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Vol. 80 - No. 8
Aug 2009

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

More "Ask the Pastor"

Question: We have been commanded to love our enemies and do good for those who hate us. This is probably one of the most difficult things we have been told to do. How does this correspond to Jesus telling the disciples to basically walk away from those who donít listen to them.? Should we do the same to our enemies? Should we just ignore our enemies? As Christians, how should we deal with those who hate us and want to do harm to us.? Iím not just talking about terrorists and military enemies of our country, but also individual people who we know who hate us and want harm to come to us for whatever reason they may have.

If Christís command "Love your enemies" meant, "Like your enemies" or "Feel good about your enemies," then that command would be utterly impossibleĖbecause weíre not in control of our feelings. I canít force myself to "like" someone when I really donít.

But the love Jesus calls us to have is a love that goes beyond feelings. Itís the kind of love God has. God is repulsed by our sinĖ"Thou art of purer eyes than to look upon evil" (Habbakuk 1:13) Ėyet He still acts to save us in Christ. He doesnít like the things we sometimes doĖyet He still is committed to saving us through the blood of the crucified and risen Christ.

And thatís the kind of love we are called to have for all peopleĖthatís what Jesus means when He says, "Love your enemies." It doesnít mean that we are swept off our feet with deep affection for everyone. It means, rather, that we seek the best for everyone. We pray for them, we do caring things for them. We may not like them, but love goes beyond mere liking.

An important Scripture passage on our relationship with enemies is Romans 12:17-21. In v. 17, St. Paul says: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Notice how Paul says "as far as it depends on you". Paul is a realistĖhe knows that it takes two people to make peace. Sometimes we treat people very kindly, and they still kick us in the teeth! There are tragic times when people simply canít get alongĖthatís life in a sinful world. But Paul wants us to make sure that weíve done everything in our power. He goes on to say in v 19: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Godís wrath; for it is written, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. Certainly we never seek personal revenge on our enemiesĖwe leave that to God and, when appropriate, the legal authorities He has put into place. (And itís interesting that the chapter immediately after this one is about the .power of the state to punish wicked people!) Then Paul continues: "On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." In other words: Be very kind and caring to your enemies. They may stop being your enemies! And if they still remain your enemies even after you have shown them kindness, then they may have a spiritual problem that you simply canít solve for them.

Sometimes, too, we have to sadly acknowledge that there are some people we canít get along with. This even happened in St. Paulís life. St. Paul didnít trust St. MarkĖand when St. Barnabas wanted to take Mark on a missionary journey, Paul basically said: "Include me out."

So Paul and Barnabas, who had been close friends and associates, split up. "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." (Acts 15:36-40). Paulís differences with Barnabas and Mark were so deep that they had to work apart. Ultimately, there was a happy endingĖnear the end of his life, St. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in my ministry." (II Timothy 4:11). Obviously, there was a reconciliation. But for a while, Paul simply had to separate from Barnabas and Mark. Sometimes thatís true in our lives, too. We sometimes do have to walk away from people we are at odds with. But we can also carry hope in our heartsĖif the great distance between us sinners and the holy God can be bridged by Christís death and resurrection, then the distance between humans can also be bridged through Christís power to reconcile.

In a previous parish, I had a major rift with another church worker. I, of course, felt it was her fault; she, of course, felt it was my fault. It led to a complete parting of the ways. She went to another congregation. Calling us "enemies" might overstate the caseĖbut we certainly parted on bitter terms. Just like Paul and Barnabas: "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." Then, several years later, I was teaching a deacon classĖand this lady walked into the class. I was going to be her teacher! And she asked me point blank: "Do you have any problem with me being in your class?" And I said something like: "Not if you donít." And over the next few months, our relationship healed, and we were able to cherish one another as fellow workers for Christ.

So I know that rifts can be healedĖIíve experienced it myself. That doesnít always happenĖagain, itís a sinful, fallen world, and sometimes broken relationships stay broken. But never give up hope! If our relationship with God can be healed, then anything is possible!

God loves you and so do I!

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