Loving Your Enemies

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

To live under the cross means that every aspect of our lives is shaped and colored by it. We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2) and exercise relationships as Jesus did.

Conciliation and Discipline: we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). Peacemaking can never be a unilateral activity; live at peace with everyone is qualified by two conditions, “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18).

Jesus was determined to make peace with us, his enemies who had rebelled against him, he made peace through the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20). If we are the offender, there is:

  1. Humiliation in apologizing.
  2. Deeper humiliation in making restitution where possible.
  3. Deepest humiliation in confessing the deep wounds we have caused will take time to heal and cannot be lightly forgotten.

The incentive in peacemaking is love, but it denigrates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. The two powerful cries of a child are “nobody loves me” and “it’s not fair” since their sense of love and justice come from God. Here are the stages of reconciliation:

  1. Private: one-to-one confrontation with the offender, and if he listens, he will be won over.
  2. Take several others in a rebuke: if not the actual offense, perhaps the confrontation in stage one.
  3. To the church: if he will not listen, it goes to the community of faith; a third chance to repent.
  4. It is only here, if he does not repent, that excommunication is allowed.

Christian Attitudes Toward Evil: does the cross commit us to a non-violent acceptance of all violence? Does it invalidate the process of justice and the so-called “just war?” Does it prohibit the use of any kind of force so that it would be incompatible for a Christian to be a policeman, soldier or prison guard? How did we respond to divine mercy? (Note the resemblance to our September r12 emphasis).

  1. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).
  2. We are to think of ourselves with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
  3. We are to love each other by employing gifts (Romans 12:4-13, 15-16).
  4. We are to bless our persecutors and do good to our enemies (Romans 12:14, 17-21).

How do we react to persecutors and enemies? The Romans 12-13 has several directions:

  1. Evil is to be hated: hate what is evil, cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
  2. Evil is not to be repaid: don’t repay evil with evil, do what is right in the eyes of everyone (Romans 12:17, 19). Revenge and retaliation are forbidden. The sermon on the mount is pretty clear (don’t resist and evil person). Peter on Jesus (1 Peter 2:23), he did not retaliate while suffering.
  3. Evil is to be overcome: don’t be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Heaping burning coals is not retaliation, but a figure of speech to cause him shame. When we retaliate with evil, evil increases in the world; our desire is to decrease the amount of evil in the world.
  4. Evil is to be punished: he (the government) is God’s servant to do good, an agent of wrath to punish evil doers (Romans 12:17, 19, 13:4). It is God prerogative to punish, not ours. Law enforcement is God’s servant to carry out justice.

Retaliation is not wrong, since evil deserves to be punished, should be punished, and in fact will be punished. Jesus said each person will be judged according to his deeds (Matthew 16:27). Peter tells us that Jesus entrusted himself to the one who will judge (1 Peter 2:23).

Authority of the State: the Christian attitude should be one of balance, avoiding extremes, embracing critical respect. In each stated point, the state is limited in its authority.

  1. The origin of its authority is God (Romans 13:1, 4, 6): three times Paul asserts the state’s authority. Despite the defects of the Roman government, Paul declares its authority and ministry of be God’s. The state must be respected as a divine institution, but to give it blind allegiance would be idolatry. The early believers would not say that “Caesar is lord.”
  2. The purpose God gives authority is to reward good and punish evil (Ephesians 1:21-22, Romans 13:3-4): Most governments tend to be better at the latter than the former; law enforcement is stronger than positive encouragement.
  3. The means by which the state’s authority is exercised must be as controlled as its purposes are discriminate (Romans 13:4): to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, coercion is often used. Authority implies power and we have to distinguish between violence and force. The state can exercise capital punishment and make war. The state has the power to stop evil-doers; punishing aggressors who threaten it from outside, and punish criminals who threaten it from the inside.
  4. The due recognition of the state’s authority is laid down (Romans 12:1, 2, 5, 6, 1 Peter 2:13, 1 Timothy 2:1-2). There are limits to our submission to the state (Revelation 12).
    1. Suppose the state misuses its God-given authority and promotes evil and suppresses good?
    2. Suppose the state ceases to protect people and begins to oppress them?

The apostle gives no room for totalitarian rule. Even Daniel practiced civil disobedience, as well as Peter and John. If the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, we disobey the state in order to obey God. We respect the state but we do not worship it.

Overcoming Evil with Good: evil is to be repaid but not repaid (depending on the agent). How can evil be overcome (Romans 12:21) and also punished (Romans 13:4)? The difference is between pacifists and war theorists.

  1. Just war theorists tend to concentrate on the need to resist and punish evil.
  2. Pacifists tend to concentrate on overcoming evil with good, and forget that evil must be punished.

Christians need to look beyond defeat and surrender of the national enemy to its repentance and rehabilitation; a politics of redemption and forgiveness.

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