Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard some amazing stories. About the Jordan River splitting in half, the walls of Jericho tumbling down, God’s grace in keeping the prostitute Rahab safe, his wrath against the greedy Achan and his incredible power that extended the daylight for 24 extra hours!
Today’s sermon is a bit different. Because we are getting to the part of Joshua that isn’t so jammed packed with action. The literature switches from narrative to a legal listing; from storytelling to atlas. It’s one of those parts of the Bible that might not seem like it’s got a lot to do with you.
You’d be wrong.
Today we’re going to take our first of two looks at the non-narrative parts of Joshua. This is from Joshua 13-21. Our goal is to discover a couple of different ways these listings are a blessing for 21st century Raleighians.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Temptation to Grow Tired
Chapter 13 starts right after Israel has finished conquering a vast majority of the land. Joshua 13:1. When Joshua had grown old and was well along in years, the LORD said to him, “You are now very old…”
Notice that there seems to be a repetitive theme. The Bible calls Joshua “old” and then, it rephrases it so that we don’t get confused, “well along in years.” Finally, the LORD himself approaches Joshua and the very first thing he says to him is, “You are…very old!”
Sheesh, God. Thanks a lot.
I doubt Joshua needed the reminder. The white hairs, the creaky knees and the wrinkles probably told him enough. In fact, if you jump forward in the book – Caleb, Joshua’s contemporary, is identified as 85 years old. Joshua, probably a bit older, might be around 90.
That means – things were not as easy as they used to be.
Each morning he would stand and straighten his back very slowly.
He would grab his pair of glasses and squint in order to read the 14-point font of Moses’ OT Writings.
Soldiers would pretend not to notice his inability to remember any of their names. Marty? Abimelech?
Joshua was no spring chicken.
So, what does God want?
Is this the talk where he tells him to slow things down?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua he probably shouldn’t drive anymore?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua about the new retirement village they had set up in the confines of Ai?
Joshua…there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (v.1b)
I still have plans for you.
I still have work for you.
You are not too old to serve me.
That’s a key truth I want to focus on for a moment. You are never too old to serve God.
I was sitting down next to a friend for coffee the other day. And in the midst of our conversation, the man began to tell me about his children. How he had fallen away from church and wasn’t a believer anymore.
And then…he sighed: But...what am I going to do? I’m old.
Is that really how it works?
Is Jesus just for young kids?
Is Jesus not for adults?
Do you get to a point where you’re so old that even God can’t use you?
Look at these Scriptures:
Matthew 28 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Galatians 5 says, “Serve one another in love.”
Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.”
Notice Scripture does not say, “Go and make disciples – unless you have arthritis.”
It doesn’t say, “Serve one another in love…unless you are over 73. Then, serve in grouchiness.”
It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine…unless you live in a retirement community.”
There are no qualifiers.
These commands are all inclusive.
These commands are for you – no matter how old you are.
Because you are never too old to serve God!
Joshua was 90 years old and God still called on him to lead the Israelite army throughout the rest of Canaan!
But Joshua wasn’t alone.
Moses was 80 years old when God used him to get Israel out of Egypt.
Daniel was 87 when he was thrown into the lion’s den for confessing faith in Jesus.
Sarah was 99 when she gave birth to Isaac – forefather of Jesus.
Noah was 600 when God used him to build an ark and save humanity!
How old are you?
How will God use?
Don’t listen to the devil:
You are never too old to serve God.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
That’s what God wanted Joshua to do. Listen to his command: There are still very large areas of land to be taken over…be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you. (v.1b, 6) Because up to this point Israel hasn’t conquered everything. They only possess about 2/3 of the Promised Land. They had won many battles and driven out many armies, but they still needed to win victories up in the North kingdom and they still needed to drive out armies in the southwest.
The temptation might be to call it good.
The temptation might be to say close enough.
The temptation might be to grab a PBR and relax.
God doesn’t want them to quit.
God wants them to finish it.
And with good reason.
My initial favorite sports teams were based in Minnesota. Did you know this? I was 2 when I moved there from Baton Rouge, LA and I was 4 when I watched my first baseball and football games. The Twins and the Vikings. Then, in first grade I moved to Wisconsin. And in week one of the NFL season I was one of the only kids wearing Viking purple – while everyone else wore green and gold.
And there was polite joking.
And there was polite ribbing.
And…there was the time in fourth grade when Brett Favre led the Packers deep into the playoffs – and the Vikings were not so deep in the playoffs – that I finally switched allegiances.
