Love Your Enemies (part 4)

Plowshares

The Apostle Paul pushes out Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies when he tells us to not be conformed to the patterns of this world (think of the myth of redemptive violence and the ideology of empire). Instead, we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2). Part of what happens when we become conformed to the patterns of our world is that we make God’s saving grace in Jesus completely spiritual and otherworldly.

Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior becomes a matter of going to heaven when we die. It’s “pie in the sky bye and bye.” Our ethics are privatized and related to things like sex, drinking, and smoking. That’s a very truncated gospel or understanding of the politics of Jesus, so much so that it practically becomes a caricature. God’s purpose is much more than getting us to heaven when we die. It’s about saving (we might say repairing) our whole world.

Brian Zahnd borrows the Jewish theological concept of tikkun olam— “repairing the world.” We recognized that, although our world’s broken, it’s not beyond repair and that it’s God’s intention to work through humanity to repair it. Brian says that although tikkun olam is properly a Jewish concept, we can borrow it. He writes:

Far too many American Christians embrace a faulty, half-baked, doom-oriented, hyperviolent eschatology, popularized in Christian fiction (of all things!), that envisions God as saving [some] people for. . . existence in a Platonic “heaven” while kicking his own good creation into the garbage can! Framed by this kind of world-despairing eschatology, evangelism comes to resemble something like trying to push people onto the last chopper out of Saigon.[1]

We then wonder why the word “evangelism” has become so toxic as we struggle to find other words such as “outreach” or being “missional.” We dare not forget that John 3:16 (the very familiar evangelistic verse) begins with “for God so loved the world.” And as I used to remind my students when I taught in the Philippines, “eternal life” begins right here and right now—not in some far-off heaven.

So, how does out outreach (dare we say evangelism) look when it’s rooted in God’s purpose of tikkun olam—repairing the world? It looks a lot like our church dedication service did as we joined with friends, other churches, community leaders, and even our local imam, in celebrating the things God is doing in our midst and dreaming about all the things yet to come. Sure, it’s only a beginning. We will want to continue and expand this adventure.

In the Apostle Paul’s words, it’s about “letting our love be genuine.” We genuinely care about the quality of our relationships with other people, our community, and all of creation and, in this way, enter into the life of God. It’s a good spiritual exercise to meditate on Paul’s examples of love in action in this scripture passage.

We cannot overcome violence with more violence—only love can do that. We do not fight evil with evil, instead, we overcome evil with good. The goal is not to defeat our enemy but to win our enemy and, by God’s grace, to have him or her be transformed by the gospel of peace just as we have been transformed.

[1] Brian Zahnd, A Farewell to Mars (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2014), 58.

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