Even Sinners Do This - As Seen on Sunday
You loved us while we were your enemies.
You gave to us in our sinful debt
Now we ask that you forgive us when we do not do the same.
We ask for Holy help to do the same for our enemies.
Us and Them
It is an "us" and "them" world. We share this planet with those we agree with and those we disagree with. We walk on the same dirt with those who wish to bless and those who wish to curse. From the schoolyards of elementary to the corporate cubicles to the battlefields that span the globe there is an "us" and there is a "them."
Now if you have never stopped to think deeply about how "us'd" and "them'd" we actually are let's play a little word association game. Let's see if we can the group on the other side of the aisle. I will name a segment of the population and you will tell me the counterpart.
Let's start with a few easy ones:
How about something a little harder:
- Someone I like
The division between us and them is so easy to see. It is our way to look at and interpret the world. The separation between us and them is the foundation of all media. Our "news" sources will play to the crowd that is most different from the other crowd, purposefully trying to increase the gaps that we have as members of the same society.
Next time you watch the news listen carefully to how the describe the "us", that is those who agree with the pundits on the show, and the "them," those who are watching another news source. The sensationalism makes it seem that those who do not agree with you are the worst scum on the face of the earth. That a politician who does agree with you worst enemy. That someone of another race is coming to get you. If anyone is not a devoted ally then they are a sworn enemy.
Jesus knows the Us and Them
Now it is important to point out here that this "us" and "them" mentality is nothing new. Since one person became two there was instantly a sense of "me" and "you." I think there is something to think deeply about that Jesus was not the type of person who believed that we are all on the same side.
He acknowledged the reality of this sinful world: that we do not all get along and that there will be differences between us. Some of these differences in ideology are so vast and run so deep that people will turn into enemies.
One thing we cannot do as the Church is to deny the reality of our sinful and broken world. Even though we look for the day of Jesus' return and we long for an eternity of peace and worship, we are not there yet. Sin has segregated us. It is the painful reality of now in the glorious hope of what is yet to come.
But what should we do about those whom we disagree? How should we treat those who are our enemies? This is important stuff, right? Let's look at how Jesus told us to treat our enemies.
Love Your Enemies
There is a natural expectation to return evil for evil.
- To the one who cuts you off in traffic you emphatically return the middle finger.
- To the friend who refuses to pay you back that $10 you spread gossip around the office.
- To the one who abuses, strikes, and strips you of your dignity you seek revenge.
This is our sinful response. An act of our flesh.
We react to the painful experiences in our life by attempting to inflict pain. Revenge is ultimately an attempted power play meant to recover some emotional stability that we had taken from us. In recovery terminology, we say that hurt people will hurt people.
But Jesus flips the script and calls us to cease the retaliation game.
- To the one who hates you, do good to them.
- To the one who curses you, bless them.
- To the who abuses you, pray for them.
- To the one who strikes you, turn the other cheek.
- To the one who takes from you, give them more.
- To the one who incessantly begs, continue to give.
This is our offering. An act of worship.
Even the Sinners Do That
Before our excuses can even begin to form in our thoughts, Jesus realigns our perspectives.
Jesus calls us out on our lazy desire to take only the easy road. It is infinitely easier to give love to someone who is giving love back in return.
It is infinitely easier to good to those who have done good things for you.
But Jesus gets directly to the heart of the matter. He asks a very simple question, "What does it really benefit us to repay kindness only upon receiving kindness?"
Yes, it is a socially polite thing to do to return a favor and to return kindness when kindness is shown. So why would Jesus question the benefit of reciprocity?
The life that Jesus calls us to live surpasses that of human convention. Jesus calls us to be like him, to live like him, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to conform to him. The term we use for this process is sanctification. This is a continual and constant process that reaches completion when Jesus return for his people or when we die and are united together again with him.
To be like Jesus means to live a life of sacrifice. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that even though we were enemies of God, Jesus still gave his life that we may be reconciled, adopted, saved.
Jesus was not just some dude who taught some quasi-philosophical morality about doing good. Jesus gave his life for those who hated him. He lived out his teaching in full.
To Jesus, returning kindness for kindness was the simplest expression of love that is shared between people. Likewise, anyone can return evil for evil as well. The left jab is met with a returning right hook. The betrayal is paid back with sabotage and gossip.
"Even sinners do that," Jesus says. But those who follow Jesus are called to a higher standard of living. Christians, it is our calling to repay evil with good. In the same exact way that God reacted our rebellion by granted sacrifice, pardon, forgiveness, and blessing, we too are called to go and do likewise.
Anything less is simply living like the sinners do.
A Warning - Don't Pervert the Message
We must deal with one last unpleasantry concerning this passage. It has to be stated these commands of Jesus are not to be used as a magic trick in an attempt to manipulate people.
Jesus never said, "Love you enemies so they will convert to your way thinking." He never said, "Give to others because they will start attending your church."
Jesus said, "Be merciful and compassionate because you Father is merciful and full of compassion."
Doing "God's work" for your own personal benefit is not God's work.
The only reason why we are to do good to those who hate us is that God was good to us when we hated him. The reason we give and expect nothing in return is that God gave his son to us knowing that we could never give anything to him in return. The reason we give our tunic when someone steals our cloak is that God dressed us in righteous nice when all we had to cover ourselves with was filthy rags.
To take these principles of Jesus and turn them into a strategy to manipulate a response from people is a form of spiritual exploitation and it misses the point of what Jesus is trying to communicate to us.
God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be like God.
"Expect nothing in return" may just be the hardest commandment for the American Christian to follow. Our society is structured around expecting something in return. We work and expect to get paid. We show kindness and respect and expect to receive the same in return. We cast our vote for a politician and we expect him to keep campaign promises.
Jesus tells us to act like God would act and expect nothing in return.
- Love because God has loved you.
- Do good because God is good to you.
- Give freely because God has given to you
- Show mercy because was merciful to you.
(Lending without expecting anything in return is called giving, btw.)
So, we are left with this command today - Do as God has done for you and expect nothing in return. Only through the Holy Spirit can we do this, but do this we must.
Why is it easy to repay kindness for kindness?
Why is it so difficult to repay kindness for unkindness?
Why would God show love and mercy to those who hated him?