Just a small bit more here on that passage in Romans I’ve been referring to as Paul’s mini-Sermon on the Mount.
I call it that because it closely follows many of the things that Jesus taught in that sermon in the Gospels. Paul wasn’t quoting the Gospels — he was writing years, maybe even decades earlier — but what he says very closely parallels those teachings of Jesus.
At a couple of points, though, Paul is a bit more accommodating, in a way. First there’s that bit we discussed in the previous post, where he acknowledges the desire to heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies. The Gospels don’t record Jesus saying that, but I appreciate it, because it acknowledges that loving our enemies is hard — that it isn’t something we’re going to want to do.
The second difference is that, unlike Jesus, Paul doesn’t say, “love your enemies” — at least not in so many words. He tells us not to repay evil for evil. He tells us to bless those who curse us. And he says, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”
What all of that means in practice, of course, is “love your enemies.” But it helps to remind us that “love your enemies” doesn’t mean anything apart from what it means in practice.
It’s easy to think of love as primarily an emotion — a tender affection, a fondness, a feeling of warm regard. Paul isn’t concerned with your feelings. He pretty much assumes that what you’ll feel like doing is heaping burning coals on your enemies’ heads. He doesn’t tell us not to feel that — only to act as though we felt differently. It’s the actions that matter.
I’m reminded again of some lines from Leonard Cohen:
I hated everyone
but I acted generously
and no one found me out
I think Paul could relate to that.
Or maybe that’s just projection on my part, because I certainly can relate to that.