Friday, October 4, 2013

The Law of Love Toward the Enemy - II

Two police recruits run through
a felony traffic stop scenario at PTI.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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” (Matthew 5:43-45).

The Pharisees grew out of the movement for independence during and after the time of the Maccabean revolt. Their faction of Judaism arose out of a reaction against Hellenism (Packer & Tenney, 1980). The Pharisees wanted to protect the Jewish culture from Greek influence. They were also profoundly concerned with rightly keeping Gods law. In an effort to be sure that they did not transgress Gods law, the Pharisees superimposed a network of regulations over the top of Gods law. The idea was that, if Gods law commanded not to take the name of The Lord your God in vain, we will teach that you just can't say Gods name. After all, if you don't say Gods name, it should be pretty hard take it in vain, right? Besides, what does it mean to take Gods name in vain anyway? Better to be on the safe side and just not say it. 

In this manner did the Pharisees build a "protective hedge" around Gods law. They told themselves that they were doing it to protect Gods commandments. In reality, they were building not a hedge to protect the law, but a wall which separated them from, and thus nullified, the law. This is the same reason that we do it - so that we are not confronted with just how inadequate we are when measured according to Gods standard. 

See, St. Paul explains that the whole point of Gods law is to show us our sin. When we look into that mirror of Gods law and see how ugly we look, it isn't easy to accept. This is just as true for us as it was for the Pharisees. Rather than building a hedge of protection around the law, they were actually replacing Gods law with man-made commandments which would a) look impressive to other men and cause them to appear "godly", and b) give them rules that they would actually be able to keep. One of the problems with this plan, though, is that the laws we construct out of our own mind bear little, if any, resemblance to the kinds of things God constructs out of His mind. 

In this last section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses one of our favorite bricks that we use in constructing our wall to trap Gods law: Love for our neighbor. Jesus begins by quoting scripture. The passage he cites comes from Leviticus:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Right off the bat we run into one of Pharisaical bricks in the wall. The "love your neighbor" part of that sentence is part of scripture; the "hate your enemy" clause was a teaching added by the Pharisees. Kretzmann explains:

The first injunction is found in the Law, Lev. 19, 18. The second part of the sentence is an addition made by the rabbis. They understood the word "neighbor" of the members of their own nation only, arguing from the many passages of the Law in which God had commanded the children of Israel to destroy the heathen nations. But in all those instances the children of Israel were merely carrying out God's penal justice. Their argument would therefore not stand, especially in view of Ex. 22, 21; 23, 9; Lev. 19, 33; Deut. 10, 18. 19; 24, 17; 27, 19. Jesus insists that all hatred is contrary to humaneness, opposed to the spirit which He was striving to foster (Kretzmann, 1921).

The problem is that we’re really good at hatred. Not only that, it feels really good when we are immersed in it. We love giving people “a piece of our mind”, or confronting that person who has done something – whether perceived or real – to hurt or offend us. Heck, we even love telling other people, those whom we “love”, all of the hateful things our enemies have done to us behind our enemies’ back. We can totally relate to what the Pharisees were getting at when they taught, “hate your enemy.” This is our default setting. We automatically feel this way. It feels natural and right to be nice to the people who are nice to us and hate the people who treat us badly. A Pharisee from Jesus’ day might even argue that, though it is not explicitly stated, the injunction to hate one’s enemies is implied. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even the secular world understands that these instinctual reactions must, in certain circumstances, be trained out of us.

The University of Illinois Police Training Institute was established in 1955. PTI is one of the largest and longest-serving police academies in the United States (Police Training Institute). Thousands of police officers and correctional officers have received their training from retired and active law enforcement officers at PTI since its inception. In addition to the classroom work, the physical training, the self-defense training, and the weapons training, one of the most important things to which police recruits are subjected is practical, or scenario-based training. This is where recruits are dressed up in their uniforms, given a scenario, and expected to apply all the things that they have learned to bring the scenario to the appropriate conclusion. As everyone must surely know, practical application of theory never goes as smoothly as expected, especially the first time it is applied to a real-world situation.

