Who Do You Love?

This is a follow up post from last week’s post on LOVE.

On this question, Christianity gets REALLY radical. I must write a little longer today to unpack this, but I think you will find it worth a few extra minutes.

Love your TRIBE.
Just about everyone in the world will be able to love family and friends, or at least love some of them. Unfortunately, some of the people who have hurt us the most are the ones who are closest to us – our family and friends. But generally, and throughout history, it is your “tribe” that you loved, took care of, nurtured, protected, and worked for their flourishing. Jesus actually says it is no big deal when you love those of your tribe (family, friends, neighbors). See Matthew 5:43-47.

Love those in NEED.
The biblical worldview of the Jewish faith introduced a strong new theme into an ancient and harsh world. In a world where only the strong survived, where everyone had to look out for number one, God told his people to have a special care and kindness for those who were in need: widows, orphans, slaves, the poor and the oppressed, basically anyone who was down and out and simply unable to survive without help.

It is a testimony and tribute to the long centuries of Christianity that Christians have always been inspired and mobilized to do this. The legacy of Christian organizations and institutions created to take care of the needs of the helpless is staggering and wonderful. We have been profoundly moved by the teaching of Isaiah 61 and Matthew 25:31-46. We have been equally moved by the ministry of Jesus, who spent a great deal of time helping those in need. All of this is what I like to call Rather Radical.

Love the STRANGER and OUTSIDER.
Now things are really getting interesting (and hard to do). Loving the needy was a big step. This one is bigger. I see it as Really Radical. For throughout most of human history, including our own times, we have had a very hard time loving the stranger. We find it almost impossible to love the outsider. To love someone who is not “one of us.” To love someone who is different from us. To love someone who has different history, values, perspectives, habits, lifestyles, and so on. We tend to be afraid of people like that. We are suspicious, cautious, hesitant, and resistant. We prefer to avoid people who are not like us. We may even go to great lengths to keep people who are not like us away from us. The Bible says otherwise.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to communicate exactly what he thinks about loving those who are different (Luke 10:25-37). By the way, the two most famous parables of Jesus are the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. These stories are woven deep into our human condition and longings.

The Apostle Paul follows his Lord Jesus on this theme in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:26-28. He talks about the dividing walls between people – gender, ethnicity, race, economic status, political persuasion, religious preference, ideologies – all the stuff that makes us different. The church is the place where something far greater unifies us. It is Christ and the Way of Christ. In Christ, strangers become family. Radical indeed. But we must take one more gigantic step and get Ridiculously Radical.

Love your ENEMY.
An enemy is not just different from you, an enemy is against you. An enemy means you harm. An enemy will use and abuse you, take from you, hold you back, and put you down. An enemy may persecute you. An enemy hates you and hurts you. Since the fall into sin, there have been enemies. Husbands and wives (at times) become enemies. It happened to Adam and Eve. Siblings (at times) become enemies. It happened to Cain and Abel. Parents and children become enemies. It happened to King David and several of his sons. Enemies happen! You will always have enemies with you (to borrow and adapt a thought from Jesus).

The way of the world when it comes to enemies is fight, flight, or freeze. Hit back, hit first, hit hard, or run away to live to fight another day. If you freeze, your enemy probably does you in.

Jesus introduces a fourth option. Forgive your enemy! Just one more time when Jesus tends to get unreasonable (or maybe it is remarkable) (Matthew 5:10-12; 5:38-48). Jesus forgave his enemies, even as they executed him (Luke 23:32-37). Paul told us that while we (yes, you and I) were enemies of God, God loved us and Jesus died for us. That is who God is and what God does. He loves enemies and dies to make them friends and so much more!

I know! We haven’t always done very well with some of these groups. Sometimes we have acted exactly in the way of the world. Sometimes it has been hard to figure out who the Christians are, because we don’t look much different from the world. There have been a few times when we have been really, really bad at this.

But God keeps on loving us. Challenging us. Sticking with us. Working in us. And slowly, step by hard step, one day after the next, bringing to completion what he has started.

May the grace of God be at work in you this week so you will be able to love everyone God sends your way: the tribe, the needy, the stranger, and even the enemy.

Wanting (and struggling) to be really and ridiculously radical, by the grace of God;
Pastor Brian

Brian Rice