Faith, Hope, Love

What if Christians actually lived the way Jesus commanded us to?

Love your enemy.

I’m afraid we’ve gotten a bad name, mostly because we haven’t been living the way Jesus told us to. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

What does it take to be like Christ? There are many verses in the Bible that instruct us on how we should live our lives. One of my favorites is Matthew 5, versus 38-48:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

These versus are easy to read, but hard to act out. Let someone slap me? Let someone sue me and give him more than what he asks for? Love people who hate me? Maybe I should bake two cakes for the gay couple who asks me for one. Jesus sets a high bar for his followers. I’m not perfect, far from, but I do try to be just a little bit better than the man I was yesterday. Everyday, just a little bit better. How important is love in being a better person? 1 Corinthians 13 explains further.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Without love, I am nothing. If we do all these acts without love, they are worthless. But how can I love someone who wants to do me harm? What kind of love is he talking about? The next few versus in 1 Corinthians 13 explain exactly what love is.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

This next year we are going to be electing a new President in the United States. Election seasons always bring with them divisiveness, but it feels to me like it’s gotten worse in the past few years. As a Christian I feel a certain pressure from other Christians to vote conservative, but when I consider the options I always go back to Jesus’ command to his followers to love each other, to love their neighbors, and to love their enemies. Paul expands on the idea in Romans 12.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Paul follows it up with a verse that I’ve taken to heart and try to live my life by:

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

So, I should love the people around me, say good things about people who are harsh with me, and live peacefully with everyone. Does that sound like the standard conservative rhetoric? Well, not to me.

But what if I’m really upset with someone? The world is going down the drain and everything I believe in this country is being questioned and I feel personally slighted. What then?

19 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.” 20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Never avenge myself. Even if I’ve been wronged, even if I’m put in a situation I don’t agree with, even if I’ve been slapped across the face. It’s not up to me to take an eye for an eye. The Bible very clearly says that is up to God.

On the matter of the clerk who took it upon herself to stop issuing marriage licenses. This is the test for determining where the motives of someones actions originate. Is what is done, done in love? Does the action adhere to the instructions from Jesus? Is it Christian to deny a gay couple a marriage license? If your action does not begin and end with love, but instead you are taking a small amount of vengeance out on someone you have perceived as wronging you, doesn’t that explicitly go against the plain teaching of the Bible?

The Bible explains to us how we should live our own lives. It does not tell us to judge everyone else on how they are not living up to God’s standard. Here’s news, no one is. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Christians, including myself, consider homosexual relationships a sin. But, we also consider cursing to be a sin. My understanding is that God does not rank sin, so mine is just as bad as anyone else. The occasional curse word that I might drop under stress is just as much an affront to God’s holiness as homosexuality.

The argument is not if homosexuality is wrong or not, it’s that each of us are at a different stage in our journey. Some of us are not saved yet and are living in darkness, some of us have been saved by faith in Jesus are are undergoing the slow, transformative process of sanctification.

I don’t think that what the clerk did was right, but I can’t judge her anymore than I can the couples she was denying marriage licenses to. All I can do is watch the world and wonder, what if we all lived the way Jesus told us to? What a magnificent world that would be. What if we could all act with selfless love towards one another? Perhaps, just maybe, Christians should be the light of the world, showing the amazing, transformative power of salvation though Christ. Maybe we could all do a little more of that and a little less judging.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of these is love.