People influence you. In sports teams, favorite restaurants, binge worthy TV shows and religion.
This is one of the main reasons for God driving out the Canaanites. He doesn’t want the Canaanites’ idol worship to influence the Israelites God worship. He doesn’t want the Canaanite unbelievers to lead Israelite believers to unbelief…
And Joshua gets it. He sends out each tribe into its particular region of the Promised Land in order to drive out all the nations. That’s exactly what chapters 11-19 entail. Numbers, places and results of their victories. But…hidden in the midst of these victories – in the midst of this long historical commentary on how they followed through on God’s commands – are a few verses which show that…they didn’t.
13:13 The Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah so they continue to live among Israel to this day.
15:53 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.
16:10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer.
17:11-12 They were not able to occupy Beth Shan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo...for the Canaanites lived in their region.
19:47 But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…so they moved up to Leshem.
Perhaps this seems like no big deal. Perhaps this seems like “at least they tried hard.”
Perhaps you can understand them being tired and saying – “Good enough. We don’t bother you and you don’t bother us.”
And everything seems fine.
Jump forward with me:
After Joshua died…another generation grew up who neither knew the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. So…the hand of the LORD was against them…and he sold them into the hand of their enemies all around them. (Judges 2:8-13)
Do you see the problem?
They didn’t listen to God.
They didn’t drive out the Canaanites.
And the Canaanites led them to worshipping false gods.
Just. Like. God. Said.
God has not asked us to conquer any kind of land or people in any kind of way. But God does tell us to fight against sin and drive it out of our lives – completely!
However – I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same thing Israel does. Go about 90% of the way and call it good. I don’t commit adultery. Especially when it comes to something I like to call Peripheral Sins.
What’s a Peripheral Sin? Peripheral vision describes the vision to the right and the left of what you are focusing on. For example, if you look straight at the cross right now and I stand over here --- peripheral vision is me. Maybe you can tell that I’m there, but I’m not clear. I’m fuzzy. (Try and guess how many fingers I am holding up. Not easy)
Peripheral sins are the sins that we don’t focus on. Sins that we refuse to focus on. Sins that we can maybe kind of see in our life – but they aren’t big and clear like murder OR cheating on your wife so…we just kind of let those be.
For example – three common Peripheral Sins:
Granted, if you’ve struggled with lust, there may have been a moment when this wasn’t in the peripheral. And you fought pornography. And you stopped seeing that person who was threatening your marriage.
But at some point, the devil loves to get us to stop the fight.
I’m not looking at porn anymore; so, I’ll just look around at the gym. That should be ok.
I’m not planning on sleeping with that guy at work; I’m just flirting. My husband would be cool with it.
This right here? It’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I only read it for the articles…on sports.
Lust is not a small thing. It’s always a big thing. Drive it out.
(2) Sinful Anger.
Because for whatever the reason, anger is one of those sins that people say, “Well everyone gets angry.” (Which is true) and “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin.” (also, true) and “Anyways…it’s probably not a big deal the way I showed my anger there.” (Which is a bald-faced lie.)
Humans aren’t God.
Humans are sinful.
Human anger – even ‘righteous sounding anger’ will be tainted by sin.
And oftentimes is acted out sinfully.
Anger cannot be ignored.
It kills relationships at home.
It kills relationships at work.
It kills relationships at church.
It kills your relationship with God.
Anger is not a small thing. It’s a big thing. Drive it out.
After recent events in Virginia, this deserves to be revisited. Because I think the common sentiment is: I’m not a member of the KKK. I’m not a Neo-Nazi. I’m good. Stop telling me I’m racist.
But Jesus calls us to look deeper.
Jesus tells us sin affect us.
Jesus tells us that sinful selfishness easily affects the way that we think and act.
And when we see the problems – even small problems – drive them out.
If I befriend that guy who looks like me, but don’t even try to befriend that guy because…he doesn’t. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I make a joke here and a comment there, and say…but “it’s just a funny stereotype that’s all.” There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I dismiss the struggles of my friend (who looks different) because I never had to deal with those kinds of struggles (since I look different) and it would make me uncomfortable to consider that people who do look like me might be part of the reason this friend who doesn’t look like you is struggling. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
In fact, drive all of these peripheral sins out. Because the reality is that they are sin. And sin destroys.
Lust destroys marriage.
Anger destroys churches.
Racism destroys society.
Drive it out before the destruction takes place!
