Romans, David, and Love for Enemies

The Death of Absalom, Gustav Dore

This week I read our Old Testament passages first before moving into the New, so by the time I read Romans, parts of 2 Samuel kept coming to mind. One part especially struck me from Romans 12 in the way we are to relate to our enemies.

David was by no means a perfect man, but he did display character unlike those around him. Starting back in 1 Samuel David has had many enemies, such as Saul, Abner, and Absalom. To these so-called enemies, David showed great respect and grace. In chapter 19 he is criticized for showing too much grief at the death of Absalom, who was his son, and his military commander complains and says David loves those who hate him.

But Romans 12 teaches us to bless those who persecute us and not to repay evil with evil. We are to love those who hate us. This certainly must be one of the most difficult commands placed upon us. We wish it could just stop at not repaying evil with evil. Couldn’t we just turn the other cheek and move along? Can’t I just walk away? To most such actions are commendable. But we’re called to do more.

It is too easy to support and encourage a perspective that views others as enemies (and not in a way to help target who we should love). We want a foil, a villain, an antagonist–someone or something to compare ourselves to and come out looking good. We’d rather demonize the enemy than sacrifice for their sake and show them love. This is not the way of the Christian.

Christ shows us a greater way, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” When we were enemies, God showed his love for us in sending Jesus Christ.

We won’t be able to match his demonstration of love, but one simple way we could start is to hold our tongues when it comes to labeling others as ‘enemy.’

Love Your Enemies – A story of Acts 9

La conversion de Saint Paul, Giordano (vers 1690)

About one year ago I preached on a text we read this week from Acts 9. It is the famous conversion of Saul, but instead of placing focus there, I gave more attention to an overlooked character of the story, Ananias. He’s the one given the task by God to welcome in a great enemy of the early church, the persecutor, Saul.

I set the stage like this:

Could you imagine? God comes to him in a vision, speaking his name, and Ananias responds, “Here I am Lord!” Then as the conversation continues he’s a little caught off guard. “You want me to do what? To Saul? I’ve heard of all the evil he is doing. You do realize that he has the authority to bind all (and by all, that means me!) who call on your name?” This has to be terrifying for him. We have the benefit of knowing the full story of Saul, how he is transformed by God and becomes a great servant of Jesus Christ. We know him much more as Paul the Apostle. Yet all Ananias knew was Saul, Saul the Persecutor of Christians, Saul the Enemy of the Church. Who really had persecuted the young Christian church more than he? Who had directly overseen more arrests and imprisonments? And that Saul is the one Ananias must lay hands on and heal.

Ananias has a tough task ahead. It boils down to the call we all have to love our enemies, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5. We aren’t to return love to only those who love us. No, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Saul fits that description quite nicely.

I finished the message with what we can learn from Ananias’ example of following Christ’s command, and in truth, Christ’s model of loving enemies.

…I don’t claim to excel at loving my neighbors, let alone loving my enemies. This is a challenge for me. But I don’t think many of us have enemies we encounter greater than what Ananias had in Saul. I don’t think our excuses for not obeying Christ’s command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute would match up with any of the excuses I’m sure Ananias could have come up with. But he didn’t make excuses. Christ is Lord, he trusted in him–he trusted that no matter how things might have appeared, God is in control, and he obeyed.