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Posts Tagged ‘golden rule’

Alright, we have been looking at the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. And last week we covered the section on Dealing with Enemies. Jesus teaches us here to love our enemies. He tells us, just as you want what is good, so give good to others – whether they deserve it or not.

He also told us that living by ‘an eye for an eye’ gets you no reward, for even sinners do this. But living by love for enemies gets you great reward. That’s because the heavenly Father loves his enemies. And since, ‘like father like son,’ you show yourself to be a son of his, that is, an inheritor of his blessings.

Last week I needed to spend the whole time working with the text trying to lay out what it means. So this week I want to get more into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. I want to do something a little different and tell you some stories and then draw out some lessons I have learned.

Our hostile neighbors

We had been in our house for several years when new people moved in behind us. We lived on a flag lot, so the neighbor’s  property was surrounded by our house and other church property. As soon as they moved in they started making claims that a part of our driveway was actually their land. And it got worse from there.

We had a tree on the border that needed to come down. A part of it had fallen onto our house the last winter in an ice storm and it was diseased. So we told them, but they became hostile. They wanted the tree to stay. In fact, they claimed it was on their land, along with a part of our backyard.

He had anger issues, to say the least. He also liked his alcohol which made things worse. A police man who was later involved in an incident called him “Mr. Testosterone.” He was abusive and a bully. And if anything, I thought she was worse. At one point she was hanging over the fence, taunting and insulting me and the church as I worked in my backyard.

Anyway, I had a trustee over for dinner and told him about all this since our house was owned by the church at this time. I had to go talk to the neighbor about some issues, so we both went over to his house. He went nuts. I was nose to nose with him, kind of looking down on him because I was taller. And he was just screaming and threatening. My trustee and I calmly walked away.

At another point, when I wasn’t home, my wife engaged him about the tree and at that point, full of alcohol, he threatened to shoot her in the head. That’s when the police were brought in to try to talk some sense into him.

Well after the lawyers were brought in an agreement was made whereby the tree would come down and the church would survey the border and put up a fence (which we wanted).

I have to admit it was funny. After the surveyor was done I happened to see the neighbor wife come out to see where the  stake was put. She was standing on it looking out beyond it into our yard, thinking it was hers. But, of course it wasn’t. The border was pretty much right where we thought it was.

It was also sad in a way. The truth is that they had two structures that were too close to the border, without a variance. Although we never required it, it was a bit surreal to see him one day with a chainsaw cutting a part of an overhang off of his house – about four by twelve feet, because it was too close to our driveway.

#1. It’s really hard to love enemies. It doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms me, especially if there’s no cause, I get angry (not as much as I used to thankfully). And there is a part of me that wants to strike back – harm for harm. I want to show them how wrong they were and have them feel some of what they gave to me. So for me, to love enemies requires God to be working in me. Because there is nothing in my flesh that wants to do this. And I am guessing that this is true of most, if not all of you.

#2. If we want to overcome evil with good we have to deal with our anger. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not to let someone’s evil deeds to us, change us so that we do the same thing back to them. That’s what it means to be overcome by evil. Rather we are to overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil.

So all through out this (it went on for months) I had to learn to give my anger over to God. Otherwise I would have been right there with him ‘in the flesh’ screaming and threatening and worse. I had to trust that God would take care of the wrong that was done to me.

What I learned is that when you do this, and I had to do it daily there for a while, it frees you up to focus on doing good and being Christ-like, which is our job as Christians. Instead of focusing on getting even, I could give mercy.

This was a good thing because I learned later that after provoking previous neighbors he had tried to sue them for their responses.

#3. Loving enemies is different than nonresistance. I remember that some in the congregation said that if the neighbor wanted a part of the backyard, it should be given to him, under the idea that we are not to resist the evildoer, but yield and even give more than he asks. This didn’t seem right to me. And, of course, in this case he would have asked for the whole property.

So I really began to struggle with these texts. What do they mean in this situation? What I came to over the next few years was a clearer understanding, I believe, of the context of nonresistance – as I said last week. It has to do with enemies who are also authorities.

And so what should guide my behavior in this kind of a situation is simply the command to love and do good and to pray for my neighbor, which I did.

And also, if love is the standard, not nonresistance, then I have a great deal more freedom in how I respond to my neighbor. As long as I also act with love toward him.

#4. God can intervene on our behalf. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” God can and does act for us many times even now, when we refrain from acting ourselves in the flesh to get even.

I believe this happened in this case. First of all the neighbors moved away not long after the tree came down. And then I heard from a former friend of his that he had a stroke that paralyzed one side of his face. And his doctor told him he needed to calm down for his own health’s sake. We found out that he had moved from house to house fixing them up and selling them, and also harassing neighbors wherever he went. We certainly hoped that this would put a stop to it.

A story about Fred

(I have changed some things in this story to hide “Fred’s” identity).

