This week's Bible Study - February 28, 2016
Distinct in My Love
Quotes of the Week:
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.
Who do you love? We love our favorite sports teams. We love our school. We love our friends. We love our family. We love our church. We love our neighbors. We love ice cream. We love cute puppies. As we all know, love can be apprised of a wide range of emotions, and the word love can have many meanings. It is easy to love those who think like us or have similar beliefs. When others return our love with love, it makes it easier for us to love them.
In many ways, I have seen love demonstrated among believers. When there is a loss in a family, quite often members of a church are more than willing to help in any way imaginable. When someone has a surgery and is out of work for a while, church members often show love by providing meals for the family and doing other tasks. Even dealing with the ALS diagnosis in my own life, I've seen so many people that want to help and show their love. In some ways, you can see the genuineness of love very clearly within a church, especially in the area of focused needs. In fact, when there are serious needs, differences can often be put to the side. (Often, but sadly, not always)
Although there can be the sweetness of love evident among believers, there are other times where the amount of hostility that people have for one another is amazing. It as if everything is okay, as long as everyone gets along with one another. However, when there is disagreement, things can get dicey. In some ways, it makes you wonder what the difference is between believers and unbelievers. Everyone tends to appreciate those who agree with them, but, in many cases, we begin to see a different side in the midst of conflict.
We all have a thing or two to think about when it comes to loving other believers. When you think of your own experience, I would imagine that there are more than likely one or two (or more) believers that you know that you would say that it is hard to say that you 'love' them. However, as He often does, Jesus challenges us to go beyond loving other believers. He actually tells us to love and pray for our enemies. And, the prayer is not that the fire of heaven would rain down upon them! (Face it, there are times when we'd like to pray that for some people, right?)
As was true in nearly every passage in Matthew 5, Jesus attacked a high level principle that was held by many and showed that the intended meaning was indeed much deeper. It was not uncommon to hear them say that it was right to "love your neighbor and hate your enemy". These are strong passions on both sides. For some people, when you are in their group, there is a tremendous level of love that is felt. But, if you choose to think differently than them, the intensity of their dislike can very easily border or hate.
In this time when political candidates are running for their party's nomination, you will find people that are fiercely loyal towards a candidate and are unabashedly opposed to another. In the age of social media, people post all sorts of things, and when you start to look into some stories, you will find many of them to be predominantly made up stories. The 'love' for a candidate leads some people to say anything or make up anything about the opposition. Love covers a multitude of wounds, and the lack of love can turn a small scratch into a severe loss of blood.
The other thing that the Jewish people of Jesus' day did was to narrowly define their neighbor. We wouldn't do that, would we? Of course we do. Even today, you might say that your neighbor is the family who lives next door on the left, because you get along with them. However, the ones on the right or down the street don't count as neighbors, for one reason or another. There are others who define their neighbor as someone who has similar ideologies as in political slant, or fans of the same team. In the church realm, some would define neighbor as the ones who believe the exact same way (same denomination or lack thereof), and had the same thoughts regarding church music (traditional or contemporary), the color of the carpet (blue, green, brown or wood floors!) and whether there should be pews or chairs. When we define our neighbor as we choose, it may be easy to say that we love our neighbor.
On the other hand, defining an enemy can also be quite different, based on who you are. In politics, it may appear to be the other party. In a sporting event, it may be fans from the other team. In industry, it may be those who work at competing companies. In a war, the enemy may be the guys on the receiving ends of the missiles. It can be easy to find somebody to hate when someone wants to find someone to hate. Often, the feeling is based on context, because that person who you may define as the enemy in politics becomes a neighbor at the baseball game. We are quite fickle, aren't we?
Jesus didn't say that we wouldn't have enemies, but that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is much easier said than done. What would happen if this actually happened in the lives of believers today? What type of change would this make? Instead of talking down one another or those who think differently, what would happen if we chose to show love to them and pray for them?
