sermon follow-up: non-retaliation

“… you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. … love your enemies and pray for those who harass you because of your faith …” (Matt. 5:39,44 CEB)

Really? How far does Jesus expect us to go with this? Well, in context, the answer would have to be the same distance he wants us to put anger (vs. 22), lust (vs. 28), and swearing (vs.34) away from us. Not merely as far as the eye can see, but far as the east is from the west. Just as our holy God abhors human anger, lust, and swearing, he detests anything and everything in terms of violence and retaliation in the lives of his followers. That’s the only way I know how to understand what our Lord says here without doing violence to his words or injustice to the example of our Lord’s own life and death in the flesh.

But this does more than just meddle with many things in our life, no? For if we truly engage this word from our Lord, it makes us ask all sorts of questions about things a great many of us consider natural or just take for granted. It could begin to even play havoc with things we have come to see as “our rights.”

  • Can a Christian rightly take the life of another in military service?
  • Should Christ-followers “keep and bear arms” for the sake of self-defense?
  • If a believer is taken to court and sued, are they to simply surrender?
  • Just exactly what is expected of a disciple if they find themselves in an abusive relationship?

And we know these few questions only scratch the surface, don’t we?

All of which leads me to observe and opine that I think most American Christians today have hardly, if ever, thought long and hard about these words of our Lord. I believe too many have hardly attempted to plum the depths of God’s word and their conscience on these matters. I know until all too recently, such was the case with me. Our culture which is so quick to contest and our society which is so ever set to sue is equaled only by a world eager to wage war and a global village that virtually venerates violence. As the cartoon character Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Or as the Son of God still says to each of us through these words, “You must summon up the curiosity, courage, and conviction to consider another way, my way.” And I, for one, confess I have turned a mostly deaf ear to his call for most of my Christian life. But no more.

So, if a person is to begin to consider, where could they start? Do this: simply step into the stream of thought and begin to swim. A good place to wade off could be Timothy Archer’s ongoing series on pacifism. He will make you think. His piece today entitled Passion and Pacifism – as well as the comments and exchanges that follow the post – are instructive. Catch up on the series and watch for more. Penned a few years ago, Ben Witherington’s Lessons From the Amish is a particularly powerful and inspiring piece. Or if you’d rather read a book, let me suggest John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do?

But wherever you begin, I dare say you must start with some acid test questions in mind. Questions such as these:

  • In exceedingly practical terms, am I truly trying to come to grips with what Jesus says here and the Jesus who says them or am I just putting them both in the back closet of my mind?
  • Am I looking for an idol who will simply rubber stamp what I already believe or am I looking for the living God whose ways are not my own?
  • Am I trying to “pay it forward” or am I still looking for a way to give some “pay back” to those I believe have wronged me or someone I love?
  • Just how hard am I running away from anything that remotely looks like retaliation or violence in my life because my Lord has told me to do so?

These are just four; we could easily include more. But we mustn’t dismiss these questions too quickly or too easily. For it’s the will of our Lord and our own conscience that’s on the line here. It’s our witness of the holy God to this dark world that’s at stake. It’s the Holy Spirit’s new creation we’re either helping usher in or are actively, even if unconsciously hindering. This is for all the marbles, brothers and sisters. And our Lord has said to us clearly:

“… you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. … love your enemies and pray for those who harass you because of your faith …” (Matt. 5:39,44 CEB)

God bless everyone. No exceptions.

I beg to differ

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant woman came and said to him, “You were also with Jesus the Galilean.”

But he denied it in front of all of them, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

When he went over to the gate, another woman saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

With an oath, he denied it again, saying, “I don’t know the man.”

A short time later those standing there came and said to Peter, “You must be one of them. The way you talk gives you away.”

Then he cursed and swore, “I don’t know the man!” At that very moment the rooster crowed. Peter remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably. (Matthew 26:69-75 CEB)

“If only I could have lived back in the time of the apostles and experienced with my own senses what they experienced, it would be so much easier for me to believe.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“I don’t really need other believers to help me stay strong in faith. I can do this on my own.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“Experience and knowledge trumps temptation. Compromise or cowardice are temptations for the young in faith, not for those who have been with Jesus for some time.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“No one has ever been able to tell the future.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“There is simply no way I would ever deny the Lord.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“A true Christ-follower knows when they’re most vulnerable, and so, is always ready for anything.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“Satan can do us no real harm when he tries to take us head-on. He always does his best work obliquely.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“I’m forever done with __________ [insert the sin of your choice here]. It can never be a temptation to me again.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“It seems clear to me that if someone falls away from the Lord, they never really had him in their heart to begin with.”

Peter would beg to differ.

“Real men never cry. Nothing good can ever come of it.”

Peter would beg to different.

Heavenly Father, lead me not into temptation. Deliver me from the evil one. Amen.