I just spent the weekend in Portsmouth, Ohio talking with fellow believers about what it looks like to love our enemies as Jesus commanded us. That in itself is a rare conversation to have these days. I was extremely blessed that so many people would show up and sincerely wrestle with this topic in such a real and practical way.
My friend Joshua Lawson was the perfect person to co-host this dialog with. In fact, it was his idea in the first place to talk about how the nonviolent love of Jesus changes us, and the world.
So, for more than 4 hours we answered questions from scripture, responded to real-life situations where forgiveness and mercy were required, and talked about how Jesus doesn’t call us to be a doormat but to treat every offense and attack as an opportunity for the Kingdom of God to break into the darkness and transform the lives of people who have never known the audacious, extravagant, life-changing love of Christ.
We watched a handful of very powerful video clips about real-life people who had either shown love and mercy to their attackers, or who had their lives forever changed by receiving love and mercy from the very people who should have hated them and rejected them, but who instead forgave them, humanized them, and sincerely loved them for who they were, not for what they had done.
It was a glorious weekend and I know that God will nurture many of the seeds we planted there long after I’m gone.
But then I got home and some harsh reality set in.
A friend of mine, who is a dear brother in Christ, made a comment online that deeply offended me. In fact, it was because I love and respect this person that the offense was so painful. Random strangers who call me names or doubt my character are largely unable to hit their intended target because of the simple fact that I know they don’t know me and they have no idea who I am or what I’m about. I can forgive them instantly and refuse to be offended because I do not have any real-life connection to them.
But, when the person who hurts you is someone you know and love, well, that’s another story.
The wound is much deeper, and the pain is more palpable when the one who attacks you is a friend. Maybe because you assume they think the best of you, or that if they had a problem with you they would address it privately and not on the world wide web. Or, maybe it’s because when you let them know they hurt you they spend more time defending themselves than simply saying, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Or, it’s all of the above.
So, now what do we do? We are still commanded to love our enemies, and even if this person isn’t an enemy, but a friend, the need to respond with love, mercy, and forgiveness is still essential. Maybe even more so because this person is a brother (or a sister) in Christ.
I’m reminded that Jesus commanded us to love one another. I think it was in the form of a command because Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for us at times and that if He didn’t elevate the stakes for us, we might not take this as seriously as we should.
It’s so much easier these days to “unfriend” someone; both in the cyber world and the real one. Especially if you can justify it by saying, “they hurt me,” or “I don’t need this in my life.” Those things are both true. They did and you don’t. But honestly, I don’t think Jesus cares about your feelings as much as He cares about your relationships with other people.
Not only do these relationships literally form a cross, they are specifically connected by Jesus as being dependent upon the other.
When Jesus responds to the question about the Greatest Commandment, He says it is “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”, but then He is quick to add: “And the second greatest is like the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Notice that Jesus says that the second commandment [to love our neighbor] is “like the first” [to love God]. In what way are they alike? Well, the Apostle John clarifies that when he says:
“If anyone says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar” [1 John 4:20]
Jesus also says that if we are in the process of worshipping God but remember that our brother has something against us, we should stop immediately, run to that person and make it right first, and then return to our worship of God. Why? Because the first command is like the second. We cannot maintain our loving relationship with God if we neglect our loving relationships with other people. They are all intertwined.
So, like it or not, [and let’s face it, we don’t], God expects us to live at peace with all men, at least as far as it depends upon us. [See Romans 12:18]
We need to forgive. If for no other reason than that we, ourselves, will one day require forgiveness too. If we refuse to sow forgiveness and mercy now, we might not reap it later when we need it most.
Over the weekend, we talked about how Micah 6:8 says that we should “Love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with our God.”
Loving mercy is key. Everone loves mercy when they need it. It feels so good to be forgiven and let off the hook, doesn’t it? That’s why we should love when mercy is shown to others. Because we know how badly we need it when we screw up. The hard part is to show mercy to people who have hurt us. They don’t deserve it, we think to ourselves. They are the ones who attacked me, not the other way around. But that’s the point. Mercy isn’t deserved. Mercy is granted to those who don’t deserve it. That’s the power of forgiveness.
If we are called to love others as Christ loved us, then let’s take a moment to consider just how Christ has loved us. Make a list. Take your time. The realization will quickly overwhelm you once you start to remember all the amazing, beautiful, and precious ways that Jesus has loved you, cared for you, blessed you, and forgiven you.
Now, go and do likewise.
I know, it’s not going to be easy. But, I can promise you, it’s going to feel a whole lot better than holding on to your pain and your offense.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming “Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God”, available July 4th, 2018.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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