This series is by “T”. He’s developing ideas that need to be at work when we think of violent people and how to respond.
We’re continuing our discussion of some of the New Testament’s most central themes, attempting to lay a proper, Christological foundation for discussing issues of how Christ’s followers are to deal with violent people. For now, we’re talking about the typical situations of Christians who are “civilians” as far as human governments go. We will deal with Christians in human militaries and/or police forces later. One of the problems in these discussions, in my opinion, has been that we prematurely spend more time on the (possible) exceptions rather than on the general rule, so to speak, and in so doing we misunderstand both. We’re trying to look deeply at the general rule from several Christological angles.
So far we have discussed this via the lenses of Cross and Resurrection. Today I want to look at Love. Already, and as we continue this series, the interrelationships between these themes (Cross, Resurrection, Love, etc.) are so strong that it will be impossible to look at each in isolation of the others. But that is actually helpful towards our goal of laying a more holistic Christological foundation upon which we can discuss the use of force and related issues.
Given the different kinds of actions and ways that are called “love,” do you see Christ’s own understanding and teachings as especially unique? Look at some of the quotes below—how critical is this enemy-love to Christ’s understanding of God’s kind of love? How critical was that kind of love for Jesus’ mission? How critical is that kind of love to the Church’s mission? Do you see any connection between the call to love like Christ and the call to pick up our cross and follow him? Are these calls different ways of talking about the same thing, namely, the core of following this crucified King, this Good Shepherd that lays down his life for lost sheep? Is enemy-love a rare gift only for martyrs or is it to be the mark of Jesus’ disciples across the board?
Regarding the lens of love, here is a basic thesis of mine:
Love is the central substance of both God’s character and his mission; it is the truest mark of Jesus’ disciples; it is the chief fruit of his Spirit, the most excellent way to follow, the highest goal of Jesus’ disciples, the great command of Christ. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of love in the New Testament witness.
Further, the kind of love that Christ displayed and commanded is distinct from his contemporary Jewish alternatives precisely in that it is self-sacrificing even for those who are evil and/or hostile to the lover. Indeed, loving those that that are ‘natural’ to love (those that are good to us) is a mere foil to the love God gives and commands through Christ.
Luke 6:27-36 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do [what is] good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”
Romans 5:6-8 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 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.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I Cor. 4:9-17 “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”