Matthew 5:43–48 (NKJV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Much has happened in the past week in our little community. I tried to prepare us as a congregation to face this issue some months ago by preaching on the topic of homosexuality and explaining what God has to say about the matter. No doubt there is more that could have been said and more that can be said, but at least we learned a little.
But a bit of fire has erupted this week over this issue and it is fitting for us to remember how we are to respond when folks criticize us for standing for the truth. It is ever easy to take things personally and forget that in defending the truth we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is the Lord.
In the meantime, our calling is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?
We must beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. At no time will that be more challenging than when we are being persecuted or slandered for the Name of Christ. But we can do it, we can extend grace and mercy even to those who persecute and slander us, because we know that God has promised to bless us as we do so – no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name(Acts 5:41b).
But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.