Love, The Practicable Response of Believers

This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Irina Ratushinskaya (from Russia, imprisoned for seven years in a labor camp), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. (Luke 6:28)

Almost every demand from Christ seems impracticable. If we, however, want to follow the Lord, then there is no other way. More than once I experienced this from the KGB prisons.

The response of the world to the tormentors of the KGB is hatred, and every hour, the KGB gives more reasons to hate them. But I soon noticed that if I hated them as well, I would be eaten up from within. I have seen fellow prisoners so filled with hatred that they lost their mind and so destroyed their personality. And that's exactly what the KGB wants.

How should we as Christians control these feelings? Christ commanded us to cast out hatred by love. That is not easy. This demand by Christ seems impracticable, but there is no other way.

'Pray for those who mistreat you.' Such a prayer may save them, but in any case it will save us.

A moment of introspection: Today, as in Scripture, may we take an example from our Lord Jesus Christ, and learn from His Word the difference in response, to two reactions: Hatred versus Love. On the one hand, we see and hear examples of the world responding to others' hatred--with hatred. How does God's Word say that we believers are to respond to the world's hatred? Consider Jesus' own words; He taught that the world hates us because it first hated Him with no cause. (John 15:18-25) Milton S. Agnew reminds us that, 'Without a cause men hated Christ; without a cause he loves them.' ('Reflections', "Christianity Today", Vol. 44, no. 10). If we are hated, Jesus said, we shall be called sons of God if when hated we sow love and peace (Matthew 5:9) If we are hated as Jesus was, ours will be the Kingdom of heaven if hated and persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:10) When others hate us, revile us, persecute us and utter all sorts of evil against us falsely on Jesus' account, we are blessed. (Matthew 5:11) But Jesus spoke clearly when He said that people will so detest us or abhor us. How should we respond to such persons?

As Irina said, at first glance, Christ's demands seem impracticable. How are we to be expected to "turn the other cheek" when assailed? Do we follow the world's leading, and hate our assailants? H.E. Fosdick remarked once, that "Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat." Hating is often an exaggerated and unwarranted response from people. James Baldwin was quoted as remarking "I imagine that one of the reasons that people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with the pain." (quoted in "Reflections," Christianity Today, Vol. 45, no. 2.) Hatred causes its intended victim pain; but the act of hating fatigues the hater, according to Jean Rostand. It appears that, for believers, hatred often is too great a reaction to affrontery from others. It tends to sap its imposer's energy. Yet some believers still harbor hatred so they don't have to cope with the pain of the slight or injury. Believers still do hang onto hatred. Some Christians have the same idea about the commandments of God as a little boy who was playing with his sister. A most unpleasant woman who lived nearby had been finding fault with them, and the boy said, "I just hate her!" His little sister, greatly shocked, said, "Oh no! The Bible says we must love everyone." "Oh, well," he remarked, "old Mrs. Blank wasn't born when that was written." In the same way the disobedient Christian always finds an excuse. Do we tightly hold onto hatred? Is obedience to Christ's commands impracticable?

Let's consider this further. Jesus has instructed us, in His teaching that we should love our enemies: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:43-47) F. Max Muller made this observation: "...hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love--this is an old rule." Casting out hatred with love is not easy, but it has been shown throughout history--time-worn, time-tested, borne out time and again. Hatred begets more hatred; only love will cause hatred to diminish and end (Proverbs 10:12). "Hatred seeks an occasion to provoke enmity and delights in brawls, but love is conciliatory and removes all occasion for trouble. (Dake Study Bible) From this resource, we learn the machinations of hatred. It seeks occasion to express its vitriol, to provoke enmity, and to delight in fracas or melee. Is this what we as believers are called to espouse and exhibit? Hatred begins as a small emotion; consider:

Hate is born
When men call evil good.
And like an infant serpent
Bursting from its
Small, confining shell,
It never can be
Cased so small again.
— Calvin Miller (in 'A Requiem for Love'. "Christianity Today", Vol. 34, no. 8.)

Today, evil abounds; it calls itself "good", just as darkness is called "light", and wrong is called "right". The world responds to hatred with more hatred. Hatred, arising, often, as a small inclination, grows beyond proportion, never returning to that first small penchant. Yet love is sincere in all its holy manifestations. Love grows even more quickly and more fruitfully than hatred. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Eager to obey the commands of our Lord, may we affirm the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy."

Cited earlier--in Proverbs 10:12, King Solomon in his wisdom said that 'Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.' In God's Word, there are examples of hatred and its stirring up of strife (Ishmael [Genesis 21:9-14], Esau [Genesis 27:41-42], and the Jews [Acts 13:50; 14:2-4; 17:5-13]), and examples of love covering sins (Joseph [Genesis 40:15;45:5-8], David [2 Samuel 1], Jesus Christ (Luke 23:24; John 20-21), and Paul [Philemon 9-21]). Shall we, then, as believers practice or display hatred and rancor toward those who abuse or debase us, eschewing love because it is impracticable? May we as one, say 'No!' May we as believers learn to control feelings other than love. Impracticable? If we want to follow Christ, there is no other way. Let us be saved: Irina encourages us, 'Pray for those who mistreat you.' Such a prayer may save them, but in any case it will save us. For Christ’s sake, and in obedience to Him, let us love our enemies--not hate them. Let us deem the impracticable, practicable.

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