Monday, July 10, 2006

Our behavior toward our enemies

Why do we find it so difficult to practice what we preach? We know, for example, that God has commanded us to love our enemies and we find it very easy to articulate this teaching to one another in the context of a Sunday School class or a Bible study. So why do we have trouble conducting our lives accordingly?

In fact, the contrast between what we ought to do and what we actually do has almost become a permanent illustration in our classes. How many times have we studied clear instructions from God’s Word and then used our own lives as an example of a failure in this regard?

“The Bible says be slow to anger,” we point out… right before admitting, “But hey, I’m the world’s worst at flying off the handle.”

This is usually said to a chorus of amens, and “me too, brother.”

We know what we ought to do, we recognize the failure on our part, we go about our business with no intention of changing, and then use our lives as an illustration again in next week’s lesson.

Repentance and obedience is not a matter of choice. We are to repent of our sins and we are to be obedient to God’s instructions for our lives. Our spiritual forefathers did not take these things lightly. Consider Ananias from Acts chapter 9.

The Lord spoke to him in a vision and told him that Saul of Tarsus was at the house of Judas on Straight Street in Damascus. The Lord further instructed him to go to Saul and place his hands on him to heal him of his blindness.

Seems like a reasonable task. Reasonable, that is, until you consider who Saul is. Saul was a Pharisee and a chief enemy of Christianity. He was responsible for arresting and imprisoning Christians. He stood by holding the coats while Stephen was stoned to death.

Now, there’s a good chance Ananias resented the things Saul had done and viewed him as unworthy of healing. There’s also a real good chance that he was reluctant to help Saul out of fear for himself. Ananias was a Christian and he knew Saul’s reputation.

Nevertheless Ananias was obedient. Saul, a wretched enemy of the Church, was saved by God’s grace and used of God as one of His chief apostles.

In a recent post I pointed out how we need to be praying for our enemies according to Christ’s instructions in Matthew chapter 5. I’m sure it’s a topic that has come up a number of times since September 11, 2001. I wonder how many of us have admitted we need to do this and then use ourselves as examples of not having done it. And if we haven’t prayed for our enemies, what has prevented us? Is it because deep down inside we don’t want God to convict them of their sin – kind of like Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because deep down inside he knew the Ninevites would heed God’s call and repent and Jonah didn’t want that?

May God keep us from such attitudes.

I recently read a story in World magazine about three terrorists who have been saved. They now travel preaching God’s Word. What an incredible testimony. Before God saved them they were bent on killing westerners for political and religious reasons. Now they are brothers in Christ.

Their conversion should prompt us to pray for those who call themselves our enemies – not begrudgingly but earnestly.

Their story made me think once again of an enemy turned brother. In Ephesians chapter 6 the apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].”

Ultimately those who call themselves our enemies are not our real enemies. They are merely the instruments of our real enemy. They are enslaved to their sinful nature and in desperate need of God’s grace…

…just like we once were.

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