Dear friends of Jesus Christ,
Here at VCRC, we understand ourselves to be a family. “Blessed by heritage and grace,” we say, “we are a family of inspired believers.”
Understanding the Church as family, is a metaphor that runs deep in the scriptures. In fact, in very real ways its more than just a metaphor.
Its starts with God himself. God reveals himself as “Father” and invites Jesus’s disciples to call him “our Father”.
And if God invites us to call him our Father, than that makes us his children. “Heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ.” That’s how Paul describes our adopted identity in the book of Romans.
Given this, its not surprising that the baptismal font and the Lord’s Supper table figure prominently in our life together. In baptism, the water breaks on our new birth into God’s family. And at the table, we eat and drink with our Father in the company of our brothers and sisters.
But while understanding the Church in familial terms is rich and accurate, sometimes I wonder if we’re a little selective in how we apply this in our life together.
I mean, here at VCRC we tend to highlight the belonging aspect of our identity as a family. Which is good. But what about the becoming aspect. What about the call to grow up in the faith; to become mature members of God’s household.
As a Father, I want my children to know that they belong. And so I tell them everyday that I am so glad that God placed them in our family and that I am so happy to be their dad.
But belonging isn’t my only goal as a Father. I also want my children to become mature. I want to teach them how to handle their tongues and bodies in appropriate ways. I want them, one day, to be able to hold down a job, to balance a budget, to be a good friend and a faithful spouse.
I can’t, of course, force this kind of maturity on my kids. But I can’t be passive about it either. I am an active participant in their character formation.
And the same is true for God. While nurturing our belonging, God is actively nurturing our becoming. He is an active participant in our character formation.
What is God’s goal for us? He wants us to be perfectly mature. Whole hearted in our love for God. And wholehearted in our love for neighbour—even when our neighbours happen to be our enemies.
“Be perfect, Jesus says.. as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This verse is totally bewildering, eh? I mean, maturity is one thing. But perfection. As perfect as God. How is this possible?
Part of the problem with this phrase is that the word “perfect” is not a perfect translation of the Greek word: Teleoi.
- Brought to its end, finished.
A few examples might help.
A teleoi tomato is red and juicy and ready to be picked. That’s a tomato in its completed state.
Steph Curry is a teleoi basketball player. Its not that he doesn’t make mistakes, its just that he’s an all around complete package. His shot. His defence. In the realm of basketball, Curry is perfectly mature.
In English, perfection is equated with being without fault or flawless. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here. He’s talking about wholeness. Maturity. Being what we were meant to be as God’s children.
Be whole, like God is whole.
Jesus has been encouraging us this direction for quite sometime now. In fact, for the last 7 Sundays, he’s been showing us what wholeness looks like in the community of faith.
Whole is the person who submits himself to the scriptures and lets Jesus be his guide in applying the scriptures. She is weeding out anger from her heart. He is fighting off lust like death. Whole is the community that protects the marriage relationship and seeks to be as faithful to each other as God is faithful to them. Their speech is simple. They mean what they say and they say what they mean, without need for oaths. And when someone slaps a mature member of God’s family on the cheek, they don’t repay evil with evil. But they seek to overcome evil with good.
And finally, a perfectly mature member of God’s family is able to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.
Wow! Love. Your. Enemies.
Love is a strong word. I can understand Jesus wanting us to respect our enemies. To be neighbourly towards them. But Love. Love is active. To love someone is to want and to work for that person’s good, without expecting anything in return.
Agape is the greek word used here. Which means that Jesus is talking about steady, loyal, sacrificial love. God’s love for the world is described as agape. “For God so “agape’d” the world that he sent his only son.”
“God demonstrated his ‘agape’ in this,” writes Paul. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Agape your enemies, says Jesus.
Its one thing to show steady, sacrificial love to your family and friends. That’s natural love. Its easy. Most of the time, you can count on them to return the favour.
Everyone in the human family is capable of this kind of love. But it takes a special kind of power and resolve to be able to show love to people who are out to take you down.
An enemy is not simply a random wrongdoer. This is someone who is consistently against you. The pestering is entrenched. And you have to deal with these people for an extended time.
Enemies come in all different forms. Some carry rifles, drive tanks, and represent an enemy ideology. Others pose less a of a danger to your physical life, but are a risk to your emotional or spiritual well-being. Maybe your enemy likes to hang out by your locker and he pesters you every day your at school. Or maybe your enemy is a toxic boss that makes every moment of your work-day a living hell.
In Jesus’ day, the enemies of Israel were the Romans. They walked over the promised land like they owned the place.
But worse then the Romans were the tax collectors. Tax collectors were traitors. They were Israelites who sold their soul to work for the Romans. So, for those of you who lived through WW2, the tax collectors would be like your neighbours who decided to side with the Germans. How did you feel about those kind of people?
Now imagine living on a shoe string budget, with barely enough money to put food on the table. And then a tax collector comes knocking at your door.
The Jews of Jesus day knew that they were supposed to love their neighbours. But their definition of neighbour was “other good Jewish people”. They couldn’t imagine loving oppressors or traitors.
