by Mike Ratliff
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)
I remember the first time I read the passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter. I simply could not believe that it was possible for anyone to love one’s enemies or pray for them. I read in the Gospels that Jesus did those things, but He is God. How could any mortal person ever do this? At the time of that reading, I was not a regenerate believer. I was definitely in the process of being called, but God’s effectual call had not touched my heart yet. I still had the idea that one had to be able to do Christian things in order to become a Christian. I had to learn and believe the right things and do the right things so that I could possibly “grow into” a good Christian.
Of course, God did regenerate my heart over 20 years ago. I remember being amazed at the change in me. I no longer had to do things in order to please God. I did not have to love God so He would love me. He loved me already. He changed me from the inside out. I found that I was a Christian so I could now do Christian things instead of trying to do Christian things in order to be one. I hope you see the difference. The believer is a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Holy Spirit resides within the heart of the believer. That along with God’s sanctifying work in our hearts enables believers to obey God, grow in grace, and become Christlike.
After most of those 20 years, I discovered that I was not as mature as I once thought I was. God took me deeper. I learned that I had been doing Christian things pretty much by my own abilities. I prayed little. I was self-focused and Soul-led. God drew me into a long process of self-denial. I fasted from fleshly things and feasted on godly things for several weeks. After a couple of weeks of very intense prayer, worship, repentance, and Bible study, I woke up one morning and discovered that my entire value system had been altered. I no longer saw the value of the things I used to embrace as vital. My heart’s desire was entirely integrated within God’s glory. I learned what it means for a believer to walk in the Spirit. I learned the importance of praying continually. I became Spirit-led.
Are Spirit-led believers perfect? Absolutely not! I stumble into some pride-instigated sin every day. God is diligent in revealing these hidden things to me. It can be painful at times I assure you. Perfection is not the goal. Christlikeness is the goal. God’s glory is paramount. Brokenness before my Lord is a vital part of my worship and service.
I am bringing all of this up to show that the only hope a believer has of ever being able to love one’s enemies and pray for them is to be Spirit-led. Even then, there will be failures. The more we mature in our Spirit-led walk though the more we should be able to react in a Christlike way to Satan’s instruments of destruction. The key is to deny self-focus. We must get our focus on God and become enraptured with God’s glory.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
What is the result when we do this? Why is this so important? Just as it took a redirect of my focus to become Spirit-led, it takes constant maintenance to keep it there. I fight continually to maintain this. I fail quite a bit. At work, I have all sorts of distractions. When I am driving to and from work, the enemy tempts me to treat others the way they treat me. How can we overcome this? The answer is to be constantly on the lookout for self-focus attitudes slipping into our thoughts. If we notice we are becoming upset by how we are being treated then that is a sure sign we are self-protective. That sin causes us to hate our enemies and not pray for them. If we catch ourselves asserting or projecting our personalities into conversations in an attempt to elevate other’s opinions of us, then we are attempting to get some self-gratification from that. We must repent of these things. If we do not repent, then we are simply feeding our sin nature, which our flesh loves. The Spirit-led believer’s flesh is denied along with his or her sin nature. Their Soul is expressing and reflecting God in all relationships.
I have been participating in some theological discussions on a friend’s Blog for the last several weeks. Sometimes an atheist or cult member will challenge us with their beliefs. In every case, I am amazed at their spiritual blindness. They can become quite belligerent. It is very tempting to step away from rebuke and correction and become assertive and bellicose like them. However, I have noticed that when that happens in our discussions it never accomplishes anything positive. It only drives a wedge deeper between us. How are we to treat God’s enemies? We are to correct and rebuke them. We are to carry out discipline as directed by God. However, we are never to hate them or cease praying for them. If we neglect this then we are judging them. That is not our role. That is God’s role.
How are we to become the believers who never cross the line from correction and rebuke to assertive attacks? I have found that as long as my concern is for them personally then I can refrain from going for the jugular. However, when I find I am focusing on my position and me or if I want everyone to notice my cleverness and knowledge then I stumble. When I have theological discussions with friends I have found that it usually goes very well if I focus on them and their needs rather than on showing them what I know. My days of interaction with my coworkers and friends are surprisingly pleasant if I direct my focus “outward.” What I mean is if in all of my interactions I seek to edify others instead of seeking my own “glory,” I do not have conflicts or any problems getting things done. However, if my coworkers are always dealing with a testy and selfish me then all I do have is conflict and problems. In addition, I find that my own peace and joy disappear. On the other hand, if I attempt to radiate Spirit-led Christ-focus into every relationship that I have then I find that I automatically “love” them with Christ’s love. It is as if He actively loves them through me. I assure you it is an extremely joyful experience every time.
If we are faithful in praying for others then the call to pray for our enemies is much easier. However, If all we do is pray for our own needs or wants then our focus will be on self rather than other’s needs. If we pray selfishly, we will act in self-focus around others. If we are actively praying for all of those around us as the Spirit leads us, we cannot treat them selfishly. It is impossible to be crabby and selfish with those for whom God leads us to pray. Why? God changes our hearts by granting us repentance when we walk in Repentance with Joy. When God grants us repentance, He is actually changing our hearts. Don’t we want this? Don’t we desperately need this?
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26)
I desperately want God to grant me repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth. We must desire this to the extent that we draw near to God in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When we do this, God changes us. Before we can love our enemies and pray for them, God must change us this way. There is no way we can fake this. God has to change us in order for us to become Christlike. The Christlike believers judge not. Why? They are not full of hypocrisy. Instead, they are not self-focused at all. They are Spirit-led and God-focused. Their relationships are marked by Christ’s loving grace being broadcast to all. Even the conflicting relationships will remain full of God’s grace rather than assertive, bellicose, graceless interactions.
Oh Lord—Praise You! Your grace is truly amazing. We desperately need you to grant us repentance so that we can become the Christlike believers who live for your glory. Please help us draw near to you so that you will draw near to us. Change us for you glory Lord. In Jesus name—Amen!
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.