Loving Those We Dislike
[Originally published in The Fort Bend Herald]
One of the most difficult concepts of Christianity involves a series of commands that relegate us to love pretty much everyone, everywhere and in every situation. While the sentiment of that seems truly noble and altruistic, many find themselves in a very difficult crisis of faith for the simple fact that there are some people we honestly find very hard to like. “Liking” involves commonality in thought or position. It involves someone we consider compatible and worthy. It involves reciprocity. Indeed, all of us have those around us of whom these traits simply do not exist. We simply do not “like” everyone. How, then, are we to love them?
The first order is to confirm the need for such indiscriminating love in the scriptures. Indeed, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor (Mt 22:39). The apostles teach us to love one another in the church (Rom 12:10) and our spouses (Eph 5:25). These emanations of love seem easy enough to fulfill; or at least a realistic goal to shoot at- until we realize that even these two commands come with caveats: Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Paul instructed husbands to love their wives as their own bodies.
But wait: it gets worse, for Jesus further said that we should love even our enemies! (Mat 5:43-44) This instruction, he follows with, “For if you love those who love you… do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (v. 46)
Now the sentiment is getting downright troublesome. Let’s face it, it’s hard at times to love even those people we share Thanksgiving Dinner with – let alone those who have earned the moniker of “enemy.” For all practical purposes, the very definition of “an enemy” is someone that in the very least we do not like at all. How, then, are we to love those we (sometimes for good reason) simply do not like?
The bad news is this is not an easy pursuit, even when properly understood. The good news is most of us have completely misunderstood this set of commands because of language issues.
“Love,” in English is an extremely flexible term. We love our spouses and we love our dog. (Surely those two do not mean the same thing.) We love certain forms of art. We love chicken fried steak and we love our children. Each of these things gets coined as “that which we love” but with significantly distinct meanings and inferences that actually separate this idea of “love” into numerous categorically different things altogether.
In the New Testament there are two different Greek terms translated into English as “love.” One term is the term most similar to that “love” we claim for our families and friends. The other is a sense of the idea of “love” that frankly, we do not use very often in conversational English. (There is no Greek equivalent to our love for chicken fried steak to my knowledge… that must be an English thing.)
The lesser used term for “love” in the NT (about 20 times) is phileo (phil-eh’-oh); often referred to as “brotherly love.” Such is the namesake for the city of Philadelphia and various other English terms with the “phile” suffix. This term is best understood as “relational” love. It is that “I love you because you and I have a personal connection.” This term best fits with our love of family and friends, because it is reciprocal: the love we have for those we “like.” Most of us are thinking of THIS type of love when we hear the command to “love your enemies.” But, relax – that is not the command we have been given.
The second and far more common “love” in the NT (over 250 times) is agape (ah-gah’-pay) (n) or agapao (ah-ga-pah’-o) (v). This is (potentially) unreciprocated love. It is a love that is chosen, deliberate and service oriented; but not necessarily relational. To love in this manner is tantamount to Jesus’ golden rule: to treat others as we wish to be treated. This is the love we are administering when we give money to help feed or clothe total strangers. It is the love we are sharing when we stop to help a stranger on the side of the road. These are not reciprocal actions: I’m not helping because I realized that was a friend of mine I just passed on the highway. These are chosen, deliberate acts of service to others out of reverence for their creator and recognition of their need.
While both types of love are commanded in scripture in various scenarios, we are ten times more often commanded to agapao those around us: love through service and with potentially nothing gained in return. THIS is the love we are commanded to give our enemies. We are to value them as human beings and provide them with dignity and service when able. We should help them when in need. We should speak kindly and act compassionately even if they are our political enemies or are on the “other side” of the culture war. It is this love that God demonstrated toward us in that he loved us while we were his enemies (Rom 5:8). In the same manner, we are to love our enemies; even if we don’t happen to like them.
Right Questions Wrongly Answered
(Editorial Note: This article was written prior to Sunday’s shooting in Wisconsin. Originally published in the Fort Bend Herald, July 29, 2012. Minor edits have been inserted for this venue and date)
While the escalation of mass homicide in recent years is truly disturbing, perhaps equally ominous is our nation’s continued denial concerning the origination of such evil. Reminiscent of Fort Hood, Columbine and Virginia Tech, the recent shootings in Aurora have once again stirred the country to evaluation regarding the cause of such seemingly disconnected and horrific acts. Within hours of the incident commentators were politicizing the situation with appeals for better mental health care, gun control or public education. One analyst confidently prophesied that, “our country has failed James Holmes” (the shooter) in some unexplained manner.
