This week I’ve been challenged concerning the intentions of a major religious group. Their creed tells them they are the only true religion and anyone that does not worship as they do deserves to die.
The challenge says --- as we stood up against the Japanese and the Germans, we also need to stand up against this religious group. Otherwise, we will experience more events like Pearl Harbor and the holocaust. The argument is strong because unlike those two groups, the beliefs of this group are shared by all its members, whether they seem peacefully minded or not.
Something in the challenge bothers me, not so much the content but the attitude of a few of the people who believe we must shut down these people. The Bible talks about defending our faith, which Christians must do, but it also talks about doing good to our enemies, not hating them and spreading warnings about them that seem filled with disgust and hatred.
Yet there is another problem with the idea of ‘loving our enemies’ and that is knowing the nature of the love that God is commanding. Many Christians seem to think that love means toleration, giving in, letting those we love do whatever they want to do, including sin against us.
The Bible is filled with verses that tell us to love God and love one another. It offers a description of what love is and is not in 1 Corinthians 13, yet I believe the best description is in God himself.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)
John knew something about the love of God that the average person does not know. God’s love is not wishy-washy or permissive. When humanity fell into sin, His love set about His plan to redeem us and set us free from the dominion of sin. His ultimate goal is to transform us back into image-bearers, the purpose for which we were created.
When God tells me of His love for me, I know that love is sacrificial and concerned for my eternal well-fare. He is not going to pat me on the head and tell me that I’m fine the way I am. If He were a God like that, I could not worship Him.
Yet the other extreme is also true; God’s love does not attack me for my disobedience and for ignoring Him and going my own way. Instead, He came to earth, put on human flesh, and died for me. He bore the punishment I deserve so that I might know Him. Because of Jesus, I know the love of God. If that love does not show up in the way I live, then I really don’t know what God is like.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
When God tells me to love my enemies, He is not thinking about the human version of love. While He will never ask me to die for the sins of my enemies (Jesus already did that), He could ask me to die as a result of their sin rather than deny Him or my faith in Him. (It has been said that the church flourishes on the blood of the martyrs.)
I don’t know if this religious group will overrun our part of the world, as some fear. The Bible says nothing about that, but it also does not mention the Japanese or Hitler. What it does say is that no matter what happens everyone eventually dies. And after that everyone faces the judgment of God. Those who believe in Jesus Christ, regardless of how we die, will spend eternity with Him. Those who do not, will not.
As I think about the warnings, I sense that one group of people are thinking eternally, and because they are, they are more concerned about the souls who will perish than themselves. On the other hand, the other group who spread the same warning seem more concerned about their own comfort and safety, even their own need to perpetuate a prideful “I’m right and they are wrong” attitude.
God says that, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24). Abiding in God is not about fear and hatred, but about that Holy Spirit assurance that I am secure, no matter what others do, including the enemies of Christianity. It is having confidence that because of the sovereignty of God, my destiny is safe in his hands. He calls me to always be ready to defend my faith, but never to fear or overpower those who threaten it or do not share it.