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God’s Word for You

Luke 6:27-28 Love your enemies

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.

This is a hard saying from Jesus. For everyone who fully grasps the truth that the gospel is the only tool for winning souls, this doctrine of loving one’s neighbor makes perfect sense in a way that no other religion in the world could ever comprehend. A Buddhist, an atheist, a Deist like our American founding fathers, a Unitarian, and even a Mormon can only hope that being kind to an enemy will somehow cool hostilities and spread a breeze of peace in the world. But Jesus wants us to show genuine kindness in order to win souls. How did Paul become a Christian? He was the most formidable enemy Christianity ever had. Single-handed, Paul came closer to wiping Christianity completely off the face of the earth than anyone else in history. But the gospel won him over as Christianity’s strongest champion instead.

Yet this remains a hard teaching. Why? For some, it’s because they are still infants in their faith. They naturally—that is, according to the sinful human nature—lash out at anyone who seems like an enemy. They can’t help but speak in derogatory terms, belittling everyone who opposes them. When such a spiritually and morally immature and inept man takes a public office, the world trembles at his irresponsible and dangerous statecraft.

But there is another side to this. This is when the new Christian wonders how to reconcile God’s command to love with God’s Old Testament command to Israel to annihilate the Canaanites. God said: “Completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 20:17). How does this annihilation fit alongside loving and forgiving? William Arndt, an early 20th Century Lutheran theologian (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis), made seven points about this.  I shall quote his points and make some additional comments:

1, (These) nations were extremely wicked. The sins of these nations were such that even they expected to be destroyed by the hand of God (Joshua 2:10,11). God said, “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (Leviticus 18:28). God himself came down and sent his angels to inspect cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. Their judgment was, “We are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13).

2, The objection cannot be raised that these nations did not know any better. Abraham had lived peacefully among the Amorites (Genesis 14:13) and Hittites (Genesis 23:5-6) and befriended them. In Jacob’s time, a Hivite violated his daughter Dinah (Genesis 34:2) which caused a rift between their families, but clearly there had been some peaceful interaction before this. Jacob’s brother married a Hittite woman, a Hivite woman, and an Ishmaelite (Genesis 36:2-3). Also, Melchizedek the King of Salem, who lived among the Jebusites, was a believer in the true God and was in complete fellowship with Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20). All of these details show that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob proclaimed their faith to the people around them and interacted with them, almost always offering their friendship. The nations of Canaan had heard about the promises of God; they had heard the gospel.

3, The God who is love is likewise a just God. To reject God is also to reject his grace, since grace comes through the channel of faith: “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of the Abraham” (Romans 4:16). Also, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into his grace” (Romans 5:1-2). But anyone who falls away from Christ and alienates themselves from Christ has fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4) and become a subject of God’s wrath.

4, Was there anything extraordinary in the command that all inhabitants without exception were to be punished by death? Like the complete destruction of the flood, the destruction of the Canaanites was to be utter and complete. The difference in this case was that only the Canaanites, the unbelieving nations who inhabited the Promised Land, were to be destroyed. The nations outside the land, including the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Egyptians, and others, were spared. These acts were a proclamation of the law to those other nations, to draw them to repent and to ask the God of Israel for mercy.

5, It may have been an act of great mercy that the little children were cut off before they reached the years of discretion. The Bible does not specifically address the fate of infants and children who die without faith through the fault of their parents. However, in the passages where Jesus refers to degrees of punishment in hell (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:13-15), even Sodom and Gomorrah are said to have a more bearable punishment than that of the nations who rejected Christ in person. Also, Jesus said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone around his neck” (Mark 9:42). Professor Arndt says that, for one born into a nation of unbelievers, “It is better for one to die in infancy without having been received into the number of God’s people than to grow up to adulthood and to die an unbeliever who had spent one’s life defying the will of the Almighty.”

6, If God cut short the time of grace for this people, he knew why he was doing it. We cannot know all of the mind of God or understand all of his ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God said to Job, ”Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:2). With nothing but humility, we might propose that God had the good of the gospel in mind, and the preservation of his chosen people (see point 7 below).

7, If the true religion was to be preserved in Israel, the heathen nations of Canaan had to be not merely subjected, but exterminated. The heathen nations around and within Canaan showed again and again, without fail, that they preferred to reject Israel’s God outright (such as Goliath cursing Israel by his gods), or to combine the two religions. But “what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). More than this, God’s command to destroy the Canaanites came with this specific point in mind: “Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 20:18).

To these seven points we will add: (8) God does not make this command of anyone today, nor will he ever again. We have a new command from God today, the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and “Go and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Endeavors that took up arms in the past in the name of Christianity—such as the crusades—violated the Gospel command of Christ. We are not commanded to do anything at all in the name of real estate. What does it matter who lives in Jerusalem today? This must not sway the work of the church. If our country chooses to do a thing or not do a thing on the basis of treaties we have made in the name of peace, then that is the business of our leadership. But there is no religious reason at all to go to war or to support a war in the name of Christian doctrine.

In the same light, and I will speak cautiously here so as not to offend the spiritually weak, we should tread more carefully when we in the name of our Christian faith support or protest any political agenda. A careful study of the eight points above will show that our goal must be the proclamation of the gospel, and the saving of souls. This is yet another way in which we love our neighbor, including our enemies and those who mistreat us.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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