You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father
who is in heaven. (Matt 5:43-45)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
When we become Christians, tension with others can arise in two ways. First, when we draw closer to God, the gap between the biblical values we are growing into and the cultural values we are leaving behind widens, and people notice. After I started seminary, for example, I noticed that some of my saltier friends stopped using profanity in my presence. Second, because God loves people, when we draw closer to God and become more like Jesus, we cannot help but love people too (John 13:34–35). Although sanctification creates a gap between us and others, God’s love flowing through us works to bridge this gap (Jas 2:15–16).
Abraham and Lot
Consider the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. God blessed Abraham and then revealed plans to destroy two sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:17–20). Set apart from the world, Abraham then prayed to God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous living there (Gen 18:23–32), presumably including his nephew, Lot.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Lot showed no problem living in Sodom or compassion for his neighbors. Quite the contrary, Lot displayed bad judgment in choosing to live in Sodom (Gen 13:10) and only left Sodom on the urging of angels sent to retrieve him (Gen 19:16). Lot’s wife found it even harder to leave Sodom and disobeyed the angels by looking back at the flaming city (Gen 19:26).
Reflecting on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the church can position itself relative to culture in three ways: working to redeem the culture like Abraham, inattentive to the culture like Lot, or beguiled by the culture like Lot’s wife. Jesus commends Abraham’s approach (Luke 9:52–56), but the grace extended has limits, as Jesus instructs his disciples:
And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt 10:11–15)
The disciples are to offer peace (that is, to preach the Gospel) to everyone for the sake of others willing to listen, but those unwilling to listen should have their wishes respected (Matt 10:14).
The gap between others and ourselves is the focus of the last three Beatitudes:
Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9-11)
In these Beatitudes, Jesus neither denies, nor excuses, nor runs away from persecution. Instead, he treats persecution as a ministry opportunity—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—and he offers consolation for those suffering it. The implication is that tension with others is the norm, not the exception, for Christian disciples
Tension with Other
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