MATTHEW 5:44 - Berean Lamp Memory Verse - (Aug 28-Sep 4)
The Berean Lamp Memory Verse for this week is:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
We're continuing our study of how the Church is a societal hedge or foundation for a free and just society. This week, we're looking at how Jesus' injunction for us to "love our enemies" has a powerful dampening effect on society's propensity to oscillate out of control from tribe against tribe, grudge against grudge, maliciousness to maliciousness, and violence against violence. Christ's injunction is the wisdom of God to ensure liberty and justice for all people (good and bad) in a community, and it is an expression of His own character to the world, in that He gives everyone the physical benefits of light, and life, and rain - as well as the universally accessible life and light of eternal life through the Gospel.
So, practically, how is it that Christianity is responsible for free societies? Well, in pagan societies, enemies were treated differently than friends or even neutral parties. So, You might lie to them and use deception (because they aren't like you and they don't tell the truth either), you might raid their village (because they raided yours once upon a time), you might steal their stuff (because they stole your stuff a while back), and you might kill them (because once upon a time, they killed some of your ancestors). After all, they aren't from your group, club, or tribe.
No progress can come to a society built on this model, because there can be no trust as there are no universally established rights. Justice becomes a nebulous and fluid fantasy as ancient crimes are dredged up as justification for any infringing rights, atrocities, and genocide.
The overriding moderating principle in a Christian community is that God is in control - he will administer perfect judgment when the time is right, and we will wait on Him for that administration rather than attempting to seek our own form of justice against our "enemies." And we are encouraged to be patient with our "enemies," for we were all at one time enemies of God and our fellow man before we became Believers. We should have grace and desire reconciliation, not revenge, just as our heavenly Father does with His enemies, and we should desire His ministry of reconciliation because they are exactly like we were - enemies of God.
As a practical example, in America, after the American Revolution, everyone (even those who had fought against Independence) were granted citizenship with all its rights, including the right to speak freely and bear arms. That is a practical expression of Jesus' commandment, applied in wisdom to moderate resentments and dampen out the harm from the war. This is a unique expression in the history of the world. Most nations in our past would have enslaved, punished, or wiped out their enemies. But hearts that desire reconciliation show love, even to their enemies, and that goes a long way to engendering peace in society.
History has shown us that the more Biblical Christian values are encouraged, practiced, and integrated into the practical governance and cultural values of a society, the more just, open, and free a society becomes. That is the legacy of the Christian tradition of western civilization. Christians who practice their faith in a society (and non-Christians who respect the teachings of Jesus) are the only thing keeping societies from becoming brutal in their foreign policy and cruelly dominating in their domestic policy.
Unfortunately, there are very powerful forces at work in the world today trying to raise up the ghost of paganism into our culture again and drive factions and groups to demonize and dehumanize each other, resulting in justifications for the worst kinds of societal unrest and violence. We must testify against this dangerous and evil work being wrought in our neighborhoods and hold fast in the convictions of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ to even "pray for those who hate you." Foremost, we should never cease in witnessing to His saving Gospel, which is man's only offer of reconciliation to God - offered freely to all His vilest enemies while the time allows. And it is salvation by the Gospel that truly makes the practical expression of loving your enemies possible.
May we always seek to better understand the wisdom of our Heavenly Father and the good things He has given us in salvation, spiritual truths, knowledge, wisdom, and in practical expressions of His nature, which make our lives and the lives of those around us more representative of His faithful and loving character.
Other verses to consider:
“Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent” (Matthew 5:25-26).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
“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, so 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9).
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:1-10).
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:18-20)
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11).