When I volunteered in 2016 to start writing blogs for Grace Church, shrinking the credibility gap was a huge calling for me. It has remained a significant motivating factor in my blogging up until now, as we revisit the topic in our current sermon series entitled The Credibility Gap.
Pastor Barry Rodriguez mentioned in his opening sermon about Hypocrisy vs. Love that a common perception about Christians is that they can be hypocritical. Critics claim that Christians often say they believe certain things, but then they don’t live into those beliefs—such as following the teachings of Jesus regarding love for enemies.
And man, I get it. I’ve spent a lot of time in contemplation about what it means to love our enemies. A while back, those prayers rendered some fruitful results when I wrote about Forgiving, Serving and Loving Our Enemies and Why Serving Our Enemies is so Difficult. Yet I still haven’t stopped wrestling with these lessons, especially in light of the tremendous tension we’ve all experienced in the past year.
Jesus told us to love our enemies, we know this. But what else is there to discover? What did Jesus learn from the Scriptures regarding enemies that brought him the insight to drop this mind-bender on us in his teachings?
Some Old Testament wisdom that comes to mind is from the stories about and teachings of Solomon. In Proverbs 16:7, Solomon wrote, “When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them.” Jesus would have learned from 2 Chronicles 1:11 that Solomon had asked God for wisdom and knowledge to properly govern God’s people instead of asking for the death of his enemies, and God seemed pleased with the request. This certainly points to peace being God’s intent.
Skimming the Old Testament, it’s easy to see that God interacted with Israel on several occasions regarding tribes who opposed them. Many passages mention that God gave Israel rest from their enemies. Having enemies can be exhausting, am I right? Imagine what Jesus may have gleaned as he meditated on these Scriptures. Might he have come to the conclusion that the human response regarding enemies was largely predictable and God was able to consistently motivate or influence Israel by promising to deliver them safely from their enemies? Do you think Jesus noticed the massive amount of time and energy Israel spent in misery, apprehension or anguish regarding their enemies, and how those issues often instigated their rebellions against God? Enemies seem to pose a major distraction for God’s people in these stories.
The prophets also offered up a ton of material for Jesus to study regarding enemies. Consider this excerpt from Hosea 7:13-16:
I wanted to redeem them,
but they have told lies about me.
They do not cry out to me with sincere hearts.
Instead, they sit on their couches and wail.
They cut themselves, begging foreign gods for grain and new wine,
and they turn away from me.
I trained them and made them strong,
yet now they plot evil against me.
They look everywhere except to the Most High.
They are as useless as a crooked bow.
Their leaders will be killed by their enemies
because of their insolence toward me.
Israel became more vulnerable to their enemies when they turned away from God. I wonder if Jesus was recalling Scripture such as this as he wept upon his entry into Jerusalem, exclaiming in Luke 19:44 that, “Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
Even more heartbreaking is the realization that our enemies are often people we are close to and even love. This would have been especially true for Jesus as he was likely haunted by this premonition from Psalm 55:
It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.
I imagine the pain of this truth weighed heavily on his heart when Jesus warned us about this, quoting from Micah 7:6, “Your enemies are right in your own household!” All of the enemies opposing Jesus were from his own household, and he loved them each dearly.
This. This is why Jesus insists that we love our enemies. This is why we are supposed to wrestle with this lesson until we gain that understanding.
The apostles must have wrestled with this lesson, enough that Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians that humans actually aren’t the enemies, and God provides us the armor we need to stand against the real enemy. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
Wrestling with this truth to wring the understanding out of it is part of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything we own to follow Jesus, including the prideful grudges we sometimes hold against our fellow humans. This adversity is not the armor of God, but rather it is a tool thrusted at us by the real enemy—who pounces on every chance to enlist us to fight in foolish battles on his behalf.
But it can be incredibly difficult to resist the urge to jump in on those battles. It’s human nature to defend ourselves when we feel our character is being attacked, to debate or rebuke others when we judge them to be wrong, and to fight back when we sense what we believe to be a threat. What, then, is a practical way to take a step back from these heated situations to give ourselves a proper opportunity to contemplate the godly response? What can we do to help ensure we’re not fanning those flames of adversity among the people in our own households—our own friends and family?
I think there’s something practical we can do. I believe we can commit to adopting the anti-adversarial attitude of, "I am not against you." We can work to put on this attitude each and every time we feel that heat of adversity rising within our bodies, tempting us to go to battle. Whether we figuratively whisper it as a reminder to ourselves or we literally speak it to the person in front of us in the moment, putting on this attitude is how we tell the real enemy that we’re not going into his battle this time.
I am not against you.
Committing to this attitude gives us the space to sort out the situations when we’re being duped into spending our time and energy on purposes that are not in line with God’s. It might afford us a little peace among those who have stepped in as our enemies. It might serve as the light that shines on a path toward common ground with those we’ve previously engaged in disagreements. Over time, it may just be a tool we can use to build bridges that help others move past the credibility gap. Committing to this attitude might even bring us closer to the heart of Jesus. Perfecting this attitude might be the way that we walk together with everyone from our own household to the house of God, not as enemies, but as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am not against you.