Are you a Christian? Before you answer, consider these other questions: Do you love your enemy? Do you do good to them who hate you? The honest answers to these questions are at the very heart of Christianity and represent what distinguishes a Christian from others. Let’s follow Jesus’ teachings in several stages. In so doing, we can learn our truest identity and how He seeks to transform us.
The ATTITUDE of a Christian
Jesus said to his disciples, “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In effect, Jesus is telling us to put an end to the cycle of injustice and violence, by His grace. The Christian is to stand in the gap and say, “It ends with me.” This is Jesus’ game plan, his battle strategy. Defeat Satan’s cycle and thwart his plan to get two birds with one stone. Satan’s usual tactic is to inspire hatred or vengeance in someone, who then attacks us; in response, we lash back and become just like our enemy. In this way, Satan has captured two disciples for the price of one. The Lord tells us not to fall for that. We are to kill our enemies with kindness, get them with goodness, and lure them with love.
Note, then, four attitudes that the Lord distinguishes:
Merciful – Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. We ought to remember how merciful God has been to us. Even when we mistreated Him and were His enemies through sin, God show[ed] his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Allow God to make you aware of His abundant mercy so that you are deeply grateful and thus equipped to love your enemy and mercifully withhold your wrath and vengeance toward him.
Meek – To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Meekness is the virtue that governs anger. It is the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough. Even when anger is an appropriate response, meekness moderates it, steering it away from destructive ends to helpful ones. It takes a strong person to control his anger, to refrain from retaliating or seeking revenge. Through meekness, we can also direct our anger toward the proper target: Satan. Use the energy of anger to defeat Satan’s plan!
Magnanimous – Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. We are too easily angered when people seek our time, talent, or treasure; this anger can give way to wrath. Those who are magnanimous are open to being asked, at peace with saying no when necessary, and generous in sharing their gifts. Christians graced by Christ are less apt to say, “This is mine; leave me alone” and more likely to realize that God has been good to them. This joy in what God has given them disposes them to generosity with others. Joy is like an energy that fuels magnanimity.
Meet – Do to others as you would have them do to you. An old meaning of “meet” is suitable, proper, fitting, correct, or just. Christians are aware that if we want the world to be more just, it has to begin with us. We understand that we are going to need the help of others in countless ways and therefore treat others as we hoped to be treated. We sow justice, mercy, and patience in order to reap them in others.
The ALTITUDE of a Christian
For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Christians are supposed to stand out. By God’s grace, we are to rise above mere human norms. Note what Jesus expects of us:
We are to Excel – In effect, Jesus asks us these questions: How are you excelling? What makes you different from a virtuous atheist or pagan? What credit is it to you if you only do what they do? What makes you different from a sinner? The mark of a Christian is
- that we love our enemies,
- that we do good to them who do ill to us,
- that we lend even when we expect to get nothing back, and
- that we stop the cycle of injustice and violence.
We are to Exemplify – The text goes on to say, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, 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 (Mat 5:44-45). Thus, we are to exemplify, to show forth who God is. We are to demonstrate that we are true children of the Father by doing what He does.
The ASSETS of a Christian
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
Jesus teaches that, by His grace, we should do the following to store up treasures in Heaven:
Forego Condemnation – Jesus says, Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Condemning means quickly and routinely seeking the worst of punishments for others. There are no second chances, no tempering of punishment or consideration of the context or background of people’s struggles; “Hang ’em high” is the cry of condemnation. Punishment is meant to be remedial. There are times when the strictest of punishments must be meted out, but typically only after lesser measures have been unsuccessful. However, correcting an erring brother is a spiritual work of mercy.
- My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Col 3:16).
- Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in fact rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him (Lev 19:17).
- Brethren, if someone is detected in sin, you who live by the Spirit should gently set him right, each of you trying to avoid falling into temptation himself (Gal 5:25).
Nevertheless, be careful. The Lord says, The measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Mat 7:2). James also warns, Merciless is the judgment on the one who has shown no mercy (James 2:13). Thus, among our assets in Heaven will be mercy stored up for us at our judgment if we show mercy to others.
Forgive Transgressions – Jesus says, Forgive and you will be forgiven. If we do this, there is the promise of forgiveness being shown to us at our judgment. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Mat 6:13-15).
Freely Give – Jesus says, Give, and gifts will be given to you. Paradoxically, one of the ways we keep something in the Kingdom of God is by giving it away. When we give it away, we thereby store it up in Heaven.
- I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much (Luke 16:9).
- Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. … As it is written, “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor 9:6-11).
- Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt 19:21).
- Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt 6:19).
Fully Receive – a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. Here, then, is the promise of our assets if we become, by God’s grace, true Christians. In effect, your yardstick will become a boomerang. Let it come back to bless you. If you have been merciful you will find mercy. If you have forgiven you will find forgiveness. If you have given it shall be returned to you many times over. These are the assets of the Christian. Invest wisely!