Sadly, some people have defined their enemies to be people that are even in their families or that used to be close friends. When all of these people are believers, you would have to wonder why they would choose to be so hateful and downright mean to one another. We would like to think that the problem we would have to solve would be with those who are of a totally different mindset and who were openly antagonistic to everything we believed. However, we can look around us and see where believers have treated one another with no intention of showing love, but instead showing spite. If we can't find peace with those who are believers and who serve the same God as we do, how will we ever be able to love those who believe so differently?
In our day and age, again with the social media, we have seen people stoop to making targeted attacks against others openly. I have seen this many times and quite likely, so have you. When someone has an issue against another person, the best thing is to keep it to themselves or if it needs to be exposed, approach the other person directly. Taking cheap shots on social media or talking about others despairingly behind their backs is fighting much like a sniper, where one hides and then fires at another person. And, do people really think about all the people that will see their words and the impact that it may have on them? Are those words showing love?
When we make others our enemies, we are not taking the stance of God. All are children of our Father in heaven. Some may choose to disown Him throughout their life, but we see that happening with some human children too, right? We may look at others and say that they are enemies of God. Face it, if we really wanted to talk about who has made themselves an enemy of God, we only need to look in a mirror. We forget that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. In many ways, God blesses all people.
Once again, Jesus said that if you are only going to love those who love you, you aren't being any different from anyone else in the world. Even the tax collectors, those horrid individuals, did that. If they only chose to greet others who greeted them, they were being no different than pagans who did not care of God, who did the same.
Sometimes we act as if we should get a gold star for our behavior, because we did something good for someone else who didn't' deserve it. However, unless that becomes a pattern in our lives, it becomes something we do only to be seen. Or, we do because we think we have to. When we realize that we can never 'do' enough.
The thing that keeps coming back to my mind throughout Matthew 5 is that Jesus is not encouraging us to do things. He is telling us that we need to be somebody. We get so caught up in doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things, which may be helpful in life, but those things draw us no closer to God. Jesus tells us that we need to become new people, and one aspect of that new person is to become more like God. We would not only show love to those who love us, but we would also care for those who treat us horribly.
This last verse is unrealistic on our own - that we should be perfect as our Father is perfect. This is why we must be so thankful for the price that has been paid by Jesus Christ. On our own, we are mired in sin, unable to recover and unable to achieve even partial righteousness; much less perfection. Oh, we may have our good moments, but when we are realistic and consider not only our actions, but our thoughts and our words and our attitudes, we realize that we are far from perfect.
We should live our lives thankful for what Christ has done and seek to allow our hearts to be in alignment with Him. This isn't accomplished by crossing the T's and dotting the 'I's, but by seeking him in all we do. This isn't focusing on the past mistakes of ourselves or others, but seeking to live for Christ daily. It is one thing to say that we want to please God, but another to put ourselves in a position to please him in our everyday decisions and the way in which we deal with others.
As believers, we do have high expectations. We will never be perfect, but we have been given the strength to do much more through Christ than on our own. If you are a strict rule follower, realize that there are not gold stars for the outwardly things you do. Yes, we should strive to do the right things, but don't become captive to a list of do's and don'ts.
Ensure that you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and have accepted him as your personal Savior. To live a life of trying to do the right thing or even having the right attitude without Jesus as your Savior is futile. You may be seen as a nice person, but God isn't looking for nice people. He only accepts those who find their entire righteousness in Jesus Christ.
As we think of all of the things that we have seen in Jesus' words from Matthew 5, we realize that if we are 'me' centric, we will fall in each category. When we think of ourselves, our own tendencies lead to problems, and when we demand our rights, discord follows. I wish it were different, so that we could say that what 'seems' right or where our heart leads us would always be in line with God's word, but that is far from true. Certainly, after we have begun to follow Jesus, we should begin to mature into a person that is more in line with God's word by default. But, we never solve the 'me' issue in this life.
Realize that Jesus isn't giving these commands to tell us how to be saved, but to tell us what is expected of us as believers. If you want to say you don't believe, you are free to live as you want. You can continue to sing "I gotta be me" all day long, and follow your own guidance. But, if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are called to love others, and to pray for your enemies. Who do you need to start praying for, instead of talking about?