“God’s Mercy And Your Enemies”                                      February 3, 2013

Romans 12:17-21

 

Romans chapter 12 is about the practice of the Christian life.

   It’s about how Christians are supposed to behave and what we are to do

   in light of the mercies of God in Christ.

Paul has addressed how we are to relate to God—

   offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto him.

 

He has addressed extensively how we are to relate to one another in the church.

   how we are to relate to fellow believers. 

In that context has discussed use of our spiritual gifts and a great many detail

   of live in the body—loving and living together.

 

Now, Paul finishes by addressing how we are to relate to our enemies.

 


 

INTRO:  I’m reading an interesting book, not finished with it yet,

   but so far it’s quite moving and thought-provoking.

The title is Blood Brothers.  It’s an autobiography by a man named Elias Chacour. 

   He is a pastor in a very ancient branch of the church called the Melkite Church.

The Melkite Church has existed in the Middle East from around the time of the

   Apostles and most Melkites are Arabs. 

Just so you understand, this is a Christian community that is Arab in its ethnicity,

   that speaks Arabic.  But they are not Muslims, never have been. 

Their church was in existence several hundred years before Mohammed was born.

 

One of the largest concentrations of Melkite Christians is (or was) in Palestine.

For centuries they lived in little villages, peacefully following Christ

   all through the violent history of that part of the world.

Elias Chacour himself grew up in a village in Galilee not far from Nazareth

   and the Sea of Galilee. 

He and his parents, his five siblings, and grandparents lived in the family home,

   and they made a living tending a small orchard of fig trees.

The Chacours were very devout believers and they were friends with everyone—

   Christians, Muslims, and Jews who lived nearby.

   Their church was the heart of the community.  Not only place of worship, school.

 

Elias was nine years old when that peaceful way of life ended forever.

It was 1948, and the state of Israel was established by United Nations mandate.

   The Chacours’ village in Galilee was in the borders of Israel and very soon

   Jewish soldiers arrived.  The villagers welcomed them with Christian hospitality.

Fed them, put them up in their simple homes.  But the soldiers didn’t leave.

   After a few days they drove the villagers out at gunpoint to fend for themselves.

For weeks they lived outdoors, until they found shelter in a nearby abandoned

   village.  The Jews confiscated the land, including the Chacours’ fig orchard.

 

Eventually, in order to provide for his family, Elias’ father went to work for the

   Jewish man who now owed his orchard—the orchard he had planted and tended

   with his own hands, taken from him without any compensation.

He actually had to get a work permit to come on to his own land, and was

   constantly subjected to harassment and humiliating treatment by Jews.

These were simple Christians who only wanted to farm as ancestors had done—

   but they were treated as non-persons, without a home or country.

In some ways, they were treated by the Jews as the Jews themselves had been

   treated in Germany during the 1930s.

Eventually Elias’ father and the other villagers appealed to the Israeli Supreme

   Court for the return of their property and the court ruled in their favor.

But the military simply ignored the ruling and the soldiers stayed.

   A few years later they appealed again and won again, this time the soldiers left.

But in an act of pure spite, they first destroyed the village with tanks and bulldozers.

   The Chacours returned to find every home and their church reduced to rubble.

   Here’s how Elias describes his father’s response.

 

“Father’s face furrowed with grief.  I was terrified that he would weep.  He was still, his eyes shut, his mustache drooping above a faintly trembling lip . . . And in that same moment, I wished that Father would rage.  Perhaps fear had numbed my anger before this time.  Now as I watched Father’s pain-lined face, I shook with a horrible feeling . . . None of us could bear to see Father—dear, gentle, Father—in such agony of spirit.  When he spoke in a few minutes, his voice was barely above a whisper:  ‘Children,’ he said softly, turning those sad eyes upon us, ‘if someone hurts you, you can curse him.  But this would be useless.  Instead, you have to ask the Lord to bless the man who makes himself your enemy.  And do you know what will happen?  The Lord will bless you with inner peace—and perhaps your enemy will turn from his wickedness.  If not the Lord will deal with him.’”

 

As I studied this passage, as I studied what Paul says about not repaying evil for

   evil, and blessing and not cursing, and not taking revenge, and giving enemy

   something to drink, leaving room for God’s wrath, overcoming evil with good . . .

   I realized that I know almost nothing about this topic experientially. 

 

There are some of you here this morning who have had real enemies—

Some of you who have had precious things that can never be replaced torn from

   you by the maliciousness or greed of another person. 

