FAITH: To love our enemies
This year, I have challenged my congregation and others in our community around Texas to read the entire Bible over the next 365 days. I believe this is one of the most important disciplines and activities we can participate in during the days we face as a nation, as a state, as a community, as a family, and as individuals. We are using a wonder reading plan in the YouVersion Bible app. The process has people read three to four chapters a day contrasting between the Old and New Testament. One of the readings which stuck with me the most this week, I must tell you I have loved this plan, in fact I am several days ahead, is the teaching Jesus in Matthew 5.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 NLT
I have spoken here many times about the Biblical call to love. What lays heavy on my heart as I read these words of Jesus is how direct and to the point He is. There is no allowance for circumstances or for special situations. Jesus says to not just love your family, friends, and neighbors, the people who most of the time love you in return, but we must also love our enemies, those who harm us, persecute us, and even hate us! We all can acknowledge, and I believe Jesus would as well, loving those who hurt us and do not love us in return is not as easy as it sounds. Even so, there is no wiggle room here. Jesus says to love our enemies, pray for those who harm us, and show kindness to those who are not kind to us. This is the Word of the Lord!
While planning this writing this week, my mind perused the family, friends, co-workers, church members, acquaintances, and strangers who I know in my human self-centeredness have harmed, hurt, and failed to show love. If there is anyone in living today who is not perfect, it is me. There is so much the Lord continues to work on me, specifically the need for my love for Him and others to become more perfect as I strive towards a Holy Love! Still, there are many days I grieve over hurt and pain I have caused personally, and relationships still yet to be fully reconciled. Whether the hurt we cause is intentional or accidental, we must be accountable to the struggle of love. My hope continues to be for the opportunity to be reconciled to anyone I have ever failed in loving and for those who I have hurt to grant me the grace of love as well.
In days when unity and love are more important than ever, my mind comes back to the struggle existing in so many churches over the failure to truly love. If there is anywhere in life where hurt is going to happen, it is going to be in church. I have often said there is no church like church hurt. The reason church hurt is so hard to get over is because the church is supposed to be a family where Christians are not supposed to do things that hurt or harm others. It is preciously because the church is full of people working to be a family that hurt happens and often goes deep.
If we could just commit ourselves to loving first, extending grace, and not having to be offended, I believe we would see a victory in our churches the devil could never challenge. But, for most churches, we allow the division and separation to be part of our story just like it is part of the world’s story. Friends, Jesus gave us all we need to know to live in harmony and joy with one another!
When I finish this post, I will put the final touches on a celebration of life service I will help lead tomorrow. We will be remembering and celebrating a woman who many know and love! Sister Grace Smith was one who exemplified the concept of Christian and self-sacrificing love! She was not just a ball of energy and pure joy, she was also intentional about not just saying she loved others, but also showing her love by cards, phone calls, cakes, and encouragement. If our world, especially our church families, could have more like Sister Grace Smith living among us, our churches would be full, and the Lord would undoubtedly bless us with His presence and peace. She read this column each week, so I say: we love you Miss Grace; we will see you again someday!
As I close, I believe it would be prudent to reiterate the teachings of Jesus concerning love do not have qualifying exemptions. I ask each of you to consider how you can be part of the solution of loving the way Jesus commands. If each of us would take responsibility on the character of our love and work hard to avoid harming other and admitting when we have, we could see a better tomorrow in Orange. It would impact all aspects of life; we just must be willing to do our part.
Loving others does not come easy, but when we do, we find the life Jesus meant for us to have! You are Valued and Loved, I mean it! Pastor Brad
Rev. Brad McKenzie is Lead Pastor at Orange First Church of the Nazarene, 3810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Orange.