LOVE YOUR ENEMIES – An Impossible Demand?
Here we are continuing the eye-opening and challenging study of John Piper’s book – What Jesus Demands of the World. We are making slow progress (2-3 chapter per week), but we are passed the half point (we are on demands 30 and 31 of a total of 50).
Since Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) he can make the demands that He wants to – despite the rebellious spirit and the revolt of the modern man.
He not only demands what He wants, but He demands the impossible. The impossibility of Jesus’ demands is seen most clearly in the demand to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:29-35 etc.).
So we read the verses and we know that Jesus demands that we love our enemies: that we turn the other cheek, that we do good and lend expecting nothing in return, and that we pray from the heart for those who persecute us while at the same time forgiving them.
Anyone can see that these demands are extremely difficult. For a selfish man (like me) who many times does not find the time and will to love the ones close to me (the so-called “neighbor”), to love one’s enemies seems impossible. And it is.
John Piper wisely discusses this demand and the actions that are supposed to flow from this (forgive, do good, pray etc), and recognizes that these are not absolute commands. This does not mean that these commands should not be fulfilled “literally” at times, but we have to understand that the illustrations that Jesus gives are “not the only way love acts in response to the situations described.”
There are many times when “doing good” for someone will not include everything he asks for (e.g. an addict asking for money to buy drugs etc.). In other words – Jesus’ commands are like the commands of Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. It is not enough to know them, you must know when to apply them (see Proverbs 26:7 and 9).
However, when we know that we have to apply this demand and how to apply it – where do we find the power necessary to fulfill it? Is it in us, in all human beings? NOT at all – as the history of the human race amply proves it. It is not in the unregenerate human being who is characterized by selfishness and self-centeredness. But it is (should be) in the person who is born again – in the Christian who is born of the Father.
Piper makes the following useful observations: “I cannot escape the implication that behind and within these commands is the demand to be radically free from the love of money and from the need of earthly security and honor…all of these things imply that your treasure and security and your honor are in heaven and not on earth. Jesus has become for you all satisfying…Jesus is calling for a change of heart that looks to Jesus and His reward rather than what the world can give.”
How can we love like this? Where does power like this come from?
Piper recognizes the following source for this amazing power: The power comes from the Father. Fruit (love is a fruit of the Spirit) bearing is possible only if you are part of the true vine which is Jesus Christ.
You show that you are a child of God by loving your enemies. It is possible to love your enemy because the Father is in you and enables you to do good works. If that is not the case, it is legitimate to ask yourself if you are a true Christian (‘son of the Father’).
It is also legitimate to say that the “Christian” who acts in an unloving manner is not a true child of God.
Interwoven with this empowerment is the promise of a “great reward” in the life to come (Lk 6:35). Thus, the joy that sustains us is also based on the inheritance that is secure for the children of God (for “sons are heirs”).
The third truth that should enable us to love our enemies is connected with the other two (Lk 6:36): Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Since we received freely God’s grace (we did not earn it), we are called to give (ourselves) freely, enabled by the power of God which works in us.
So help us God!