Some of who have had to look into your children’s eyes and see the pain and

   confusion caused by the spitefulness of another human being. 

I haven’t.  I’ve read lots of books about Christians with enemies.

   I’ve always been drawn to stories like those of Chacours and believers like them. 

I’ve often wondered what kind of Christian and what kind of pastor I would be if

   I was truly wronged by bitter and spiteful enemies.  But I’ve never faced it.

 

So, I’m about to preach a sermon about something I’m completely ignorant of.

   But here it is in the text.  I have to preach it. 

   Those of you who are more experienced and wiser can correct me later.

Look at this passage under three headings: 

   1.  The extraordinary commands   2.  The underlying motivations 

   3.  The necessary examples

MP#1  The extraordinary commands

The Bible’s commands for how believers are to deal with their enemies are

   extraordinary, they are other-worldly, they go completely against the

   natural, fleshly bent of the human heart.  Look at these verses.

We are called to meet hostility with holy and beautiful lives.

   To live in such a way, that if people hate us, it is because we are so good 

   that our goodness and kindness irritates them.

As one preacher bluntly put it:  For the Christian this involves things like

   common courtesy, honesty at work, having a cheerful heart, being a team player,

   not being a troublemaker, a grump, a whiner, a constant complainer,

   or a hypochondriac.

 

We are called to do everything in our power to live at peace with people.

   They may not want to live at peace.  They may want to pick a fight, to quarrel,

   but we are called not to take the bait, not to be drawn into arguments, hostility.

As one old Scottish preacher put it:  We are to meet antagonism with

   “the imperturbable calm of a heart at peace with God, and seeking peace with all men.”

 

We are told not to avenge ourselves—not to allow our passionate feelings of

   personal resentment to cause us to take it upon ourselves to right private wrongs.

This command goes deeper than simply not acting on a desire for revenge—

   it actually forbids the very thoughts of revenge. 

   I’d like to pay him back for what he’s done.  I wish he would get what’s coming.

Instead, there is to be a humble acknowledgement that we don’t have any idea

   what this person deserves—but God does, so we’ll leave room for God.

 

We are also told that not wanting revenge, not taking revenge is not enough.

   We must meet hostility with blessing and kindness—food and drink.

   As Paul says earlier, and Christ himself in Sermon on Mount—blessings. 

This is called heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head.

   A very strange Old Testament saying.  The idea behind it is that you are to show

   kindness in the hopes that this will warm and soften him to repentance.

As Chacour’s father put it:  “Perhaps your enemy will turn from his wickedness.”

 

This is a uniquely Christian way of dealing with conflict, alienation, and hatred.

It’s easy to overlook how uniquely Christian this is

   because of the general influence of Christianity in Western culture. 

In other words, even many unbelievers understand in a general way

   that it’s good to forgive your enemy, and not to seek revenge.

But that is not the natural state of things. 

   That is not how it was in Paul’s day.  The Romans, like all pagans of antiquity,

   did not believe loving and forgiving your enemy was a virtue.

   In fact, the very opposite. 

It was considered virtuous to hold your enemies in contempt.

   The Greek playwright Aeschylus said:  “We must offend those who offend us.”

   If someone offends you, criticizes you, harms you—you must go on the attack. 

This is how it is in all pagan cultures. 

   Revenge is not only the natural response, it is the expected and right response.

 

As Christian influence wanes in America and in the West, we are starting to see

   a more adversarial way of life.  For centuries, the Gospel has had a gentling effect

   even on unbelievers.  They might not love their enemies, but there was a general

   understanding that revenge is wrong and turning other cheek is right.

The biblical ethic has restrained the worst kinds of vengeful behavior.

   But that is rapidly eroding. 

 

Young men in the inner cities of America kill other young men because they are

   offended.  Why did you shoot him?  Because he dissed me, man!

You can’t watch or listen to the news a single day without hearing stories

   of this or that group that is highly offended by the actions or words of another

   group and the most inflammatory language is used. 

We’re sheltered from worst of this in Cullman. 

   There is still a general Gospel influence here. 

But in much of America, the old pagan ideal is becoming the normal way of life—

   “We must offend those who offend us.”

 

This is an opportunity for us as a church and as individual believers

   to be reminded again that this extraordinary command—

   to love and seek good of our enemies—is a unique mark of the Christian faith.

It has always been the most powerful testimony of individual believers and church.

   Even the great detractors and enemies of Christianity have been forced to

   admit the love of Christians, and many have come to faith because of it.