III. God Finishes What He Started
Here’s the good news for Israel. In spite of their failure to completely drive out their enemies, God still blessed Israel. He gave them the Promised Land. He kept that in their possession. He made sure that Israelites were in that land when he finally sent the Savior from there.
God finished what he started.
In Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
In Nazareth, Jesus grew up.
In Cana, he turned water into wine.
At the Jordan, he revealed himself as Lord.
In Jericho, he healed a blind man.
Just outside Jerusalem he died…and just outside Jerusalem he rose from the dead.
God finished what he started.
And he was complete about it! Scripture says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Please note the all. It doesn’t say “some.” It doesn’t say “a few.” It doesn’t say, “Just the obvious big ones.”
His blood purifies you from peripheral lust.
His blood purifies you from seeping anger.
His blood purifies you from that hidden racism.
Jesus died and his blood completely purifies you from all sin.
It’s like a water purification system. If you put that on your faucet, the water goes through the first filter and the big sediment it blocked. Then, it goes through the secondary system and the little sediment it blocked. Finally, it goes through a laser purification process and even the hidden particles are destroyed.
Jesus purifies us from all sin.
And that empowers us to drive out all sin.
That’s exactly what God tells Joshua. Right after he tells Joshua about all of the nations that he still needs to drive out – God says this in verse 6: I myself will drive out the nations. He was still fighting with them. Even if they didn’t see gigantic miracles like the river splitting in half or the walls tumbling down or the sun sitting in the sky for an extra 24 hours – God was still with them and would not withdraw his support.
And God is still with you.
He’s not like some big athletic sponsorship that withdraws their sponsorship because the athlete tweets something they don’t agree with or posts a picture of something that they shouldn’t.
In spite of our sins – for the sake of Jesus – God will not withdraw his support. He is in your corner.
When you are old.
When you are young.
Whether you’re fighting lust, holding back anger or working against subtle racism, God is in your corner.
God has your back.
Ever been on a family vacation before?
It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”’ another, “I follow Cephas,” still another, “I follow Christ.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.
It’s been an eventful week. Three separate shootings – in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas -- have captured the attention and the anger of our nation.
There have been protests against police and protests for the police.
Angry words on Facebook; angry videos on YouTube.
Anger at the police. Anger at racism. Anger at the media. Anger at the shooters.
Anger at white people. Anger at black people.
Anger at each other.
Originally this was going to be a series entirely on anger within a family – and I still plan on mentioning it – but the unfortunate events of the past week have left me convinced we need to examine this at a greater level. We need to examine this as a diverse family of God. If we want to continue living, growing, and serving North Raleigh together as a diverse community of believers – we need to discuss how God’s Word wants us to deal with anger – especially when it comes as the result of seemingly racist events.
Today we’re going to do three things:
(1) discuss the root of anger
(2) examine how God dealt with his anger
(3) learn how God wants us to express anger
Ready? Let’s pray to God and ask his blessing on this difficult discussion.
Strengthen us O Lord by the truth; your Word is truth. Remove our anger and hatred from our perceptions, O God. Instead, open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you want us to believe. Amen.
I. Getting to the Root of Anger
Our study of anger actually starts in John 2.
John 2 is very interesting. In it, there is yelling and shouting. Some people are waving their hands in desperation. Others are taking cover. The sheep are bleating. The cattle are stampeding. Money is being tossed to the ground; Tables are being flipped in the air. A whip is cracking and keeping all who were trying to stop the mayhem at bay.
It almost kinda sounds like an out of control protest.
But it’s not.
It’s Jesus...sweet, kind, mild mannered, turn the other cheek and let children come to him, Jesus.
(John 2:14-15) In the temple courts, Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of the cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
It’s one of the most interesting sections in the Bible. At first glance, it appears Jesus was in the wrong. He lost his temper and was seemingly violent.
But…Jesus is without sin. He’s God. Scripture is clear on that. 1 John 3:5 says, “In Jesus, there is no sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “Jesus… had no sin.’ 1 Peter calls him “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And if what Jesus did was sinful here, He couldn’t have died for our sins. He would have had to die for his own sins. As it is, he rose from the dead proving that he didn’t sin – not any other time in his life – and not here either.
Reexamine the situation. The people at the temple had been using the temple to worship God. Right outside the doors of church – in the outer hallway – were all kinds of sellers and money changers (like a flea market in church). People were bartering and making sales. Customers were shouting at poor prices. Sellers were driving up the market. Greed and deception were replacing worship and meditation. These sellers were distracting people from the truth of Scripture. They were leading them from faith to unbelief.
