Loving the Worst Enemy

Related image Bernie Diaz, June 7, 2017

The United Kingdom is reeling from having suffered three terrorist attacks on their home soil within the last three months, the most recent having resulted in the deaths of seven people and nearly three dozen injured in London last week.

The radical Islamic State organization, better known as ISIS, has once again claimed responsibility for these attacks, featuring individual, radicalized Muslims, supported by an obviously evil and treacherous faction, hell-bent on destroying western society in general and Judeo-Christianity (“the infidels”) in particular.

What is troubling the west- and the UK specifically of late, is the question of what to do about Islam and its ideologically radicalized wing? With as many as 23,000 Muslims of military age identified as possible terrorist threats in England today, how can that nation’s law enforcement protect its citizens, without engaging in racial or religious profiling and enacting policies that could be interpreted as hate-based?

Furthermore, what is the Christian response for disciples to be, towards Islam, a false religion and its terrorist factions, living in the midst of such terror and it’s ever increasing danger?

There should be little doubt for the Christian holding to a biblical worldview, that Islam like any other religion, is at odds with – or even considered to be an ‘enemy’ combatant of God and his gospel. But what further complicates the matter is that the radical, violent fringe of Islam, is growing in influence and possesses immediate harm to each and every state that preaches true religious tolerance.

As I just preached the Sermon on the Mount’s challenging if not humanly impossible command to “love our enemy” like a neighbor and like ourselves, I was confronted by the possibility, if not the probability of coming face to face with a Muslim man or woman in my community- a neighbor, affiliated perhaps in someway with an avowed enemy of our faith.

Where can I turn to and see a tangible example of how a Christian is to love an enemy, not just any enemy, but one who is associated with terrorism, the single greatest threat to safety and security on earth today?

How about Egypt?

According to a report from Christianity Today, there were twelve seconds of silence – an awkward eternity on television, where Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

Such marvelous mercy and forgiveness is at the heart of what it means to love an enemy and display the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ – even in the midst of persecution and death.

‘Coptic’ (Greek for Egyptian) Christians, perhaps the earliest Egyptian sect of the early church, reportedly founded by the evangelist and gospel author Mark in the first century, have long suffered as a religious minority in the Middle East.

The Palm Sunday twin suicide bombings killed more than 45 people and are the second ISIS attack on Christian sanctuaries in five months. Yet, the Coptics are undeterred in their quest to love and forgive their enemies as a means of gospel proclamation.

For example, CT reports that on the night of the bombings, Orthodox priest Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, his words were broadcast on a popular Coptic TV station, where he said, “I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is,” said George, addressing the terrorists. But then turning to the church, he said, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them?

“If they know that God is love and experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”

Pray for What?

How does such love reconcile with the imprecatory psalms uttered by inspired writers of scripture pleading for disaster, justice and judgment to fall upon God and his chosen nation’s enemies (Psa. 69, 137, 139)?

However, Jesus’s radical if not revolutionary preaching of the Christian life in his sermon of Matthew 5-7, spoke of a Spirit-filled ethic of interpersonal relationships built on a foundation of agape love, the unconditional love of God which is act of dedication, a decision of the will to love the undeserving, despite hatred, disappointment and rejection which may come from that object of love.

While on the one hand God loves and even reconciles his enemies to himself in redemption (Ro. 5:10), he still and consistently exacts justice and judgment upon his unredeemable enemies, as a means of ordaining social justice and domestic tranquility.

Can we make that same distinction in our hearts as God does in his? That is our calling (Matt. 5:43-48).

While on the one hand Israel’s king David wrote about a perfect and holy hatred of God’s enemies and those that would defame or shame God’s great name, it was never personal for him. David never hated his personal enemies, as evidenced by his love and respect for his infamous adversary Saul, Israel’s first monarch, who wanted him dead as the result of jealousy.

Whereas the Pharisees – the Judaizers of Jesus’ time taught that one should love only those near and dear to them and that Israel’s enemies should be hated- personally. They figured as do many people today- if you love your neighbor- one of your own, you will logically hate your enemy.

But one of the first and best ways we can love our neighbors and enemies as ourselves, Muslim and otherwise, is to serve them; to meet their needs as we have opportunity and the means to, as the Good Samaritan displayed in Luke 10, and second to pray for them (“pray for those who persecute you”).

Although you may never come across the body of an enemy or neighbor lying in the road that you can love and serve as the Samaritan did in Jesus’ parable, you’ll want to know how you can practically love even the greatest of our enemies today.

7 Ways to Love Your Enemy:

  • Knowing your neighbor, is loving your neighbor (hospitality, meeting needs, church invitations, faith transparency).
  • Speak the truth- in love. (Eph.4)
  • Work hard, work daily unto the Lord (be an example at the job; Eph. 6; Col. 4), help bear the burden of a fellow employee.
  • Do good to them (give to meet needs, Pro. 25:21-22).
  • Bless them (with the tongue, Matt. 5:47; Pro. 18:21; Ro. 12:14)
  • Pray for them (“How can I pray for you”?)
  • Forgive them (Eph. 4:32).

The Love of enemy is quite possibly the most distinguishable ethic and manifestation of the Christian faith because it is so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. This love is what distinguishing the Coptic Christians in the wake of massacres directed at them. “The Coptic community is definitely in defiance,” one Egyptian government official said. “The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets.” Observers there have remarked that the Coptic Christian worldview is “180 degrees contrary to the terrorists” which is precisely God’s method for building his kingdom.

What is a Christian to do with the enemy that is radical Muslim? Don’t fear.  As Tim Chailles blogged, “When God gave us the gospel, he knew the times that would come. He knew that just months after the culmination of the gospel in the cross of Christ people would turn on Christians and begin to persecute them. But that was okay, because the gospel was for a time like that.

When those early believers scattered from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria they took the gospel with them. They proclaimed it, they lived it, they fed off of it, and it sustained them. Later the whole Roman Empire turned on those Christians, but that was okay, because the gospel was for a time like that too. Through times of persecution the gospel spread to new lands and took deeper root in the lands in which it had already been planted. The blood of the martyrs proved to be seed that sprang up into a great gospel harvest. And so it has gone in age after age and era after era.”

Indeed, 2017 is a risky, terrorist time and is therefore a time for gospel character, conduct and gospel preaching. Thus, we can and should righteously hate ISIS as a movement of evil and its opposition to humanity, faith and freedom, praying for its demise through God’s ordained system of justice (government), as we love and pray for those we come in contact with that may associate with its religious roots.

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