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 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your garment also. 41 And 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 And 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 (LSB)
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.
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (LSB)
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?
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 And the Lord’s slave 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 give them repentance leading to the full 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 (LSB)
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!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Doing the “turning the other cheek” thing is something that requires a lot of grace. That’s exactly the point though, is that it requires the grace that unless you’re allowing the spirit within you to guide you, you will not only fail to understand it but also fail to experience it. Not experiencing God’s grace is something that I fear many believers know all too well about. They know about it because they still refuse to deny themselves and give up control of their lives to God.
God is a Gentleman. He will not force his way into our lives. The sooner we realize that we can do nothing apart from him, the sooner we will find out how much we can do in him and him in us. At that point we will understand how easy it is to turn the other cheek.
Dan, very well said!
I come here to find encouragement… and yep, once again, it is here. Another timely post.
What are your thoughts on me deleting posts on my blog that are rude, nasty and unedifying. Should I allow them? or continue to delete them?
Lisa, it is your blog. God gave you that ministry. Yes, it is a ministry. If someone really disagrees with what is being said, but is otherwise not rude, nasty or unedifying then I would post those as I was able to address them. However, perhaps you should post a set of rules as Campi has on his blog. I wouldn’t post anything that was vile, etc. However, I have seen Evan May edit those posts by deleting the offensive portions so he could show the character of who he is dealing with. James White does that as well. I have turned moderation off on my blogs, but I do have the option of deleting offensive stuff. I think you should pray before deleting. Remember what David said as he was fleeing Jerusalem from Absolom. One of Saul’s releatives abused him verbally as he had fled earlier. David would not allow his soldiers to kill the man because he believed that perhaps God was using this circumstance for His glory and David’s spiritual growth. I’m not sure I am that wise and discerning, but we need to be.
I was reading some of Mr. Ratliff’s great stuff, and saw 4given’s question. I have my own blog, and while I am not in any way advising you to do what I decided to do, I thought you might be interested in why I don’t allow objectionable comments.
I am in the 11th grade. I want not only older folks but my fellow youth to be able to read my blog. Therefore I decided awhile ago that I would delete or edit objectionable posts when necessary to make the blog experience safe for my readers.
Your situation might be different. I’m not saying you should do like I do, I just thought you’d like to know my reasoning why.
Anyways, for what it’s worth…
P.S. I’m no blog expert by far anyways, so the choice is all yours. I’m just throwing a thought out there.
Thanks Aspiring Tehologian 🙂 That was a very mature, wise and discerning response. I look back on how I was in the 11th grade and then at you and am very impressed. I was no where near as mature as you and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. You remind me of my son a little. He decided he wanted to be a Medical Doctor when he was in the 8th grade. He then proceeded to do everything he could to prepare himself for that. By the time he was in college he had APed out of every Freshman class. He graduated from Baylor in 2003 and is now nearing the end of his third year of Medical School.
It looks like you already know exactly what you want to do with your life. That is fantastic. I am a late bloomer myself. I am nearly 55 and am thinking of going to Seminary starting this fall. You might just beat me through it though. 🙂
Actually, I’d like to go all the way and get my doctorate like R.C. Sproul did. Of course, it all depends on how God works that out. I am grateful for your encouragement though. I think it is great that you are going to seminary also. I’m not so sure I’d beat you through it…
Your son sounds like he is pretty sharp. I’m glad he got to get into a profession he enjoys. I love theology a whole lot, though there is so much to learn. I doubt I’ll ever learn it all, even though I’ve got a kind of head start. That’s good though – if I can never learn it all then I’ll always have more knowledge to help sate my thirst!
Anyways, thanks for the encouragement!
God be with you,
R.C. Sproul is a fantastic role model. I really appreciate his ministry. His book "Chosen by God" is one of my favorites.
At Baylor my son had to become quite proficient at writing. He had papers due all the time. He took Honors classes all the way through his four years there.
Where do you want to go to college for your Bachelor's? From what I've seen on your comments and your posts on your blog you already have a pretty good writing style along with the proper notation, etc.