They were distracting people to hell.
Can you understand why Jesus’ was angry? (Not wanting people in hell sounds like a righteous reason to me.)
Follow the logic then:
Jesus was angry.
Jesus was sinless.
Anger isn’t sinful.
So: Anger isn’t sinful; therefore I can be as angry as I want and it isn’t sinful.
Is that true? Can our anger be totally, completely righteous -
With God? Absolutely.
With humans? Probably not.
Ephesians 4:22 says this, “Put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” That’s an interesting phrase. Deceitful – as in – seems good, but isn’t. As in, seems righteous, but really isn’t.
I think that if ever there was a righteous reason to be angry, people not attending church to worship God seems like a perfect example of righteous anger. As a pastor – that’s a very common feeling. At about 3 in the afternoon as I’m going through attendance, I get angry that there weren’t more people there and I feel really righteous in that anger. I think, "Aren't I awesome God?"
But can I let you in on a secret? The devil loves to deceive pastors. He loves to deceive me. Too often my righteous anger isn’t, “because I’m concerned for spiritual welfare,” or “because God’s Word is at the bottom of your list, “ but, “God, I’m angry that these guys are making me look bad! You’re making me feel like an inadequate pastor. You’re making me feel unimportant.”
In other words – my anger looks righteous (I can even convince myself that it is) but that’s deceptive. In reality, my anger is selfish. Tainted by sin.
HERE’S THE TRUTH: Even the “righteous” anger of sinful humans is tainted by sin. It has to be.
Oranges produces orange juice. Apples produce apple juice. Avocados produces avocados juice.
Sinful humans produces sinful ways of looking at things.
This means – at the outset of your anger – whatever it is – even for the most righteous reasons – it will be tainted.
So. Stop and think about your anger. Is it righteous?
I’m angry that you didn’t take out the garbage – not because you are shirking responsibility, but because I’m going to have to get off of the couch and do it!
I’m angry that you spent all of our money in the budget, not because it’s bad stewardship of what God has given us, but because that’s not how I wanted to spend it.
I’m angry that my kids are disrespecting me, not because it means they are sinning, but because it makes me feel bad about my parenting!
I’m angry at the death of the police officers because I’m white. I don’t really have the same sadness over the death of the Mr. Sterling because “he probably deserved it.”
I’m angry at the death of those black men because I’m black; but I’m not angry at the loss of the policemen – because they’re jerks and they deserve it!
I’m angry at my friends who are insinuating that it’s hard to be a black person in America – not because it’s not true, but because it makes me feel bad as a white guy. (And I don’t like feeling bad.)
I’m angry at my friend who is sharing her anger about her cause, because I don’t think it’s important as my anger at this cause!
And so it goes.
And anger leads to more anger.
And the world is at war.
And the devil wins.
And angers divide his people.
And deceptive angers divides the family of God.
And here’s the thing, when you’re sinfully angry with others, God gets angry with you. Romans 1:8 says, “the Wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.”
He’s mad when you shout at your spouse, because you are harming your spouse, his child.
He’s mad when you call your brother names, because you are harming your brother, his child.
He’s mad when you tell mom that you “hate her,” because you are harming your mom, his child.
He’s mad when you call a person of a different race derogatory names, because you are harming His children.
He’s mad when you post nasty message on the wall of a friend who disagrees with you because you are harming His child.
He’s mad when you refuse to listen to a brother or sister from another culture tell you some of the struggles they are going through because you are sending a message of “I don’t care,” to someone he cares very much about – His child!
Ultimately, he’s mad at all of these racial anger driven sins, because just like other sins, they separate God from another one of his children...
II. How God Deals with Anger
So…How does God deal with anger against you?
This is a picture of a punching bag. They are these big old bags. Heavy and hard to move with a soft outer padding to absorb any and every attack that hits it. You can hit it as hard as you want and it doesn’t scream. It doesn’t shout. No one gets hurt. It absorbs every last ounce of your anger.
This is what God did with His wrath. He absorbed it. But not with a punching bag. Not with a pillow. Not even with a little sister.
He absorbed his own wrath with himself.
Romans 5:9 says this, “We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus!” Because Jesus took the brunt of God’s wrath. He took a nail in his right hand; and a nail in his left. He took a spear in his side; he took his last breath. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) ” as the Triune God splintered Himself from Himself. The Father dumped his wrath against sin on his son and Jesus died.
