Sunday Morning Service Sermon 5 May: “How to handle those who have wronged you”
When someone wrongs or mistreats you or says things that will end up hurting you, how do you respond? Being mistreated happens in life amidst this fallen world that we live in. It can occur within the church, within our marriage, within our family or anywhere where we have relationships with others. So what we need to ask is this, are we responding rightly when we are wronged by another by the things they say or the things they do? How are believers supposed to respond when someone has wronged us?
I once read that the best argument for Christianity is Christians. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians. We are the billboard God wants to use to tell the world about Him. What story are we telling? I want to encourage you to examine yourselves in light of Jesus’ teaching and to think of at least one sustainable step of obedience God wants you to take. Ask God to help you develop the habits as he uses his word to reshape you into the image of Jesus.
Jesus gives strong words to the believer concerning our response to those who are against us or have wronged us either in what they have said or what they have done. Turn back to Luke 6:27-36. Now, we learn from 17th verse of this chapter that Jesus at this moment is speaking to a large gathering of people, some true disciples, some not and likely some moving toward genuine faith. To put this into context, the Jews of Jesus’ day had a direction to which most of their hatred was going. It went towards the Romans. They didn’t like being occupied and they didn’t like the Roman presence. They didn’t like it for lots of reasons. They oppressed God’s people. They didn’t like how the Romans had taken away their self-rule. They had appointed Herodian rulers and placed them around Israel to rule.
We read in the parallel passage in Matthew 5:43 that the system of Jewish law considered it a sin to love your enemy. But here, Jesus steps into this environment and says:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”
The thrust of the passage is, because Jesus loves those who are against him, we should act in the best interests of those who are against us as this is a distinguishing characteristic of a true believer.
His function being to reassert the truth and lead people to repentance so that true instruction is restored and ultimately God is honoured.
But, isn’t that the opposite of what human nature tells us to do?
There are three typical responses which are influenced by our human nature to being wronged or mistreated 1) to defensively confront back 2) to yield 3) to withdraw or flee.
Each of the three normal human instinctive responses has the potential to bring discord into our relationships because the one wronged is often left with ill feeling towards the one who has wronged them which can be lasting. Although the expression of submission can be an effective Christian witness in some circumstances.
It’s important to note here that built into us there are self-defence mechanisms that God has given us for the sake of self-protection from harm or death. If someone intends to physically harm or mistreat me I’m going to defend myself or run away. This is good. It’s not about that.
What is the passage saying? To obtain a deeper understanding of the passage we need to hear first, what Jesus is saying to those who were listening and, second, what he wants to say to us today.
Firstly, beginning in verse 27 “But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies.” It’s clear who Jesus is instructing because verse 27 begins with “But I tell you who hear me.” He is referring to people whose ears have been opened by the transforming power of God. Those who are willing to listen and have the ability to hear the voice of God and respond vs. people who don’t. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul says:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolish to him and he cannot understand them.”
So Jesus narrows his audience here and says I am talking to you who have spiritual understanding, the true believer.
Now we’re not simply talking about loving someone who doesn’t think you’re the greatest person in the world or when someone just doesn’t seem to like you. Jesus says love your enemies, in other words, they are positioning themselves by attitude to be against you. Your enemies are the ones who hate you, express contempt toward or about you, and mistreat you.
What response does this passage call for? It’s important to note that the words Jesus commands describe a call to act or behave; “love”, “do good”, “bless”, “pray for” – why? Because it’s not normal. This will be a demonstration that you’re not normal because others don’t do that. Unbelievers don’t love their enemies. They hate them. Unbelievers, verse 32, ‘love those who love them’. Unbelievers, verse 33, ‘do good to those who do good to them’. Loving our enemies is how we display transformation, regeneration, salvation; by an unnatural, supernatural love.
Jesus is not talking about having affection for our enemies. When he says the word “love” he means the Greek word agape and so he is talking about a deeper level of love. He teaches us to respond to them in a manner that is for their benefit and not for ours. We’re going to respond in love because if we respond in anger and bitterness and resentment we do not become a part of the redemptive work of God in the life of that person and we become engaged in a process of becoming their enemy.
We can’t love our enemies like we love our spouse, family or friends. When Jesus says I am to love my enemies we are going to have to make a choice by an act of our will to love them. If I can lovingly help the other person in how I respond in such a manner that builds them up, and in doing so God may somehow change their attitude, then we are freed from the animosity and bitterness which comes from being wronged. Anytime we respond with defensiveness, animosity and bitterness we are the ones who will suffer, we become unhappy, regardless of how our enemies may suffer, we take on the unnecessary suffering when we follow the same attitudes that they have.
There is a price to be paid to love those who have wronged us. We give up something of ourselves for the greater good. It is a willingness to turn away from our own prerogatives in order that we might focus on others. This is the kind of humility and servant hood necessary to preserve love in relationships. The Christian is the person who reasons that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong.
Although Jesus had a greater capacity to love his enemies than we do, he did give us the responsibility to do so. Genuine agape love is a strong kind of love. Even though Jesus loved everybody, including his enemies, sometimes he confronted them in love, such as towards the Pharisees. Love isn’t weak. It is a quality of love that because it is redemptive by nature, it’s ready, able and bold enough to lovingly confront the other person when confrontation with them is for their best benefit. So we’re not talking about being passive and always backing up. God loves you and me and he confronts us. In our love for even our enemies we may need to confront them, not in an aggressive attack, but to ask the question for example “why do you feel this away about me, what have I done to you?” This is not defending ourselves; it is simply asking the question to seek understanding that you may be able to redeem the whole situation. For example, in John 18:22-23 we read of Jesus’ response when he was accused of answering inappropriately the high priest’s question about his teaching.
“Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded. Jesus replied, if I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”
So firstly, he says we are to “love our enemies”. Secondly, he says “do good to those who hate you”. Hatred is an extreme, overwhelming sense of dislike for another person. Jews had developed a hatred of people who violated their law and traditions and they thought that this was a righteous thing to do. Jesus says the proper response is that we do good to those who hate us which means that I take the initiative to find every means possible to do good, to show that I can overcome their evil with good.
He says I am to love them, I am to do good to them and the third thing he says is to “bless those who curse you.” Blessing here means that I am to say something good to those who have said something wrong about me. What is that? That’s the gospel. You speak that which brings about their ultimate good. Speaking goodness into their life may involve helping them understand their sin and the consequences as the Holy Spirit convicts that way.
So not only are we to love our enemies, not only are we to do good to them, we are to bless them and then he says we are to “pray for those who ill-treat you.” How do we pray for our enemies? The most powerful weapon you have as a believer is prayer but we won’t pray for them long if our attitude doesn’t go from anger to love. We must put away our critical attitude when we come to him.
He is not going to answer our prayers if they would violate his own nature or will. Instead of begging the Father to defeat our enemy we can ask him for the strength to express genuine Christ-like love in the face of opposition or pray “Lord can you provide me with an opportunity to provide them with love in accordance with their needs.” When you start interceding in the life of those who have wronged you through Godly prayer and your motivation is to see redemptive work occur in their heart, God will get to work in the life of that person because we are consistent with the teaching of his will.
In loving our enemies, Jesus is not saying we should never be discerning. He is not saying that you and I must never make a judgement about someone. Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” is often misunderstood. You and I may come into contact with somebody and we may make a judgement that there is something wrong in their behaviour, attitude or speech. The question is what motivates our opinion and secondly even if my opinion about this person is not good, I’m to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” as Jesus says in Luke 6:36, and not to be judgemental in a condemning manner. That is, in loving our enemies we are to be compassionate and sympathetic just as your Father is. And what does the Bible say, “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” God will respond to us in the same way.
How are we going to be able to do this? There isn’t anyone alive who can love their enemies as Jesus teaches in their own strength and in their own human nature because following the fall thousands of years ago you and I are simply not able.
My resource to love those who have wronged me, doing good to them, blessing them, being merciful to them and forgiving them is Christ. Nothing comes our way without his knowledge. Colossians 3:4 says that Christ is my life. So how can I respond in the way Jesus wants me to respond when my old sinful human nature still abides in me? Only because Christ is my life. And what does Paul say in Galatians 5:22-23?
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
He says this is the fruit of the Spirit, not of you, not of me. We know Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches. Fruit is what a branch supports or bears, not produces – Jesus said “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” The sap that runs in the vine runs in the branch and so the fruit is produced. You and I can’t do all the things Jesus has just required of us. That’s why the Holy Spirit (the sap) came at Pentecost and thereafter indwells every single believer. As we allow Him to live His life in and through us Christ becomes our resource. The Holy Spirit is our guardian, God’s divine energy and authority released in your life for the purpose of Godly living and fruitful service. Whatever you face, you never face it alone. Whatever the battle, you can’t lose when you have the whole trinity working in you.
So how am I able to think before I speak, listen more and defend less, give more and receive less, compromise more and argue less? Jesus said in John 15:5
“apart from me you can do nothing.”
James 1:5 says:
“If you need wisdom ask our generous God and he will give it to you.”
Christ is my life! He is our resource.
But, how do I respond even though I know that Christ is my life and I’m under pressure from someone who has wronged me and I’m struggling to obey God, what then? You respond by faith. Paul says in Galatians 2:20
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
God has not left us alone in our struggles to do his will. He wants to come alongside us and be within us to help. God gives us the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Submit to his control and let him work. Pray, “Father, it’s not in me. I submit myself to you. I’m trusting you to respond through me.”
But, why does God allow me to be criticised, put down or wronged in some way – what’s he doing that for? He’s using this as a tool to work out something good in my life – to sand and to sift and to mould my character. God wants to make me mature and complete not keep me from all pain. James 1:2-3 says:
“when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”
In summary, Christian love says, “You may be harming me, but I’m not going to give you back what you’re giving me. I’m going to love you in the way that I would like you to love me.” Overwhelm that wrong with responding goodness. This isn’t normal. And isn’t that the point? The point being, they will recognise that this is not human, and it will become clear that this identifies you as having a supernatural love which reveals Christ who is working in you and through you which brings much praise and glory to God. We become witnesses of the risen Christ.
As you rely on Christ responding through you out of His love you’ll not grow bitter, you’ll not get resentful. As God grows character in your life it is a believer’s opportunity to grow up and become like God and to receive God’s promise of a Heavenly reward which “will be great” (Luke 6:35). A reward greater than anything you will lose on earth by loving your enemies.
As Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, we are to be imitators of God walking in love as Christ loved and gave himself up for us. While we were enemies, (when we positioned ourselves against him), he loved us. While we were enemies, (when we mistreated him), Christ gave His life for us. Jesus has set the example for his followers.
Father, how grateful we are that you didn’t leave us on our own to handle those who have wronged us leaving us to respond in our own way. We thank you that you have given us the Holy Spirit with your Word and instruction and the opportunity to apply it. I pray that we will keep growing in knowledge and understanding so that we may live pure and blameless lives which will bring glory and praise to you. Help us to meditate upon what you have taught us on loving our enemies. In Jesus name, Amen