At one time or another I think most people been picked on, made fun of, singled out, bullied, or even persecuted for something. It happens for various reasons and for no reason at all, but it does happen. It may be happening to you right now at work, at school, or in your community. I’ve been there. It’s not fun or easy to just forgive or forget.
When I was in high school, there was a guy that was the poster child for bullying. If you looked up bully in the dictionary, his picture was there. He was mean to everyone, but particularly to people that were smaller and weaker. Unfortunately, I had gym class and I played football with him. The position I played in football made it really easy for him to torment me on a play-by-play basis. He would even grin at me before he ran over me. After each play he would chuckle as he went back to the huddle. I was afraid of him and I’m sure he could sense it. Sure there were times in football practice that I would be so mad that I would hit him with everything I had, but it wasn’t enough to level the playing field or get his attention. I won’t use his name, but he became an enemy or “a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something”, and that something or someone was me.
I know it wasn’t personal, but it felt very personal at the time. I started dreading gym class and football practice. I even quit football after my sophomore season because of him. The only reason I came back for football my junior year was because he got kicked out of school for various things, including fighting. I think they actually moved away, so I was relieved, but it didn’t erase the negative feelings I had towards him. I don’t know if I hated him, but sometimes I would think about what it would be like to get even, to give him what he deserved for all the pain and anguish he caused me. I was a Christian but I certainly wasn’t applying Jesus words to “love my enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Loving enemies goes way beyond loving your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40)because it’s exponentially more difficult. It requires a depth of love that is seldom seen in our world. One of our most basic instincts is to hold on to negative feelings towards those who have hurt us. Again, it is hard to forgive or forget.
Jesus was willing to go beyond just loving those who were “easy to love” to loving even His enemies. He was willing to not only forgive, but also cancel out the offense or the wrong that was inflicted on Him. Even in the midst of His horrific suffering at the hands of His persecutors, Jesus asked his Father (God) to “forgive them for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34 KJV) “Father, don’t hold what they are doing to me against them”. That level of love and forgiveness is unimaginable. Jesus doesn’t just tell us, He shows us how to do it.
“6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8 NIV
I may not have been there to persecute and crucify Jesus, but there is still blood on my hands. My sins, actions, and disobedience to God played a part in Jesus death and persecution. It wouldn’t have happened had mankind or I had never sinned. The sin that we were “powerless” to stop sent Jesus to the cross. Therefore my sin made me an enemy of God. Let me elaborate a little more on what makes us an enemy of God, and why what Jesus did is so significant and amazing.
“7The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8 NIV
The King James Version of the Bible in verse 7 says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The definition of “enmity” is “the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something”, which is virtually identical to our definition for enemy. Jesus had plenty of enemies, which included religious leaders and His archenemy, the devil. Jesus describes the devil, Satan, as an enemy of God in Matthew 13. In Matthew 16:23 Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus didn’t just rebuke Peter. He gave him the same name as His archenemy. “Peter, you are acting like my enemy, the devil.” Ouch! I’ve been called bad things but Satan is not one of them. What was Peter doing that was so bad? Well, Jesus had just told the disciples that He would be persecuted, die, and rise from the dead. All Peter said was, “No Lord, it’s not going to happen if I have anything to do with it”. Was Peter’s desire for Jesus to remain alive worthy of this kind of rebuke? Was he really trying to disrupt God’s plan?
We have to understand that anything that gets in the way of God’s plan or what“concerns” Him is a problem. In this context, it’s sin. The Greek word for “stumbling block” in this verse is σκάνδαλον or “skandalon”, which means a snare, bait for a trap, an offense, cause for error, or scandal. Setting traps is what enemies do. I don’t know whether that was Peter’s intention, but Jesus certainly interpreted it that way. Jesus refers to Peter as Satan, a stumbling block, and at that moment an enemy. “Peter you’re trying to set a trap for me. What you are doing is an offense or sin against me.” It doesn’t get a whole lot worse than that.
Does that mean that Jesus didn’t love Peter? Of course not, even after Peter denied Jesus three times, which in my mind is way worse than what he did in Luke 16:23, and yet Jesus forgave Him and put him in charge of building His church. It wasn’t Peter; it was his sin that was the enemy of God. Jesus makes the distinction in Luke 16:23 between the “concerns of God” and “merely human concerns”. There is a difference between what Paul calls the “realm of the flesh” or sin and the realm of the spirit or what pleases God. The Sin is God’s enemy and it’s why Jesus had to die. God loves us, but He hates the sin that we commit. Unfortunately we do sin and that puts us in opposition to God’s plan or what “concerns” Him.
This is the beauty and hope of the Gospel. “While we were still sinners or engaged in enemy behavior, Jesus died for us.” While we were living in sin, opposition, hostility, or enmity towards Him, He paid the price for our forgiveness anyway. Love doesn’t get much greater than that.
A couple of years ago I was trolling, I mean looking around on Facebook, and I found my old high school bully. I remember even feeling some of those old hurts rising to the surface. I clicked on his profile expecting him to be the same guy, but I was surprised to learn from some of his posts that he had become a Christian. Part of me was like, “no way”, once a bully always a bully, right? It almost didn’t seem fair. “Great, now I have to really love this guy”. Truth is I should have loved him and others like him whether they found God or not.
“13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV), and following Jesus’ example our enemies too.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.