But He came back to life. He rose because God’s wrath had been fully absorbed in his sacrifice and was no more.
It means that by faith in Jesus, God’s wrath against any racist anger has dissipated.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not be punished.
It means that by faith in Jesus, you will not suffer God’s anger against your sins.
You are forgiven. God’s wrath has dissipated. He won’t retaliate or get revenge. In fact, he’s protecting you because you are at peace with him.
III. WHAT NOW?
Take a look at Ephesians 4:24 “You were taught…to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ever been to the beach? If you have, then you know the beach loves to come home with you. It’ll be stuck between your toes, in your ears, and in your shoes. It’ll get in your car, on the floor, and in your seat. Three weeks later you may even find some in your ears. It’s really uncomfortable.
So what is a beach goer to do? Take a shower. Then, put on new clothes! Don’t put on your sandy clothes. That would make the shower worthless. Put on new clothes and remain clean.
Do the same spiritually. God has washed you clean from your angry, sinful past. He removed it from every part of you. From your clenched fists to your gnashing teeth, from your spiteful thoughts to hateful heart, God has washed you clean.
Put on the new self. The selfish, angry way? That’s the sinful way of the past way. God has made you new and he wants you to follow a new way in dealing with anger. Ephesians teaches us about this new self:
(1) In your Anger Don’t Sin
In verse 22 Paul says this, “In your anger, do not sin.” It’s an interesting statement. It means that if you had a 100% pure, completely absolutely righteous in every way reason to be angry (tough as that might be) – you still need to be careful and not sin.
Say your brother upsets you. What are some sinful ways to let out anger against him? Punch him. Call him a name. Break his stuff. Tell them you “hate them.” Refuse to talk to him.
Remember God’s reaction to his anger? He suffered bitterly on the cross to make everything right between you two again. God was angry, but channeled that anger into a loving action.
Do the same. Channel your anger into a loving action. Talk about it. Write a note about it. Consult God’s Word about it. Pray about it. If you are really angry, pray really hard about it until your emotional anger lessens.
The result? There’s not another sin for anyone to get angry at. Emotions fade. That’s a good thing.
(2) Get Rid of Footholds
Ephesians 4:27 says this, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." Footholds are for climbing; festering anger allows the devil to climb right into your life and destroy your family.
He can do it with the smallest thing. Like a tube of toothpaste. As in, it makes you angry that your spouse leaves the cap off to make it “easier” to get to. It might seem like a minor annoyance at first, but over time…day after day of putting the cap back on – day after day of muttering under your breath…day after day of storing up anger – until the devil climbs up these tiny footholds of minty freshness and BOOM! Anger! Shouting! Destruction!
Don’t let it get that far. Talk about the point of tension as soon as possible.
This is true with your friends of a different race. If you let your anger get the best of you and you can feel the tension between you – you need to talk about it. Invite them out for coffee. Meet them at the gym. Message them on Facebook.
(3) Be Kind and Compassionate
And when you do talk about it? Do so in a Godly manner. Ephesians 4:31-32 says this, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
The natural impulse is to pick up your weapons of anger in order to defend yourself. Be bitter to defend yourself against the bitterness of others. Be filled with rage as a defense mechanism against feeling bad that someone might have a legitimate beef with you.
But God says, put those sharp weapons away. Instead get out kindness – which seems a lot like bringing a pillow to a sword fight.
But remember: That’s how God dealt with anger! Remember? He laid down his wrath. He went to the cross. He absorbed His wrath. He absorbed your sins. Because that’s what kindness and compassion does. It absorbs wrath. It absorbs anger. It absorbs bitterness.
Even when it comes to race.
We need compassion right now. The media says the opposite. It says you should arm yourself with anger and fighting words -- ready to defend yourself. Rage in one hand – malice in the other. Ready for any attack against me and my color/me and my culture.
Put that away. Listen to their fears. Listen to their concerns. Consider – just for a moment – that your brother or sister in Christ – may have very different experiences from you and very real feelings about those experiences. Listen and be compassionate.
When you are listening with kindness and compassion, you’ll notice something:
That terror in the sound of the Alton Sterling’s wife -- it sounds very similar to the raw emotion in the voice of Nina—a wife of a slain Dallas cop.
The fear in the voice of the black man at the protest is very similar to the fear in the voice of the young cop protecting the protest.
The sadness in the voice of your friend is very similar to yours.
