by Mike Ratliff
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48 (NASB)
I remember the first time I read the passage above (Matthew 5:38-48). 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. In my own conception of salvation, 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 in January of 1986. 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 because 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. Do 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.
Over the time since God saved me 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, therefore, fleshly. God drew me into a long process of self-denial. I fasted from fleshly things and feasted on godly things for several months. 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 for God to be glorified in me. I learned the importance of praying continually.
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. We must value what He values. We must love what He loves and hate what He hates.
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NASB)
What is the result when we do this? Why is this so important? Just as it took a redirect of my focus to become God-focused rather than self-focused, it takes constant diligence to not give in to the flesh and the world. I fight continually to maintain this. I fail quite a bit. At work, I have all sorts of distractions. When I am driving , 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. When we fight the good fight this way our flesh is denied along with our sin nature thereby we are expressing and reflecting God in all relationships. Is this something we can manage ourselves. I know I can’t do it. It is only as I actively am seeking the face of our Lord in prayer throughout the day that I can walk anywhere near this way, which shows us the key doesn’t it? As we walk in “the Way” praying continually we must also always be ready to repent of what the Spirit shows us.
I have been participating in some theological discussions on several pages on Facebook over last several months. 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, but nothing I can take credit for.
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?
22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 (NASB)
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 do not judge. 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.
Lastly, there has been a great deal of hand wringing and hateful talk online about Dr. James White and his relationship with a Muslim named Dr. Yasir Qadhi. Most of the fuss is based on the following video.
I have read posts on Facebook and received emails from many believers who are very upset by this. Why? Some are simply confused. Others are very angry because they see all Muslims as our enemies and they cannot conceive of someone like Dr. White loving them. What? Didn’t Jesus tell us to do that very thing? In the next video Dr. White goes over one of the “expose” videos and then explains what is really going on and what he meant by what he said. I found it very edifying and found it timely as it was right after I posted those articles on “The Way.” Here is video 2.
Soli Deo Gloria!