While a number of theoretical culprits may have been contributing factors to Holmes’ rampage, what is troubling about such responses is that they are built upon two false assumptions. Foremost is the notion that such raw degeneracy is impossible in rational man except for some external influence. Related and secondary is the presumption that proper human initiative can cure such deviation. Mankind is deemed too equitable for such a heinous deed, thus something else must be ultimately liable. Thus, Adam blames Eve while she points at a snake. Responsibility is imagined outside of the offender’s control.
The scriptures are far less diplomatic of human propensity; asserting that all men possess a congenital sin disorder for which they are held responsible. No one has to teach a two year old how to hit a friend in defiance. Every toddler instinctively knows to lie about the half-eaten cookie. Sin is innate from birth; albeit in ways that seem innocuous when displayed from the least defiled among us. While even minor sin condemns us as guilty before a righteous judge, sin has a tendency to grow and mature into something far less cute than an unruly toddler’s tantrum. Romans 1 teaches that men who reject and suppress God’s truths are given over by God to a continued descent into unquenchable depravity. Verse 28 notes, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Verse 30 affirms a further deterioration in that they become “haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil…faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
To those who affirm the trustworthiness of scripture, actions such as those taken by James Holmes are not enigmatic. While surely he is troubled and debased beyond the normative societal rule, his issue remains the same as is common to all. He is guilty of living out the fruition of an uncontrolled sin nature; the epitome of which is self-servitude to the exclusion of God’s supreme rule of law. Our most obvious examples of the destruction of sin are played out in the lives of those likened to Holmes.
More appropriate than a clamor to lawmakers in light of this sort of wickedness is a resolute commitment to the restoration of sinners through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The law of both God and man quite staunchly condemned the behavior of last Friday’s murderous rage before it ever happened. At issue is not the lack of a clear legal standard, but a rebellious soul that considered himself exclusive to it.
Christ was crucified for such sin. He paid sin’s eternal penalty for those who trust Him alone as their reparation before God. Those who reject His provision will continue their slide toward obstinacy to unknown depths of depravity. Those who trust in Christ’s provision receive capacity to overcome sin in their lives, along with its eternal consequences.
Pray, therefore, for the propagation of the gospel in our increasingly wicked world. Therein lies hope for depravity.
Fighting ‘Bigotry’ with Bigotry
The American system of public discourse and representative government is not hard to grasp. We are “the melting pot” where people from every race, creed and background are welcomed to bring their best to the table. Governing that table are representatives duly elected to uphold the will of the collective population from within the framework of an overshadowing constitutional standard. From within that standard these representatives are charged with the task of establishing the law of the people, by the people and for the people.
In such a system several things are inherently necessary. Among them is that the people have a voice and the freedom do express it fully. Without such a voice, representatives govern without direction and pursue their personalized visions for the country. Ability to express our collective voices has been assured in the First Amendment and in just about every state by written mandate. After all, every seat of local, state and federal governments in our nation is democratically elected and representative in nature. People simply must be allowed to express their political opinions for such a system to work.
At issue in the nation today is the variance between the mandate and the actions of our elected officials. Case in point is the rash of recent government sponsored blockades of free speech as it relates to the hot-button “redefinition of marriage” mayhem. In the past few weeks this has taken a very personal and utterly un-American turn as one of the nation’s largest family owned businesses is being targeted for extinction by government representatives-turned-operatives over the family’s constitutionally protected exercise of expressing their political opinions openly.
Dan Cathy, President and CEO of Chick-fil-A, apparently crossed an invisible line in the spirit of the First Amendment last week when he simply stated, “guilty as charged” to the assertion that he upholds a biblical definition of marriage (as being uniquely between man and woman). He followed with comments on the Ken Coleman Show with his suggestion that the nation could face God’s judgment over the redefinition of marriage. This, according to a growing list governing officials, is tantamount to gay bashing.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed that “Chick-fil-A values…disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.” He vowed to support the blocking of new Chick-fil-A construction announced by Proco Joe Moreno, in Chicago’s 1st Ward. Moreno claims that Cathy is “bigoted” and “homophobic” because he is against gay marriage. In addition to Chicago (the last place on earth that should be dis-allowing a successful business opportunity) Boston Mayor Thomas Menino informed the Boston Herald that he no longer wants Chick-fil-A in Boston. In Mountain View, California a gay couple as at least temporarily blocked the opening of another Chick-fil-A by launching a “zoning” challenge, noting that “because it was a bunch of bigots, it gave us an extra nudge” to attempt to prevent them from building a restaurant there.
The irony of each of these scenarios should be crystal clear to anyone; whether gay, straight, atheistic or a believer. Simply put, this is a full living color illustration of the new art of bullying via charges of ‘bigotry.’ Call someone a bigot and you will immediately find support for your cause.