 

And, there are few things that influence covenant children more powerfully,

   than Christian moms or dads who obey this command, like Chacour’s father.

That scene I read to you a moment ago, when he as a boy, saw and heard his father

   respond as he did to great injustice of enemies, profoundly influenced him.

He has given his life to promoting peace between Jews and Palestinians.

What if his father had raged and cursed like he wanted him to in moment.

Elias would have probably become like many Palestinians,

   consumed with hatred for Israel and the Jews and America.. 

So for our testimony to the world and for our own children, we must obey.

   But this is so hard.  Where do we find the strength? 

   Where is the power and motivation?  Brings us to the second point.

 

MP#2  The underlying motivations

Since this is our very last Sunday studying Romans 12, I want to take you back

   to our very first lesson, back to verse one. 

This is not only the key to understanding the whole chapter,

   but it’s really a key to the whole Christian life.

“Therefore, I urge you brother, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.”

 

The word “therefore” calls attention to the reasons that came before it.

   It’s a word that is used in building an argument, making a case.

What’s Paul referring to with this “therefore”? 

   He’s referencing everything he has said in the preceding 11 chapters. 

   What is Romans 1-11?  It’s Paul’s magnificent presentation of the Gospel.

 

He wrote the letter to the church in Rome to introduce himself.

   I’m Paul.  I’m an Apostle.  And this is my message—the Gospel, the good news.

   It’s the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.

Then Paul explains God’s gracious work of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Gospel starts with God and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ.

   You were dead your sin.  You were an enemy of God, a slave to the flesh.

But God did not destroy you.

   The Father chose you.  The Son died for you.  The Holy Spirit regenerated you. 

   You were predestined, called, justified, glorified.

And when he is all done explaining God’s plan and Christ’s work he says:

   Therefore, this is how you are to live.

 

This is the pattern of the whole Bible. 

   Every time commands, instruction given to believers, preceded by God’s work.

Look at the Ten Commandments. 

But before God tells Israel not to take his name in vain, and keep his day holy,

   and honor their parents, and do not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness,

   or covet—what does he tell them?

What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

   I’ve claimed you, Israel.  I sent Moses to be your deliverer.  .

   I provided the Passover lamb as a substitute for your sins.  I gave you an identity.

Therefore, keep my law. 

 

John Piper said that in this word “therefore” is a whole Christian life.

He’s right.  Before you can even begin to think about what you ought to do,

   how you ought to treat enemies or whatever—this must be crystal clear in mind.

   I’m doing this because God has already done everything for me. 

My ultimate motivation and empowerment for Christian living is God’s work.

   I don’t try to love my enemies because it’s good form, or the right thing to do—

   but because of what God has done.

 

And it seems that the great Christian hearts, those believers we admire the most,

   who have really faced real enemies and overcome evil with good—

   it seems that there are two things that they come back to over and over.

The first is a deep sense of gratitude for how God has treated them.

   In other words, a clear, biblical understanding of their own sin—

   the evil of their own sin, and the power it has over them without Christ.

I was once God’s enemy, but he had mercy on me.

 

That leads to a sympathy for other people caught in sin—even your enemies.

I’m reminded of the Bulgarian pastor Harlan Popov’s words about the

   communists who tortured him during his 13 years in prison.

How he was moved to sadness when he considered that these were men made in

   the image of God, could have done good with lives, instead cruelty ruined them.

 

And then second thing  that great Christians some back to over and over

   is the example of Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus on the cross. 

Noting in all history has done so much to heal deep human hurts and redirect

   otherwise resentful and retaliating lives than Christ’s suffering.

Peter said it best: 

   If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

 

Where does the motivating power come from to obey these impossible commands?

   From same power that saves you:  The power of the Gospel.

God’s grace to you when you were his enemy. 

   And Jesus Christ’s own painful and shameful death for you.

To the degree that the Gospel and the cross is vivid in your mind and heart—

   to that degree you will be able to bless your enemy and not curse.

 

This would be a good place to end this sermon, with our eyes on the cross.

But I think there is one more facet to loving your enemies that is vital.

   It’s the third point, I’m calling it . . .

MP#3  The necessary examples

As I said at the beginning, that I’ve had virtually no experience with this myself.  I’ve had a few irritating people here and there, a few critics,

   a bully once punched me in the stomach in 5th grade—but no real enemies—

   no one who out of spite or greed has intentionally harmed me. 

And I’ve often wondered—how would I respond? 

   Would I love and pray and seek their good—or would I rage and want revenge?

