Saturday, March 31, 2012

Like Father, like daughter - my goal

Maybe we thought that Jesus said it first, but the idea of loving an enemy goes back a few thousand years to the time when God gave His law to Moses.
If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. (Exodus 23:4)
Much later, Jesus talked about enemies and gave a clearer reason why God wants His people to treat them well.. I’m supposed to love my enemies because God does, and as His child, I’m supposed to look like my Father.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)
When I first heard this, I thought it meant the emotion of caring about someone who hated me, and concluded that God’s standard of love was humanly impossible. No one can have warm feelings without reason, and especially for those who give us every reason not to have warm feelings.

However, this kind of love is not ordinary affection. It is “agape” love and is more about doing good to others, just like the example in Exodus 23. However, this is not easy either. How can I do good for someone that I do not feel like loving? Again, the answer is in that example. This kind of love does not spring from feelings, but is a doing kind of love, actions not emotions.

But what about the feelings? Wouldn’t it help to love others if I felt like it? Years ago, a woman told me that feelings follow action. I realized that I knew that already. She put words to something I’d discovered with my children. If they were mad at their father, I’d get them to shine his shoes or some other activity for him. Very soon their anger was gone. When we do good to both friends and enemies, even by praying for them, we please God, but we also experience a change in ourselves.

God has other reasons for loving enemies besides wanting to change our attitude. This impossible task is God-like, as Jesus said. Loving enemies gives a flesh and blood demonstration of His nature and character. He blesses those who have done nothing to deserve it, even those who ignore Him or mock Him. Agape love is like that and everyone needs to see it in action.

Agape love also is a conviction to those who receive it. Finding out that God loves me no matter what I do or how many times I disobey Him makes me feel ashamed, but also humbled. That is part of the reason I am to love my enemies; love has power to overcome sin.
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)
This agape love cannot be produced in the human heart apart from the Holy Spirit. As Romans 5:5 says, "Love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." This “fruit of the Spirit” is given to those who have received Christ as Savior and are yielded to Him.

Salvation is by grace, and so also is the ability to genuinely care about others. Agape love is never my own doing. It came from Him in salvation and was demonstrated by the way He send Jesus to die for us - even while we were His enemies.
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 5:6-8)
Love comes in when Jesus comes in. It is who He is. Love also remains in my life as the unseen God lives in me. He tells me to practice His love with other believers, and as I do, I will grow in love and be able to love my enemies.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
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Lord, I’m not able to call by name anyone that is a personal enemy, yet there are many who are enemies of the gospel that I believe. Some of them simply ignore You to their peril. Others mock and openly stand against all that is from You. No matter who these are or how they express their resistance and dislike of truth and Your Word, help me to have Your perfect attitude toward them. I am Your child and want to grow up to be just like You.

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