Sunday, September 3, 2017

A higher standard of loving

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian lady who helped save the lives of dozens of persecuted Jews during WW2. In 1944 the Nazis arrested her whole family. Her elderly father died ten days later and two of her siblings were released, but at the age of fifty-two Corrie, along with her sister Betsie, ended up at the German concentration camp in Ravensbruck.

Brutal prison guards and cruel nurses experimented on and tortured the women until Betsie died. Two weeks later Corrie was released due to a clerical error by the administrators.

Part of Betsie’s legacy she left her sister were these profound words:

There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

After her release Corrie struggled to know if she would ever be able to forgive her captors for their unspeakable malevolence. But a mere three years later one of the former guards from Ravensbruck met her and asked her outright to forgive him for his part in her suffering.

Corrie was understandably extremely reluctant, but in that very moment, she prayed for God to help her to love her enemy as Christ had loved his torturers. She wrote:

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

God gave Corrie several other opportunities to prove her Christlike love. She tells of a time she was speaking and spotted a woman in the audience who was the nurse who had been particularly cruel to Betsie. She felt a surge of hatred and bitterness welling up in her and immediately recognized that she had not forgiven this enemy. But she prayed for God’s love to conquer the vengeance she felt. She approached the woman and shared the gospel with her. The nurse was overcome by the kindness she witnessed and that night a former captive led her former captor to a decision that would make the angels sing.

Is that otherworldly species of godliness extraordinary, or is it simply normal Christianity?

Here are three actions for a forgiven believer to raise their standard of loving …

  1. Expand your love

Luke 6:27-29 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Everybody loves. We all have a circle of love—some circles are tighter than others. There are always people in your life that you love more than other people. You love your spouse and kids more than your friends, whom you love more than strangers, whom you love more than enemies. The command we encounter in this text is to expand the circle of our love till it envelopes all these camps. Even the one furthest away: enemies.

I know what you’re thinking: “This blog doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have enemies.” But the word “enemy” refers not only those trying to harm you but to any hostility or relational tension that exists between people permanently or temporarily.

Anyone that makes you feel tense and uncomfortable when you see them or think of them might qualify in that moment as someone you don’t love like Christ loved his enemies. An ex-husband perhaps? Or his new wife? A backstabbing colleague-turned-rival at work? An offensive family member you are not on speaking terms with? The smug building contractor who swindled you out of a small fortune?

Jesus stretches the circle of your love from four directions to expand your love. These four corners of your world of love are: what you feel (love your enemies), what you do (do good to those who hate you), what you say (bless those who curse you) and for whom you pray (pray for those who abuse you).

Part of loving your enemy is to view no one as an enemy, but everyone as an image-bearer of God in desperate need of salvation.

But agape love isn’t just an attitude…to do good is to actively pursue what is inherently beneficial for someone else. To love your enemy is not only to feel benevolence toward them but to act on it in a way that does them good.

Love is Jesus healing the ear of Malchus, who came to arrest him.

Love is David telling his soldiers to deal gently with Absalom, who was violently overthrowing David’s government.

To bless someone is to say something that wishes them well. The world would say when someone curses you it is acceptable to retaliate in kind, or at least hold your tongue and say nothing. But Jesus says “Bless those who curse you,” i.e. say something kind.

And a good way to extend love to your enemies is to include them in your prayer life. (And I don’t mean an imprecatory psalm.) When you pray for an enemy, you find it increasingly difficult to hate them, retaliate against them, curse them, or want harm for them. Your prayers guide your actions and attitudes.

In every case that Corrie ten Boom encountered an enemy that she wanted to forgive she began by praying for them.

So expand the circle of your love to include your enemies, this proves that you have understood the gospel.

 

  1. Exceed your enemy

Luke 6:32-33 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

Nobody thinks of themself as the bad guy. Even sinners think they are loving because they love their friends and family. Even Nazis help other Nazis.

Is it fair to say that as a Christian you should have a goal higher than the standard of love of a Nazi?

Exceed your enemies in their standard of loving by loving them. This proves salvation.

 

  1. Emulate your Father

Luke 6:35-36 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The reason you need to exceed your enemies’ level of love is that you are like your Father.

What is your reaction when a lady takes your parking spot, or a driver curses you on the road, or you see the builder who swindled you in need of jumper-cables for his dead car battery? Is your instinct to rally to say something nice, help them, or pray for them?

That is a sign of salvation. That is a test of your nature. If you are a son of the Most High God you will exhibit his nature. God is kind to ungrateful and evil people, so your kindness to those who hate you proves your sonship.

But don’t be discouraged! Our salvation does not depend on how well we love our enemies. Jesus saves us and gives us a new nature, like his. So if you are God’s child you will see a growing desire to love like this.

If you have no desire for God’s standard, if you have no wish to change, that is when you need to be troubled. That might mean that you are not a child of God and do not have his nature. Then you need to turn to him in repentance and trust in the work of Jesus on the cross for you.

But if you are a child of God, then this week expand your circle of love to include those who hate you, curse you and abuse you. Exceed your enemies by loving in a way different from the world of unbelievers. And emulate your Father, it is his nature to love the unlovely, and it is now your nature too. So act like it, and enjoy a higher standard of loving.



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