I have written a couple of books that are published, but I'd say my son's writing is better than mine. I am, perhaps, a little more creative than him though. 🙂
In any case, your writing skills will be extremely valuable to you no matter how God works things out for you.
You have published books? Awesome! What are some of the titles? I might be interested in reading a few…
I am actually writing an allegorical fiction story that I hope to send in to publishers soon. It may be too much to hope for that they’ll publish something from someone so young, but I’m going to give it a try.
I was thinking of going to Covenant college, actually. It all depends on how the Lord works things out. If Covenant doesn’t work out, I have a few other options that I may consider more.
I have been writing since I was very young. I’ve always liked to write my own stories for my own enjoyment. I’ve also entered a lot of writing contests (never won a prize yet) so that has helped give me some practice. I think, though, that if anyone wants to be a good writer, they first must be a good reader. That is probably what helped me the most.
What is Baylor college like? Is it a Christian college?
Yes, I think R.C. is awesome. I love his speaking style. My Mom has gotten me into speech and debate to help me get used to public speaking. It has helped me out a lot, but when I look at R.C. I see I still have a long way to go!
Yes, I have two published books. I have a third one that is at the publisher. They are holding it for about a year. I wrote a fourth book that I tried to get published at a different publisher, but I didn't like the contract so I am publishing it here in my blog. You have been reading it. It's called Judge Not. My first book is called Walking the Walk by Faith. Here is the link: http://www.mikeratliff.com/Book1.htm My second book is called Possessing the Treasure. Here is the link: http://www.mikeratliff.com/Book2.htm The third book is called All for His Glory. It is the story of how I came to be reformed plus very serious about doctrine.
Where is Covenant college? I'm sure it would be great. Your writing is quite good. Good writing takes practice as you well know.
Baylor is in Waco, TX. It is a Southern Baptist University, but I wouldn't call it "Christian." Very high acedemics though.
Covenant is in Georgia. It is the official college of the PCA.
I think it is great that you have gotten books published! Do you have any pointers? Any tips on publishing? I’ve read a lot of books on the subject, but I’m out for any info I can get. If you don’t mind, that is. I just don’t have any experience with publishers…
Your books look great. What an accomplishment!
Publishers take a lot of the fun out of writing. I have often wondered why R.C. Sproul has so many different publishers. Now I think I understand it. They put all sorts of restrictions on the author and the work (book) itself. That is why I was looking for a different publisher. It’s all in God’s hands though. Just remember that. Writing a book requires a great deal of ALONE time. There is no way to do it with distractions and little time. I am very fortunate to have about three to five hours a day where I can go down into my basement, research and write.
As far as publishers go. The traditional publishing industry in in flux. The new publishers like mine are really giving them a run for the business. By the time you are ready to pubish something those traditional Christian publishers may be few and far between. The new ones don’t do much marketing whereas the traditional ones would choose only those authors they knew could sell lots of books simply by having their name on the cover. Then they would market their books to death. It is nearly impossible to get published by one of them if you are not already published. Self publishing is something I don’t know much about. I found PublishAmerica with a net search. I contacted them via email. I sent them a sample of my first book. They contacted me back and asked for more samples and a synopsis for my book. Within a week they asked for the manuscript. About a month later they contacted me and told me they wanted to publish my book. All in all it took about a year to get it completly done. I did massive amounts of editing. I had a team of 4 people who helped me proof. During all of this I was writing Book 2. It was not nearly as fun as the first one. But the process was pretty much the same except that I didn’t have to apply and all that.
I think the part I hated the most though was posing for those publicity shots. I do not like to be photographed. I did not write those books to become a celebrity. I wrote them because I believed God wanted me to. I worked on the third book for about six months. It is a large work. It has been completely proofed and edited twice. I am just waiting on the publisher to get with it.
Cool. Thanks for the information. I hope you find a good publisher. I also spend a lot of time by myself on my book. I usually get up at 5:00AM so I can work on it before school. It only gives me two hours a day, but that’s the best I can fit into my schedule. My blog entries (especially the logner ones) sometimes require several days off and on writing.
Anyways… thanks again.