And when you realize that -- you’ll also realize that you have the answer -- the same answer that calms your fears -- the same answer that gives you peace - the same answer that settles your anger:
I don't know any other word. This past week in Chapel hill three young Muslim students were killed over a parking spot.
This was tragic for so many people and so many reasons.
Tragic for those students. They had so much promise and a full life ahead of them.
Tragic for their families. Their hearts will be broken and struggling to heal for years.
Tragic for our community. Fear, racism, and anger continue to divide us.
Tragic for our country. Politicians and the media will use this death to confuse issues, meet agendas, and make campaigns successful.
But you know who this was most tragic for?
Take a look at the following Bible passage:
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life...but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Do you see what God did? God loved these three so much that he came to earth to live perfectly for them when they couldn’t. He died innocently for them the death they deserved. He rose triumphantly for them to proclaim that heaven is theirs as his gift. He has been calling out for them to believe that his Son did this!
They were Muslims. Their faith didn't believe this.
And someone ripped them away from this world before they could.
That’s an eternal tragedy.
But there is more at stake than that.
Our world was already filled with enough hatred, misunderstanding, racism, and mistrust. This tragedy will only heighten all of that ugliness. It will segregate, dissect, and separate our society even farther. Conversations will be harder. Dialogue will be tougher. Sharing the message of Jesus will be all that much more difficult.
As God’s spokespeople – as Christians – we might be tempted to give up:
“It’s too dangerous out there.”
“No one will trust me.”
Our world is very dark right now. Bu do not hide in the darkness.
As God’s spokespeople – as Christians – we might be tempted to give in:
“I’m not responsible.”
“I’m being blamed?”
“Who cares then!”
Our world is very dark right now. But do not become a part of the darkness.
Jesus said this. I think it's as important now as it was when he spoke it:
“You are the light of the world…People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:14-16)
As God's spokespeople --as Christians -- we might be tempted to give up or give in, but we must do neither. We must give out.
The Bible records another dark time.
It was evening. Jesus was in a lonely garden. A band of men came to arrest him. Torches, swords, and anger surrounded him. He was handcuffed, slapped and arrested.
Then it was night. He went to a dimly lit courtroom. Still dark. He was blindfolded. Even darker. He was punched. “Who hit you!?!” He was hated.
Then it was morning. It was bright for a moment. Then, he was whipped. Then scourged. The pain from his back beckoned for him to black out.
Then it was noon. He was nailed to a cross. The cross was jammed into the ground. The sky turned to darkness. Jesus’ eyelids grew heavy. The light was slipping.
Then it was afternoon. He shouted. He sighed. Then….he was silent.
The light was gone.
But three days later, the light returned. Jesus burst forth from the tomb. He had conquered the darkness of death. He had defeated the darkness of sin. He had destroyed the sad darkness of this gloomy earth.
He had a new message. A message centered in the light of forgiveness. A message surrounded in the love of God. A message promising the eternal light of God’s presence to all who believe!
Then he left.
But before he left he made this command and promise. “Go and make disciples of all nations…and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28)
The point? The light never left. The light is in you. The light is with you. Let HIM shine!
Be kinder than you’ve ever been.
Care more than you've ever cared.
Prayer more vigorously than you've ever prayed.
Tell others about the hope you have in Jesus more confidently, more lovingly, and more often than you ever have before.
Let your light shine brighter than ever!
*Over the past couple of months, we've seen some creative hash-tags used to draw attention to different struggles:
God doesn't have a Twitter account. But if he did, I think he’d have his own spin on this:
May this heart of God be our heart as well.
Join me in saying prayers for the families of all involved with this tragedy.
Join me in staying calm and patient in the midst of heated anger.
Join me in bringing love to every person we encounter in the Triangle.
Join me in shining brightly in the darkest of times.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Matthew 5:43-48
The Grammys were controversial this year. Singers danced wearing next to nothing. Singers sang songs about how awesome violence, drug use, and sexual immorality are. There was a performance that glamorized cult worship. To top it off, Queen Latifah thought this was a great atmosphere for a wedding. She married 33 couples -- some male & female, while others were of the same sex.
But none of these seemed to get the most controversy. That belonged to Natalie Grant, a young woman up for a Gospel music award, did something unthinkable. What did she do?
“We left the Grammy's early. I've had many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head," Grant tweeted that night. The artist kept her message positive, however, declaring, "I've never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I've never been more sure of the path I've chosen."
