“Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans (the tax collectors) do the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans (tax collectors) do so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
Christ’s teachings on love crack like a whip. The snap of the lash to our conscience has to do with loving the people you normally cannot stand the most. The sad truth is that we already have a hard enough time staying in love with the people we usually agree with. How many people (like myself) who claim to be ministers of the Good News of sacrificial love and unconditional forgiveness, fail in even loving their own Christian brothers and sisters — let alone those who disagree with Christ’s teachings.
To be blatantly transparent, I struggle, daily, in loving my wife and children in true, sacrificial ways. I also struggle, daily, to love my Christian brothers and sisters. The sad reality is that, apart from being graced to pray for the grace of love, I am one of the most miserable curs alive. I am always complaining, on the outside or on the inside, about helping with the dishes, the laundry, the lawn, the recycling, picking up after the kids or God knows what. And, as far as loving the people at church? Well, ask my wife how much I grumble and rumble about “so and so” that “drives me nuts”. If you truly do not struggle in this way, God bless you so much — you are a rare gift of grace, and I would love to meet you, because I need more of what you have got.
Still, I have discovered, much to my inner angst, that Jesus’s teaching about really loving, really blessing and really praying for people whom we disagree with the most, just will not go away. This command, to truly and actively care the most for the people you will always disagree with the most, is so far beyond the range of my own ability, that, apart from the sheer miraculous gift of God’s grace to my shriveled soul, I, literally, am ashamed to even read it. For normally, and usually, I am only willing to show any love, at all, to those others whom I secretly think will be willing to “come around” to my own personal way of thinking. It is quite, pathetic.
In the end, I can only see, by grace, two options. I continue, in my own human capacities, to love like I normally do — and to forever question if that was “real love” at all. Or I can be graced with a grace of God, a grace that, in spite of my pathetic limitations, lifts my soul, gifts my soul, with His sacrificial love, a love that conquers all sins, love that lays down itself, so that its enemies have a bridge to walk on, “love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. … Love that never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13)
I, by utter grace alone have discovered a bizarre irony. As I naturally become more miserable with age, I am, ironically, being graced to pray daily to really and truly love the people I disagree with the most. And not with that conditional “hidden hitch”, that there must first exist a detectable willingness to eventually share in my own convictions.
I, by sheer grace, want what the Holy Spirit desires to birth in my soul — a sacrificial love that actively loves the people I most disagree with the most of all.
Ron Benty is the pastor of the Wynndel Community Church.