I met Fred in church one day. We hit it off pretty good and he was interested in the Bible and identified himself as a Christian. His was a sad story – mental illness and time in jail.

Later Fred became angry with the church, and he focused his anger on me and one other person in the church. His demeanor changed, like he was a different person. As I understand it, he was off his medications.

Once he came to the door of my house and was pounding on it – obviously angry. I decided to go out and talk with him, but locked the door behind me. He was making various threats. Stacey was inside and she decided it was time to get the police involved. We had talked about this before as an option.

Another time he showed up at church during Sunday school, high, playing with a knife he had brought along in a menacing way. My goal was to get him away from the church, so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride and talk. And so we did. I drove him far away and then dropped him off near a family member’s home.

#5. Love and harm are not always a contradiction. I believe that what Jesus forbids to us is non-redemptive harm. This has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back or an eye for an eye. It’s ‘non-redemptive’ because it is meant only to hurt and punish.

Redemptive harm, by contrast, has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, or at least with their best interests in mind. This could be called tough love. I always use the example of a doctor that amputates a leg to save a life. This is different than someone who just cuts off your leg!

In this case we called the police. My aim was to get him a psychological evaluation and hopefully get him back on his meds. That isn’t what happened – they just held him for 24 hours. But even then, the situation was stopped. And if he had physically assaulted me I would have sought to restrain him, even if it meant causing him pain.

#6. You can trust God with your life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Based on this, this is what I believe: If I’m walking in God’s way, I’m not going to die unless God allows it. If I have someone with a knife at church or threatening me at home – I know that it’s not up to them if I live or am hurt. It is up to my Father in heaven. This frees you up to say and do what you need to, to address this situation.

#7. Love will never let me kill someone. This was certainly true with Fred or my neighbor. No matter what they did, I would not be able to do this because I am called to love them.

But this is also why I teach that Christians should not participate in war. There are many issues involved in this, of course, but for me only one is decisive. If love means what the Bible says it means – to give good to others, and I am supposed to love everyone including my enemies, then how can I kill someone and still be faithful to Jesus? How can I both destroy someone and love them at the same time? Even if the government tells me to, I have to refuse. Because as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29.

#8. Always be open to reconciliation. Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We became good neighbors with the former friend of our hostile neighbors, even though he was there standing by as threats were made against us.

Also, Fred and I did reconcile. His anger subsided and he apologized. I didn’t see him as much, but talked to him from time to time when he stopped by the church. Last I heard he was doing better and I am grateful for that.

Finally, and not connected to these stories – #9. This teaching isn’t just for “enemies.” Several of you mentioned after last week’s message that you weren’t sure who your enemies are today. In general an enemy is anyone who harms you or tries to harm you.

But even beyond this sometimes it is our spouse who does something that hurts us, or a child, or a friend or a church member. But we would not say they are “enemies.” So in some cases it is best to drop the word enemy, but still apply this teaching.

In these situations as well, don’t respond in kind. Always give what is loving and good to the other – whether they deserve it or not.

  • When your  spouse says something hurtful, don’t simply say something hurtful back. Seek to return good. Deal with the issue in a kind way.
  • When your child is misbehaving, don’t discipline them in anger as payback. Give them something good – loving discipline.
  • When someone cuts you off on the road, don’t transform into a vigilante. Return good and be kind.

It’s natural to highlight more dramatic examples when we talk about returning good for evil. But these more common examples may well be harder to live out – day in and day out.

William Higgins

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[Check out the website – Love your enemy]

Last week we began our series on the Sermon on the Plain, the name for Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. We looked at the first part of it – the blessings and the woes. In these, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, comforts the afflicted – by giving four blessings to the faithful, and he afflicts the comfortable – by giving four woes to the unfaithful.

This teaching forces each of us to ask:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised their commitment to Jesus in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Today we move to the second section – focused on dealing with enemies – 6:27-36.

Jesus’ instructions on loving enemies

There are two sets of four commands here:

vs. 27-28 vs. 29-30
1. love your enemies
2. do good to those who hate you
3. bless those who curse you
4. pray for those who abuse you
1. to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
2. and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either
3. give to everyone who demands from you
4. and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back

All of these commands call us to love our enemies. But there are differences between the first four commands and the second four. I want to take just a few moments to flesh this out, because it has a big impact on how you put this into practice in real life.

  • The first four commands instruct us to return good for evil. We respond with love even when someone harms us.
  • The second four instruct us to yield to the enemy. We are to give what is demanded, and more.

These are different instructions.

Let’s take this example – You are being robbed . . ..

1. Under the admonition of the first set of commands you must simply love the robber, do good in return, and pray for him. As long as you return good for evil, you have a great deal of freedom to choose different options. You could refuse to give up anything, you could try to stop or disarm the robber. Or you could call the police, if your goal isn’t just to punish him. As long as you also show love to him, and act with his best interests in mind, not just yours, you’re fine.