What kind of a reaction do you think she got? How do you think people reacted to the woman who quietly walked out on songs glorifying a host of sins? They were upset. She was called a 'bigot', 'stuck up', 'what's wrong with the world today,' and a few other things that don't belong in a sermon.
Now if you're a Christian, perhaps you are upset reading this! This young woman is being attacked by her beliefs. It's unfair. It's not right.
And perhaps you even are thinking of responding like many Christians did in the blogs:
"you people are the scum of the earth"
"You might hate Christains...but know that we hate you."
"I am a Christian and I am tired of this blankety-blank. You are all a bunch of (words that shan't be repeated in a sermon"
While I agree that there was plenty of sin at the Grammys and plenty of sin involved in the words of those who were bad mouthing Ms. Grant, the truth is that many of the words from Christians who were defending her were simply returning hatred for hatred.
Revenge. It's the American way.
But it's got to make you wonder if that's how Jesus would have responded. In today's lesson, Jesus' backwards logic tells us to the exact opposite of revenge. Today Jesus says “love those who hate you.”
I. The World Says: “Hate those who Hate You.”
Of course this is not what the world teaches. Jesus even admits that. He says, “You have heard that it is said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Mt. 5:38) In modern language we might say, “A spiteful text message for a spiteful text message” or “an angry blog post for an angry blog post” or “an angry defaming Facebook comment for an angry Facebook comment.”
Whatever form the hatred is, I think it happens for 4 reasons.
1) It's what they deserve.
This is something that we've been taught since we were young. Bad behavior deserves good treatment and good behavior deserves bad treatment. The kindergartner performing well gets a sticker smiley face, the one who struggles to stop squirming and listen to the teacher does not. We do the same thing as adult. Only it's with real smiles instead of sticky smiles.
At work, we think: “This person hasn't been very nice to me, so I see no reason to be very nice to them.” At church, we think: “This person was pretty awful to me once, so I see no reason to say hello and greet them.” At home, a wife thinks: “My husband hasn't gotten me flowers in ages, why would he deserve me cooking his favorite meal?” Conversely the husband thinks: “The wife hasn't cooked me my favorite meal in ages. Why would she deserve some flowers?” Even parents think about doing it: “Kid A has been a lot better than Kid B lately. I'm going to love them each according to what they deserve!”
2) It's How You Survive.
It's almost an animalistic principle. Because for animals in the wild to survive, they sometimes have to be pretty awful to a few other animals. They have to hog the food, the water, and the shelter. (This even happens in dog parks with dog bones -- although perhaps those aren't necessary to survive.)
How is that any different than the way our society works?
“Unless I start spreading rumors about my coworkers, then the rumors they have started will cause me to miss the promotion—or worse: I could lose my job.”
“Unless I start a rumor that my archrival Sally looks like a toad, then Jason will probably ask her to the dance!”
“If I keep being caring and loving to my husband, then he'll take advantage and just keep eating chips on the couch!”
“If I just keep speaking calmly to my wife, then she'll just continue to use me as her shouting pin cushion!”
3) It's what everybody does.
This isn't so much as an excuse as it is a good reason that we so easily fail at showing love to our enemies. Because everywhere in the United States, you find people being awful to people who are in turn awful back to them!
Football players go on TV and badmouth other football players just to gain a psychological advantage.
Celebrities turn to magazines in order to bad mouth other celebrities, that they might increase their fan base AND their pay.
Politicians are so good at it, that they even have a fancy and almost appropriate word for it: “Mudslinging” – as if it's simply part of the game.
4) It's easy.
This may be the biggest reason that we hate those who hate us. It's easy.
Think back to the blog situation. It's way easier to simply spew a few hate-filled words than to take the time and construct a loving paragraph explaining how we know God is real, how God hates sin, and how God sent his son to save us from sin. This appears to be the route that most Christians are taking. It takes way less thinking and much fewer keystrokes.
Or think of a heated conversation. It's way easier to simply yell four letter words back at whomever is attacking you, than it is to breathe, turn around, hold in your anger, count to ten, swallow your pride, return to the conversation, and try to handle it calmly.
As humans we are tempted to take the easier route. And the easier route is to return hatred with hatred.
Always. Always. Always.
II. Jesus Says: “Love Your Enemies.”
But Jesus did not say, "Love or hate your enemies...whatever is easier." He literally turned the world's logic around and presented a backwards proposition: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.43)
Now you might be reading that and be in shock!