Forget the fact the homosexual community is the first to scream “First Amendment” when they break decency laws on the streets of New York City; sodomizing one another in the streets for what is depicted as a “parade.” Forget the fact that every group that has the ability to decry “bigot” does so with the same constitutionally granted freedom that those they cry against are using in stating their own objections. Let’s focus on a much simpler fact: gay marriage is a moral and POLITICAL issue being argued in every federal, state and local election bid. Cathy did not say he hated homosexuals. He did not say they were not allowed to eat in his establishments. Quite the contrary, he noted the continued openness of his venues to serve people of all types, explicitly including “sexual orientation.” The issue against Cathy is not homophobia or gay bashing. Nothing of the sort has taken place. He said what nearly every republican presidential nominee this past year has said; that he is opposed to the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex genders.
Since when has power been granted to government heads to punish their people for not “thinking” according to a pre-set template? By what right does a mayor or a district alderman (for crying out loud) refuse successful businessmen from building their enterprise based on their being on the side of other government officials who argue the same principles? Have these people not watched a single presidential debate this year? Do they not read newspapers? Are they so out of touch as to not know that this is an ongoing national debate? This is America; a land built on the principle of public and open debate on the issues before the people.
Cathy is an American citizen. His family employs 61,000 Americans in the worst economy of most of our lifetimes. He has constitutionally-protected rights to express his opinion on any political issue of his choosing. Any politician who attempts to destroy his business because of his views on a very public and torn political argument is proving himself to be a bigger bigot than he claims Cathy is.
Merriam-Webster defines bigotry as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices…” How more intolerant can one be than to determine “if you do not agree with our side of an ongoing national debate we will deny you a right to do business in our city?” These men should be impeached for using their offices as playpens for their personal agendas. They are clearly outside of their governing roles in a representative system when they harass their opponents over the fundamental practice of their rights. They are doing precisely what they accuse others of doing by fighting (supposed) bigotry with bigotry.
The Truth about RFID Implantation in the New Healthcare Bill
One of the hardest things about being a premillennialist is being inevitably associated with other premillennialists. Among the many qualified, biblically sound and sane Biblicists out there also exist a panicky, superstitious and downright dishonest fringe (ok… it may be a pretty wide “fringe”) which will stop at nothing to “prove” their postulates; even if it means that the truth must be entirely misrepresented in the process. Continue reading
Obama? Nobel Prize? Peace?
I have to admit that the last piece of news I expected to wake up to this morning was that Obama would be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. This shock has nothing to do with my personal feelings for Obama, but rather with my obviously incorrect assumptions that the prize was actually somewhat difficult to win. Clearly, nothing about this award could be hailed an actual “accomplishment” by Barack Obama.
The first and most ridiculous indication of this fact is that Obama was president of the US only two weeks before the deadline for the nomination of this year’s prize. It is my understanding that his accomplishments up to that moment were the consideration for his winning of the prize. Perhaps this explains some things.
One of the noted “accomplishments” of the then two-week-term president was his “pledge” to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms. While I have no reason to doubt that Obama’s pledge is one of sincerity, it has thus far been little more than political speak. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to “work out” a reduction limit on nuclear warheads. They even discussed the numbers of such future reductions. What they have not done, however, is to have stipulated nor spoken further about the actual dates at which such reductions should take place. Their “talks” have remained precisely that. The world’s nuclear arsenal is not dwindling. In fact, all evidence suggests, it is instead most likely soon to be growing; right into the hands of murderous mad-men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man Obama “talks” about regularly. (Ahmadinejad, once enabled, will not talk about his position; he will act.) But, apparently “talk” is the substance of reward in the eyes of the Nobel committee.
Another noted reason for Obama’s nomination and win is his work to ease conflict between America and Muslim nations. Of course, Obama pledged to end the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts. Since his pledge, ironically, an actual increase in US presence in those nations has occurred, including 21,000 additional troops in Afghanistan alone.
Personally, I’m not in favor of reducing America’s nuclear arms or of getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq before the work in those regions which we began has been completed. Yet I am swooning from the presumption that Obama has actually done anything concerning his promises – however ill-advised – on those matters.
The Nobel Peace Prize, it seems, is about intentions rather than accomplishments.
A quote from the prize committee’s announcement describes, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.” Since when is the “capture (of the) world’s attention” tantamount to actual success as it relates to the acquiring of peace?
Clearly, the Nobel Peace Prize fails to meet its charter, which was noted in the will of founder, Alfred Nobel. In his last testament he specified that the peace prize should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”
Clearly, no distinction is being made between one who “shall have done the most or best work” and one who shall “expressed the best intentions.”
In all fairness, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has historically demonstrated an aptitude for “lack of forward vision.” Among former nominees are Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, while Yasser Arafat actually won the award in 1994. Ironically, Mahatma Gandhi, though nominated five times, never won an award.
Perhaps it all makes more sense than we are admitting.