2. But under the admonition of the second set of commands you must yield to the robber, give whatever is demanded and more, and never ask for anything back.

Do you see the difference? You can’t apply both sets of instructions to this case at the same time, because they give different answers.

What does this tell us about these two sets of commands? It tells us that they are speaking to different situations. In Scripture the command to yield (from the second set) is given in relation to authorities, for instance the government. And we are taught to submit even if they are an enemy to us (1 Peter 2:18-23; Romans 13).

Also, each situation in the second set is best seen as the action of an authority:

  • An authority figure who slaps to put someone under them in their place. This was a common custom of the day. It’s not a fist fight, it’s a way of pulling rank.
  • A creditor who takes the coat given in pledge for a loan by court authority. It’s not someone just stealing your coat. There is a legal procedure taking place.
  • The last two sayings picture the requisitioning demands of an occupying government, as the Romans did in Jesus’ day. For instance a soldier could come and say, “Your horse is needed by the Emperor” – and take it. When it says in v. 30 – “give to everyone who demands from you,” it’s talking about this, not, for instance, a beggar on the street. (The word “ask,” sometimes translated as “beg” is best translated as “demand” in this context, since you really don’t have a choice.) Also, when it says, “and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back,” it’s talking about this, not ordinary theft. Often items were not given back, even though they were supposed to be given back.

So the second set of commands deals with enemies who are authorities. And we are to yield to them. This is, in my understanding, what biblical nonresistance means. It’s the combination of the command to submit to authorities and to love our enemies. When you put these two together, you get nonresistance.

Now yielding doesn’t exclude other options, for instance fleeing (Matthew 10:23) or appealing to a higher authority for relief (Acts 25:10ff) or standing your ground and taking the consequences. But since Jesus doesn’t talk about these here, I won’t go into them for now.

The first set of commands deals with regular enemies – your neighbors, evildoers, robbers. And we are to love them and return good for evil.

My aim is that next week we will get into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. But my goal today is simply to help us understand what Jesus’ instructions mean here.

Next, Jesus gives us –

A key principle

v. 31 – “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is the so-called golden rule, which tells us how to act toward others.

The usual standard that people employ is – how has so and so treated me? And then you respond accordingly. If John does good to me, I’ll do good to him. But if he wrongs me, I’ll get him.

If you put this into a principle it would be the opposite of the golden rule – As others have done to you, do so to them. This is the standard of “an eye for an eye” or to put it positively, “a favor for a favor.” You act towards others based on how they have acted toward you.

But Jesus gives us a different, higher standard. To say it in a slightly different way – treat others based on how you want to be treated. The idea here is that, just as you want what is good, so  give what is good to others. Let this be your standard.

This is the principle behind all eight statements in the first section we looked at. They set aside an eye for an eye and work according to the logic of giving what you want to get. This principle teaches us to love and do good to all, even if they don’t deserve it.

Some provocative questions

In vs. 32-34 Jesus asks three questions that show that the “eye for an eye” standard is not an adequate one.

  • “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
  • “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
  • “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.”

Jesus is saying, everybody loves and does good to those who love and do good to them. This is just an expression of the standard of an eye for an eye, or a favor for a favor. You don’t get any credit or reward for this. Even sinners do this. The term “sinner” is used to speak of people who are acknowledged to have failed to live according to God’s will.

Jesus’ point is that if this is the best you can do, you’re doing nothing more than what sinners do. His challenge is, do you live by a higher standard of conduct than sinners?

After the questions comes –

An exhortation

– to live according to the higher standard that Jesus is teaching. v. 35 – “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return . . ..” Put aside an eye for an eye or a favor for a favor, and simply love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

A concrete example here is loaning money to an enemy who is in need (if you can). Jesus indicates that if they are unable to pay it back, we are to forgive the loan.   Love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

The result of obedience

v. 35 – “. . . and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” It’s not easy to love enemies, as we’ll talk about next week. But Jesus indicates here that it’s worth it. If living by an eye for an eye brings no reward, as we just saw, loving enemies does bring a reward. Specifically, “your reward will be great.”

And then he goes on to talk about being sons of the Most High. The idea here is that a son acts like their father. And since –

  • God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” – v. 35
  • God’s sons should do the same

To be a son of God is not about gender, it is about a certain social or religious status. It is to be an inheritor of your Father’s blessings. And both women and men can act like the Father and thus show that they have the status of inheritors.

But the specific test here is – Do we love our enemies, like our Father does? If we do, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom.

We end with v. 36, which is the center point of the whole Sermon on the Plain, and sums up this teaching on loving enemies. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Again, like Father, like son. The Father is merciful to evildoers. And as his children, we are to be merciful as well.

William Higgins

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