I recently finished reading the textbook for a lay speaking class I'm taking this weekend. The class is called, "Lay leaders lead bible study." I have to take a class at least once every three years to maintain my certification. The classes have always been extremely good. I like them because they not only make me a better lay leader in the church (I hope). But they make me a better person as well.
The textbook is called, "Introducing the Bible," by William Barclay. What a read! This book answered so many questions I've had about the bible over the years and really cleared some things up. At the same time, it made my daily scripture readings much more personal and meaningful than they ever have been.
I could write another 6-part series and bore you to death, but I'll try very hard to focus on just one thing. Jesus' command for us to love our enemies.
The textbook got into some really nasty scripture verses in the ancient history of the old testament. Bitter rivalries and feuds would occur just because of an insult or something trivial. It's like if you would call someone a dummy, they would retaliate and kill not just you but maybe your spouse, children, and even your livestock if they wanted to be really vicious. Then your family would have to avenge in turn with even more dramatic consequences. These feuds would last for generations until no one remembered why the fight started in the first place.
God didn't care for this so much so he initiated the "eye for an eye" method. If you poked someones eye out, accidentally or intentionally, they got to poke your eye out. If you killed someone, I'm sorry to say your life would be forfeit as well. This still sounds rather bloody but if you take it in context, you have to admit, it's a lot better than the family feuding. Once equal damage had been delivered the matter was considered closed. Justice was served. The generational wars didn't happen as often.
Then Jesus comes along and tells us now we have to love our enemies. Talk about a huge, ginormous, cultural shift from the eye for an eye method. You may begin to see why this message shocked the world so much back then. It was a very different way of life than the people had been used to. I can just see someone raising their hand to ask a question, "Excuse me, teacher, I have to turn my other cheek and let them slap that too? Can't I just give them a good pinch and call it good?"
No, I'm afraid not. Loving our enemies can be extremely hard to do. I am lousy at this. Especially when I get behind the wheel. It would seem everyone is now my enemy when they prevent me from making it to my destination on time, or cut me off unnecessarily. Another peeve of mine is people who don't practice good coffee making etiquette at work. It's such a simple rule, "If you drink it, make it."
I was a spectator at a Toastmasters competition awhile back. The event was impromptu speaking. You are given a quote and you have a couple seconds to respond with up to a 2-minute comment. The quote for that event was when Abe Lincoln apparently said, "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer."
It is words like these that put Lincoln in my top 3 list of favorite presidents. I was reminded of the Toastmasters event because my textbook also quoted Lincoln. Towards the end of the Civil War, he stressed kind and respectful treatment of the southern states. He was rebuked by his supporters as to why he was being so nice to the enemy.
Lincoln's response was, "do I not effectively get rid of my enemies when I make them my friends?"
I believe Lincoln understood the wisdom behind loving your enemies. My number one commentator on this blog says I've now gone from preaching to meddling. Yes I have. But I'm also meddling with myself as well. "Love your enemies" is arguably the most difficult command Jesus has given us. Some people seem impossible to love. My good commentator said he thinks he's over something only to have the old wound re-opened in a different way. I am extremely familiar with old wounds being re-opened. There are times I truly stink at being nice to people, enemies or not.
However, the value lies in the attempt at loving and forgiveness, whether or not we are successful is not as important as the act of at least trying.
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26 (NIV)
Wish me luck at my class this weekend.