 

And so, as I also mentioned, I’ve been drawn to the stories fellow believers

   who have suffered in this way.  I’ve read dozens of them.

I’ve heard testimonies from the lips of some of you in this church, that have gone

   down deep into my soul.  I’ve watched the way some of you have

   blessed those who cursed you—perhaps in a bitter divorce, or when you were

   done wrong in a business deal or financial matter.  Thank you.

 

I can’t help wondering if this is of vital importance, these stories and examples.

We learn best by example.  And there are no examples more powerful than

   those of our brothers and sisters loving their enemies for Christ’s sake.

Let me share one with you that I read in preparation for this sermon.

 

Some of you might recognize the name John Perkins.

He is a pastor and the founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mendenhall, Miss.

   He has a third grade education, but received an honorary doctorate from Wheaton,

   and service on a presidential commission for inner-city problems under Reagan

John was born in 1930, near Mendenhall, Miss., the son of black sharecroppers. 

He left Mississippi for California when he was a teenager after his brother

   was killed by a white policeman.  While in California, he became a Christian

   and believed God was calling him to preach the Gospel back in his home state.

Moved back and started a church. 

On February 7, 1970, a Saturday night, a van of black college students who

   had been taking part in a civil rights march was pulled over by highway patrol.

The students were arrested and Perkins and two friends went to post bail.

   But when they arrived, they were surrounded by five deputy sheriffs and

   several highway patrolmen who began to beat them.

 

Perkins was particularly singled out and was beaten badly. 

   At one point an officer picked up a fork and said:  Do you see this?

Then jammed it up his nose and down his throat.

   For part of that terrible evening he was unconscious and so mutilated

   that the students who were watching him in his cell thought he was dead.

 

But listen to what he wrote about that night:

“I remembered their faces—so twisted with hate.  It was like looking at white-faced demons.  For the first time I saw what hate had done to those people.  The only way they knew how to find a sense of worth was by beating us.  Their racism made them feel like somebody.  When I saw that, I just couldn’t hate back.  I could only pity them.  I said to God that night, ‘God, if you will get me out of his jail alive’—and I really didn’t think I would, maybe I was trying to bargain with him—‘I really want to preach a Gospel that will heal these people too.’

 

He did get out alive, but later, as he was recovering in the hospital, he began to

   wrestle with his deep bitterness.  All the memories of injustices rising in mind.

  

“The Spirit of God worked on me as I lay in that hospital bed.  An image formed in my mind—the image of a cross, of Christ on the cross.  This Jesus knew what I had suffered.  He understood.  He cared.  Because he had gone through it all himself.  He too was arrested and falsely accused.  He too had an unjust trial.  He too was beaten.  Then he was nailed to a cross and killed like a common criminal.  But when he looked at the mob who had crucified him, he didn’t hate them; he loved them.  And he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’  His enemies hated, but he forgave.  God wouldn’t let me escape that.  He showed me that however unjustly I had been treated, in my bitterness and hatred I was just as sinful as those who had beaten me.  And I needed forgiveness for my bitterness.

 

I read Matthew 6:14-15 again and again in that bed: ‘For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your heavenly Father will not forgive your transgressions.  To receive a full assurance of God’s forgiveness, I was going to have to forgive those who had hurt me.  As I prayed, the faces of those policemen passed before me one by one, and I forgave each one.  Faces of other white people from the past came before me, and I forgave them.  I could sense that God was working a deep, inner healing that went far back beyond February 7, 1970.  It went clear back to my earliest memories of childhood.  God was healing all those wounds that had kept me from loving whites.  How sweet God’s forgiveness and healing.”

As we look back over this remarkable chapter of the Bible,

   we are amazed that God would call us to this great of a life.

That he would start by calling us to offer our bodies to him as a living sacrifice,

   and that he would end by calling us to bless enemies and overcome evil with good

 

How amazing that he would even consider us capable of doing these things—

   living such a grand life.  And yet, he does consider us capable.

It’s real.  There really are Elias Chacours and Harlon Popovs and John Perkins,

   and many other Christian heroes—even many in this congregation.

And what does this display but the power of the Gospel to transform lives,

   and the amazing work of God’s grace calling and claiming sinners,

   and the wonder of the cross of our Savior.

 

And so friends, even though this sermon series on Romans 12 is over,

   let us never close the book and quit our study of this great life and calling.

May we be men and women, boys and girls, a congregation and body

   that seeks to exalt God’s grace by living out his truth in our daily lives.