"Love your enemies! Jesus that's a little strong. Surely you can't be telling me to love all my enemies. Surely you don't want me to love the guy at work who is always spreading lies about me. Or the bully at school who is always calling my kids names. Or the politician that stands for the opposite of what I stand for. Or my ex. Or the girl who caused my ex to be an ex. Or the atheists, unbelievers, and haters that constantly bring negativity into my Facebook feed! Certainly, Jesus, you don't want me to love them too!?!"
Yes, he does.
But Jesus doesn't just give us the what without the why. So hear him out:
1) It's what God does.
Verse 45 says this: Your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where a little black rain cloud follows around one person all day long – all the while shining sun on everybody else in the area?
God doesn't do that. This past week it was snowpacalype in Raleigh. But did you notice that there were people dealing with the snow who were both unbelievers and believers. Now it's sunny. Atheists and devoted church goers are being warmed by it's goodness. There are probably people at McDonald's right now who are enjoying delicious food --- that God has given them -- even while scoffing at those who are taking time to say prayers to God before they dig in!
God is kind to all people -- providing food, drink, clothing, shelter and much more – even for those who despise him! But more than just causing the S-U-N to rise, God caused the S-O-N to rise on all people. God sent Jesus for his enemies!
No where is this more clear than when Jesus is on that cross. His body had been tortured, beaten, bloodied, and bruised. Those torturers stood toe to toe with their supporters and hurled insults at Jesus: “You phony! You fake! You jerk!” They spat on him. They hated him.
Jesus' only words regarding these people? He didn't zap them with lightning bolts. He didn't come off of the cross and force them up there in his place. He didn't even shout curse words at them.
Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)
Jesus doesn't return their insults. He doesn't return their hatred. He simply takes on their hatred. He stays on the cross in the ultimate sacrifice of love and gives us his own life for his enemies!
BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU PERSONALLY!
Because the Bible tells us that sin is against God. It tells us that sinners are his enemies. (Romans 8:7) It tells us that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23).
So, do the math: We are people. We have sin. We are God's enemies. We are Jesus' enemies!
Think back on your life and you'll know this to be true. How many times have you badmouthed God for his rules and demands? How many times have you grumbled against God for what he's allowed to happen in your life? How many times have you left God pleasing activities to go consort with the enemy and do things that he absolutely forbids?
How many times have you had real hatred for another one of his created?
Certainly this deserved an 'eye for an eye' an 'divine punishment for divine sin!”
But God didn't do that. Not without sending his Son first. Colossians says this, “When you were dead in your sins, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins!” (2:13)
Again, notice what it says: “When you were dead... God made you alive.” Not when you improved yourself. When you weren't so awful. Not even after you proved yourself not to be so much of an enemy.
When you were God's enemy, God sent Jesus Christ to show you ultimate love!
This is not Law, but Gospel! It is the Gospel of the incredible love of Jesus. It's a love that led to our forgiveness. It's a love that enables our Lord to call all of his followers: "his friends." It's a love that forgives all of your sins!
Now our loving Jesus, urges us as dear friends to show love to our enemies as well!
2) It's what makes us Different.
Look at verses 46-47: “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Anybody can write “Happy Birthday” on a friend's Facebook wall. It takes someone different to write “Happy Birthday" to your enemy.
Anybody will wish nice things on their friends. But it takes one who knows Jesus' love to to pray for their enemies.
Anybody will take their wife out for dinner when they have this feeling like they are running through the flower fields with romantic orchestral music playing in the background. It takes someone who knows Jesus' love to take their wife out for dinner when she hasn't been all that nice during the week.
3) It's real love.
Remember the Biblical definition of love is not the cute puppy, romantic love of a Romantic comedy. God isn't telling you to go sing romantic songs about the guy who was a bully to you in high school. God is telling us to love people with the real definition of love.
Love as an action. A choice. A decision.
A prayer for the bully at school. A smile for the one at work that isn't nice. A hug and a kiss for your wife when she hasn't made you feel all warm and cuddly. A word of encouragement to your grouchy husband at the end of a long day. A hug and an “I forgive you” to a person at church who has wronged you!
You might be wondering how it is even possible to do this. As you start writing a nice letter to your boss who seems to have it out for you, it might be easy to focus on all the awful things he has done in the past. Then, you might find yourself pressing so hard on the pen that it tears right through the stationery.
Instead, focus on your Lord. Focus on the one though we were his enemies, he died for you. He loves you so and his love will motivate you to love others...
...even those who hate you.