“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
“The Love Of God Is Never-Ending”
DID YOU HEAR WHAT THAT PASSAGE SAID? This is one of those passages that crawls in and gets under the skin. It makes us uncomfortable. Why? Well, basically because it seems impossible. How in the world can you “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you?” How do you “bless those who curse you?” Jesus' answer might be called the Never-ending sermon
A little girl wrote to her pastor:
Dear Pastor, I heard you say to love our enemies. I am only six and do not have any yet. I hope to have some when I am seven. Love, Jennifer. (1)
Despite what that little girl wrote, we all have enemies. We all have people who don’t like us. That’s just one of the sad realities of being human. We hurt others and others hurt us. We make enemies. But the question isn’t whether or not we have enemies, the question is how do we treat those who might be our enemies? As followers of Christ, how do we treat those who mistreat us?
There are three ways we can respond to an enemy or someone who has hurt us.
A. First of all, you can retaliate. You can get even. Remember the old story about the man who was bitten by a dog and was later informed that he had rabies? The doctor left to check on another patient but stopped back by and found this guy writing something, So, the doctor asked, “Are you writing a will?” “No,” said the man, “I’m just making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!”
We know how he felt don’t we? Everybody here has probably said, thought or heard someone else say, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” We’ve all felt that way. We know what it means to want to get even. It’s even Biblical. The Old Testament law says, “An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It proclaims of a law of retribution, a law of getting even. But that’s ALL it allowed. Anything beyond getting even was too much and seen as vengeance.
B. Retaliation or getting even IS one way of dealing with those who hurt you. BUT you need to know, that Spiritually speaking, retaliation is a killer. It will suck the life right out of your soul. A number of years ago, there was a TV movie that showed just how deadly it is. I don’t remember the name of the movie but it was about a young man who had a love-hate relationship with his father. He was trying desperately to hurt his dad in a business deal. When his stepmother learned about it and chewed him out, he responded, “I just wanted to beat him once.” And she replied, “You haven’t beaten him. You have become him.” (2) Retaliation does permanent damage not only to those who have hurt us but it hurts us as well. We change. We become different. We become twisted and evil.
A. We can also respond with resentment. We secretly harbor resentment toward that person who hurt us or slighted us. This is probably the most common way of dealing with folks among Christians. We are nice people. We wouldn’t openly harm anybody. But we sure can carry a grudge. We have some of the biggest grudges anybody has ever see.
The problem with harboring resentment toward someone else is what that resentment does to us. We can take the smallest hurt possible, hold it inside and plant it in resentment and rancor. We water it with the bitter acid of our anger. We prune it with our hurt pride until it grows and grows and becomes a huge grudge that controls our life. We might even harvest that grudge at some point. When we do, we let it fester and boil in the juices of our anger until our lives are in a perfect stew and our whole disposition is soured.
B. Ron Lee Davis in his book, MISTREATED, tells about a millionaire who owned a lot in an exclusive residential area of a large city. This particular lot presented an unusual problem. It was only a couple yards wide by nearly a hundred feet long. There was nothing he could do with such an odd piece of real estate except sell it to one of the neighbors on either side.
First, he went to the neighbor on the east side of the lot, and asked if he was interested in buying it. The neighbor said, “Well, only as a favor.” Then he named a ridiculously low price. The millionaire exploded. “Why, that’s not even one-tenth what the lot is worth!” He stormed out and went to see the neighbor on the west side. But the west side neighbor only offered a few dollars more. And then said smugly, ”“Look, I’ve got you over a barrel. You can’t sell that lot to anyone else and you can’t build on it. So there’s my offer. Take it or leave it.”
The millionaire was livid. Within a few days, he hired an architect and a contractor to build one of the strangest houses ever conceived. It was only five feet wide and ran the full length of the property. The house was little more than a row of tiny rooms, each barely able to accommodate one piece of furniture.
The neighbors complained that the bizarre structure would blight the neighborhood, but city officials couldn’t find a code or regulation to keep it from being built. When it was finished, the millionaire moved into his uncomfortable and impractical house. He lived there until his death. The house, became known as “Spite House,” and still stands as a monument to one man’s resentment. (3)
You can respond to hurts with resentment but the only one you really make miserable or hurt is yourself.
A. Jesus tells us another way. He tells us to respond with the never ending sermon of God’s never ending love. Jesus tells us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you?” How in the world are we supposed to do that? The truth is, we can’t, by ourselves. But it IS possible through God’s grace. With the help of Christ we can respond with love.
I won’t lie to you, this is the hard stuff of our faith. It doesn't come easy. This isn't about changing lifestyles, this is about changing our hearts, which only comes through giving our heart to Christ. We can’t do this on our own, we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit when we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.
But then we are able to reconcile, redeem, love, care, forgive and be merciful in the most merciless situations. Then we make the Gospel alive. The incredible, life changing grace of Christ is able to work in our lives and the lives of others. We become a conduit of the never ending sermon of the power of God’s redeeming love.
B. Forgiveness isn’t pretending that nothing has happened. Nor is it pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. It isn’t forgetting what happened completely. And it isn’t starting over as though it never happened. Forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship. That’s what Jesus did for us.
And Jesus expects us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you?” because love and forgiveness are the only response that breaks the cycle of retaliation and resentment. Love and forgiveness are the only creative offensives against hatred, violence and destruction.
When the poet Edwin Markham reached the age of retirement, he discovered that his banker had defrauded him. Markham was ready to retire but because of the fraud was penniless. Needles to say, he was bitter. He was so bitter that he could no longer write poetry. He was obsessed with the evil perpetrated against him by a man he had thought was a friend.
One day he was sitting at his desk doodling, brooding about the man who had wronged him. Markham later testified that the Holy Spirit told him, “Markham, if you don’t deal with this thing, it is going to ruin you. You can’t afford the price you are paying. You must forgive that man.” The poet prayed, “Lord, I will, and I do freely forgive.” He says a miracle happened. The resentment was gone. The poetry flowed. He wrote his most famous poem:
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in! (4)
These words of Jesus are the Hard Stuff of our faith. They’re hard, but they’re not impossible when you have Christ in your heart. The Good News is that God IS merciful and forgiving. We’ve experieinced that. God doesn’t get even. God forgives. And as children of God we’re called to do the same.
You want a challenge for your life? Live the hard stuff of our faith. Preach a never ending sermon. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you?”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Dear Pastor, by Adler
2. Paul W. Powell, BASIC BIBLE SERMONS, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992), P. 84.
3. (Portland: Multnomah, 1989), p. 19.
4. Adrian P Rogers, MASTERING YOUR EMOTIONS, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1988).