Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
We are called to love our enemies. This is not something we can do on our own. It is a supernatural enablement given to Christians through the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. And the transforming work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in the finished, completed work of Christ.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus teaches about the nature and character of the transformed individual and community. In contrast to what the world would say about and act toward one’s enemy, Jesus teaches that his kingdom is marked by those who forgive others and love and pray for them.
In the Lord’s Model Prayer Jesus teaches his disciples to seek forgiveness but also to forgive those who have sinned against them: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). And even beyond forgiveness, Jesus spells out later that they are to love others, even enemies. One of the marks of this new community in Christ is that they not only love those who love them, but they love those who are not merely passive to them, but actively opposed to them. Jesus contrasts the response of the world with the Spirit-prompted response of his disciples (Matt 5:43-48).
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? "And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Many today refer to these passages of Scripture to claim that any view that affirms Jesus’ teaching here for the believer to forgive is inconsistent with an understanding of God who will not just forgive but requires something, and will respond to those unforgiven with wrath and retributive punishment. Not only is this inconsistent with an understanding of the truth that God is love, they claim, but he is inconsistent in that he asks of us to do what he does not do himself. It is a case of the creator of the universe saying to his created beings, “do as I say, not as I do.” This is, I believe, the view of those who claim to have a more sanitized, reasonable view of God, who is in our image. I would also add that those who espouse this view have not likely experienced atrocities committed against them.
There is also a group that finds no place for forgiveness, but rather lives with a persistent need to get even. Often what happens is that there are religious, political or ethnic groups that shift in the balance of power. When one is in power they treat those subservient poorly and often make them suffer. When the tables are turned, and the once subservient is now the one in power, they will return in kind what they experienced at the hands of those once in power.
And the cycle continues. How would that cycle stop?
The only way ultimately is through the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. His life and ministry centered on bringing vertical peace between God and man, and horizontal peace between one another. At his birth the angels celebrated with “peace on earth” (Lk. 2:14). When he died on the cross he made peace (Eph. 2:14-16), so that some of the first words he spoke after the resurrection were “peace be with you” (Jn. 20:21). And those who are now justified have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This is his ministry begun and will be brought to a conclusion. We have peace, albeit in places and imperfectly, and will have peace that will not end, but that will not happen until the end – the return of the Lord Jesus.
The only way penultimately is through forgiveness, which evidences now in the present an end-time community created by God and justified through faith in Christ. Not only can we forgive, we can love. And the reason we do these things is because we have been and are being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Based on the new life he has given us we have the strength to do what we could not do on our own. It is a supernatural response. Furthermore, we can live this way and not take matters into our own hands because we can trust God to do what is just. He will ultimately and finally do what is just and right.
Yesterday we read Jesus’ words (Matt. 5:43-48). Today we hear from Paul (Rom. 12:17-21):
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Because of what God has done in Christ, we can forgive and we can love. We do not respond to evil by being evil or getting even, but we overcome, not only respond to, evil with good. We can do this because of our new life in Christ and our trust in God and his promise. He will address this and he will do so much better than we ever could. We are to “leave it to the wrath of God,” because the Lord says, "vengeance is mine, I will repay."
God will right the wrongs. It is his promise. This does not make God inconsistent. It means he will address it perfectly, which means we do not have to address it. It does not have to be addressed twice, once by us and once by God. Once by God is sufficient. This frees us to love God and others without anger, wrath or malice. Will we trust him?