individual, a specific Muslim who you can show him or her the kind of love that Jesus Christ has shown for you. Not just a nonchalant, passive kind of love where you would feed a starving Muslim if they just so happened to show up in your driveway. But an active, participatory kind of love where you seek out a Muslim, invite them to dinner, and show them the love of Christ. Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2 seems quite appropriate at this time:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (ESV).
We are to be imitators of Jesus Christ. And I can assure you that no one would have experienced His love if He had just sat around waiting for us to show up asking Him for that love. No, it was while we were still sinners that Christ died from us. He came for us, he searched for and called us, not the other way around. This is the kind of love we need to be aiming for especially to those who belong to a group, any group, that we find ourselves repeatedly and publicly in disagreement with even if that disagreement is completely legitimate.
Second, biblical love must operate as a “positive presence in the lives of those we are loving”(3). Below is a pertinent quote from section 3 of To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, written by Dr. James Hunter:
“For the Christian, if there is a possibility for human flourishing in a world such as ours, it begins when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, a trust is forged between the word spoken and the reality to which it speaks; to the words we speak and the realities to which we, the church, point. In all, presence and place matter decisively.”
How awesome it is that God did not just love us from a distance. He is not just “out there” and aloof, He came and lived among us in the flesh. Let that sink in for a minute: the sovereign, righteous, holy Creator of all things humbled himself and entered this world of sin, suffering and death and lived among those he was loving into His kingdom. Such incredible loving grace! In my opinion, the passage from Ephesians cited above is a command to the children of God. We are to love individually as pointed out in the first point, but we are also to love within personal relationships where we exercise a positive presence with those who are our enemies, those we strongly disagree with.
To use another example from the aforementioned article, let's hit the topic of abortion. If you feel your calling is to oppose abortion, a commendable calling, you can't just picket their clinics with signs calling them ferocious names. In obeying Scripture we have seen thus far you also need to seek out an individual who has performed an abortion, or perhaps one who has had an abortion, and be present, a positive presence, in that individual's life. This would include, but is certainly not limited to, finding opportunities to spend time with that person. And not to argue yet again about abortion but, as Jesus did, to “give myself up” for them in love. Now, absolutely and positively you want that person to change, you want them to come to terms with what abortion truly is, but when you are with them, just truly seek out good on their behalf in a variety of ways.
For those of you who might be thinking I am being wishy-washy, perhaps compromising for the sake of unity, or simply believe my stance is too weak and needs to be stronger against these issues and those who participate in them, please have patience and continue reading. I think by the end of part two you will determine that is not the case at all. Speaking of “patience,” that leads us to the third point.
Third, biblical love must be patient. Not just patient but “hopefully patient.”(4) Paul states it nicely in what has become known a “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient and kind...It does not insist on it's own way; it is not irritable or resentful;...Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV).
This suggests, at least in part, that biblical love must endure even when it appears not to be making any difference, even if the person is not reacting as I think they should or within the time frame I expected. If this is the case and we give up loving them individually, give up loving them by being a positive presence, then it's not the biblical love that is required of us.
I will be the first to confess this is definitely the hardest one for me when trying to love my enemies or those with whom I vehemently disagree. I start off okay, but my patience runs thin. I have to fight against getting frustrated and giving up on the person, or at least giving up my role of being involved with that person. But you know what? That's not biblical love.
Biblical love must rest on the fact that ultimately it is not possible for me to do anything that will get a person to follow Christ, to live according to His kingdom. That is God's job and God's alone. My job is to love as Christ has loved me and have faith that in God's time, in God's way, He will use my loving them individually, my positive presence of love, and He will keep His promise and do as He sees fit.
With all of this being said, you might be wondering if this means we ignore beliefs, attitudes and behavior that we truly believe to be wrong? Perhaps even believe them to be evil? Do I just gloss over the fact when someone displays blatant racism or when abhorrent sexual behavior is not only accepted but encouraged as long as the parties involved are of legal age and it's consensual?
The answer, of course, is absolutely not. Being obedient to the teachings about loving our enemies found in Scripture and doing so individually and with a positive, loving presence does not mean this at all. Part two of this brief series will cover more of that side of the coin.
(1)Article adapted from a blog entry, “Three Ways In Which We Should Love Those With Whom We Disagree” by Sam Logan of the World Reformed Fellowship.