The message in our Catalyst service at Central Baptist this past Sunday was about "Love, Forgiveness and Judgment". I must confess that I struggle terribly with this topic, not so much as it applies to our unseen foreign enemies, but in how it impacts our daily interactions and relationships.
The idea of loving and forgiving our enemies and of not being judgmental is really tough. Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 ,“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus clearly tells us that the question of who is to blame for a conflict or broken relationship doesn’t matter. We are called on to pray for those who mistreat us. We aren’t called to pray that God would change the hearts of those who have mistreated us. That prayer would only be about us. We are called to pray that God would bless them. I believe we should pray that God would bless their health and bless their family…that God would protect them and their children and bless their lives.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus speaks of how important it is to reconcile broken relationships. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is saying that an essential aspect of worship is reconciliation of broken relationships, no matter who is at fault.
It’s not easy. I have begun to practice praying for my enemies and those I have conflicts with. At first, I found it difficult to be sincere, but I've found that as I've continued to pray for them that my heart has changed. I firmly believe that praying for our enemies is a spiritual discipline and that through this practice God will begin to transform our hearts.
As we continue looking at Luke 6, we see in verses 32-35, “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 are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” God calls us to love our enemies unconditionally. It is not our place to assume that by praying for our enemies that their hearts would be changed. That may happen, but through praying for our enemies, it is our hearts that are changed to look more like Christ. Jesus loved and forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified him. Remember in Luke 23:34, ” Then Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do". Oh, that we could have a hearts like that.
In Luke 6:37, we read, "Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Judging others or having a critical heart poisons our joy and the joy of those around us. When we enter worship with a critical heart, there is a strong likelihood that we will leave with the same critical heart. Remember how Jesus dealt with the adulterous woman? In John 8:7 we read, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." His response to her in verses 10-11, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." Surely, the Son of God could have pronounced judgment, but He forgave.
One other quick note about judging others: this seems to go hand-in-hand with gossip. Through judging others, we tend to build ourselves up by sharing our judgment with those around us. As I mentioned earlier, this poisons our joy and the joy of those around us. Remember Matthew 12:36, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Those are very strong words that definitely make you think hard about what you are saying.
The topic of love, forgiveness and not being judgmental is a really tough topic for me. God made man in His image. If I am to truly live in His image, I must learn to love like Jesus. I must learn to forgive like Jesus, and I must not judge. Only then can I be what God called Abraham to be, “A blessing to the world”. God, I pray that I might be transformed to look like Jesus.