But Jesus tells them otherwise. “I say to you…. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Be like your Heavenly Father towards them.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45
There’s an evenhandedness to God’s gracious way of dealing with the world. Some call it common grace. God causes the evil farmer’s crops to grow, just as he causes the Christian’s crops to grow. He keeps my heart beating, and he keeps my enemies’ heart beating.
Sometimes we wish that God would just eradicate the toxic people who make in this world miserable. And while its certain that judgement day does approach for the tyrants of this world, in the meantime, God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good.
If our Father in Heaven chooses to supply the wicked with daily bread, shouldn’t we, his children, do the same?
About 10 years ago, a French film came out entitled “Of God’s and Men” If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.
Of God’s and Men tells the story of 8 monks serving a muslim community in the North African country of Algeria.
The Christian monks have a great relationship with their muslim neighbours. They get invited to their parties, they have meals together. One of the monks, Father Luc, is a Doctor. And a few days a week, he runs a clinic in town to serve the villagers.
As the film progresses, we begin to hear rumours that a radical Islamic militant group is on the move. Most of the film captures the discernment process the monks undergo. We see how they submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We see them come to the conclusion that they need to stay at their post, in Algeria, and not flee back to France.
One day the Islamic militants arrive at the monestary. One of their own has been shot and is in need of medical attention.
Father Luc invites them in. He forces them to leave their guns at the door, but he invites them in. Then he proceeds to care for the man who has been shot. He pulls out the bullets. He dresses his wounds.
About a month later, the militants return to the monastery. But this time, they haven’t come for aid. They’ve come to arrest the monks, and to take them away. And the Monks are never seen again.
Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.
Sometimes we wonder…. Is that the best approach? Or the only approach to our enemies? What about justice? What about creating good boundaries? Is love for enemy the only mature response for a member of God’s household.
There are no doubt many complicated scenarios and situations that we could engage this morning.
Its safe to say that Jesus is not inviting us to become doormats. Having good boundaries with enemies is important too. Additionally, seeking justice is not always something that is opposed to love.
And yet, it is true, that the more one becomes whole in Christ, the more one becomes concerned with agape. And as the Spirit transforms our minds, we begin to see that there is no such thing as mere mortals. Everyone and everything is charged with value. And Christ came to put an end to the cycle of sin and violence and redeem it all.
The mature have a poise about them. A resolve deep down in their bones. It was formed in them by God himself. They remember that they too were once enemies of God. They remember the way that God showed agape love to them. How he sent his son. How they have been brought into God’s covenant family through grace alone.
When your standing neck deep in grace, it becomes easier to be gracious towards your enemy.
Like the gospel itself, this kind of love is a beautiful thing to behold. There is no power on earth that is greater than a display of love for one’s enemy.
Jim and Elizabeth Elliot met in Quito Ecuador. They were both missionaries there. They married in 1953 and were sent out to minister among the Huaoroni tribe not long after.
Jim was killed by Huaoroni warriors in 1955. Elisabeth was left behind with a 10 month daughter. What was she to do? Shake the dust off her feet and move back to the states.
No, in obedience to God, she stayed put. She befriended a few Huaoroni woman, learned the language, and spent another 5 years actively discipling people from that tribe.
With God’s love at work in her heart, she was able to love the people who killed her husband. They didn’t know what they were doing.
So… how do we do it? How do we love like this?
Well, its important to know that we can’t do it on our own. If your aim is to “Love your enemies” you will fall flat trying.
But if you make your home in Jesus, as Jesus makes his home in you. Jesus will reform you from the inside out. He will renovate your heart. And after a while, you’ll find yourself keeping in step with your Father in heaven.
And that’s a good and liberating place to be. I mean, its such an awesome experience to feel love for an enemy the first time. Its liberating. Now, instead of being consumed with hatred, you feel free from them.
Corrie Ten Boom talks about this feeling of freedom. There she was, after the war, face to face with one of the guards who oppressed her and her sister in a German concentration camp. He was holding out his hand, and asking for her forgiveness. She prayed for the power to forgive. And as she reached out her hand, she felt a release. She experienced the love of God flowing through her.
In moments like that, you experience more than just a release. You experience something like the pleasure of God. And there’s no greater experience for a son or daughter to have than to know that the Father is smiling upon you and is delighted with your work.
So actively living in communion with the triune God is essential. This is where the power comes from.
But it also comes from prayer.
From personal experience, I have found this to be quite simply amazing. If you’re having trouble loving someone, start praying for them.
I literally imagine the person in my mind. Then I start asking God to bless the socks off of them. I pray for their relationships, their work, their joy. I pray that they would come to experience the fullness of life with Christ in God.
Prayer can be a gateway towards love of enemy. But its also a sign that you do love them. You wouldn’t bring them to your Father in prayer, if you didn’t love them.
While love for enemies is important on the interpersonal level, its essential on the communal level. We cannot bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ by fighting holy wars. The Church has tried throughout the centuries, but it has been catastrophic. You can not win your enemy to the love of God while trying to fight them with the sword.
The battle is won through long-suffering love and love alone.
I pray that we may become perfectly mature members of God’s family on earth. Lord, empower us to love all, even our enemies, as you have first loved us.