It is for this reason that police recruits at PTI are subjected to mock traffic stops and mock 911 calls. The instructors and role-players with whom the recruits interact attempt to recreate as closely as possible the real-world situations in which the recruits will soon find themselves. These scenarios range from the mock stolen bicycle report, to the mock active school shooter situation, complete with projectile-firing weapons. Before entering the scenarios, however, instructors attempt to instill in their students one maxim above all others – If it feels good, don’t say it. You see, the role players are instructed to take their cues throughout the scenario from the police recruit. This is to make tactically wise, safe, and legal behaviors habitual with the recruit. Consequently, if a recruit leaves himself vulnerable to attack, the role player is to exploit his advantage. It is easier, however, at least at the beginning, for a recruit to remember to protect their weapon from a potentially dangerous individual, than it is to remember to avoid getting into a shouting match with a belligerent motorist to whom he is giving a citation. It is a human’s natural reaction to argue with people, especially when we are right and they are wrong. There is so much we relish saying to them just in order to “get our digs in”. It makes us feel good. A police officer on the job, however, must act contrary to his instinct when it comes to this circumstance. If it feels good, he must not say it, but remain professional and courteous lest he escalate the situation. Some officers are more successful than others. Some Christians, are more successful at this than others as well.

Christians, being aware that we have a corrupt, sinful human nature, should all be a little wary of those things that “just feel right”. More often than not, those things that just seem right and feel natural to our flesh are contrary to the spirit of Christ living inside us, if indeed we are regenerate men. When you think about it, it is easy to see how mankind could twist God’s word that tells us to love our neighbors into an excuse to hate. 

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:46—48).

Jesus knocks down the man-made wall surrounding God’s word and reveals it to us. He tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us; since we are his sons, we should take after our father. He tells us that God our heavenly father, in his gracious providence cares for evil people as well as good people, and that this attitude of loving only those who love you in return is a product of our sinful nature, since this is how even the hated tax collectors and Gentiles act. He commands us to be perfect.

That is, however, only part of the lesson. We know that we can’t be perfect. Jesus isn’t giving us a goal to meet so that, if we meet it, we will be “good” and therefore right with God. Quite to the contrary, he is using the law to show us our sin. He is showing us that the perfection required of us by God is impossible for us to reach. He is calling us to repent of our sin. As Martin Luther wrote regarding this, “At this point you will discover how hard it is to do the good works God commands...You will find out that you will be occupied with the practice of this work for the rest of your life” (Engelbrecht, 2009). You will also find, to finish Dr. Luther’s thought, that it is an impossible task.

We try, like the Pharisees, to set up our own moral codes to live by that we think we can keep. In the end we don’t even live up to them, so we have to keep changing our morals to fit our lives. If we do well by our own standards we pat ourselves on the back; when we fail, we console ourselves with the lie that, as long as we do the best we can, God will be happy with us. The words of Jesus, however, remain – You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So here we are. God commands us to love our fellow man, “friend” and “enemy” alike. We fail. We are guilty of sin, guilty of missing God’s mark, and no amount of perceived good works we do will make up for that fact. Nothing we do can offset that. We are told to feed our enemies when they are hungry and to give them drink when they are thirsty but we do not[1]. We are told to forgive those who sin against us but we do not[2]. We are told to be kind and compassionate to each other and to forgive each other, just as we have been forgiven by God through Christ but we do not[3]. No subtle rewriting of God’s word will hide our sin or assuage our guilty consciences for, if we have spent any time looking into our hearts, we know that what God’s word says of us is true. We are conceived in iniquity and born in sin[4]; the thoughts of our hearts are evil from our youth[5]; our hearts are filled with evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander[6].

Left here, we would fall into despair, and rightly so. We certainly do not deserve any of God’s gifts, especially forgiveness for these sins of thought, word, and deed. Thankfully for mankind, God does not think or operate like we do. While we are sinners, God has called us to repentance and faith in Jesus through His holy word. In the Law God shows us who we are, sin and all, and we see His wrath. In the Gospel God shows us what he has done, and continues to do, for our salvation (Luther, 1991).

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10). 

Because God the Father loves mankind he sent Jesus, his one and only Son, into the world to bear our sin and to be our savior. Jesus, God in human flesh, demonstrated for us the very thing he taught in the Sermon on the Mount by his willingness to be put to death on the cross. You see, we did not do anything “good” which attracted us to Jesus and compelled him to save us. He loved us, his enemies, while we were still wretched and condemned sinners. St. Paul writes in Romans:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Roman 5:6-11).

Christ went to the cross in our place. And, because he rose from the grave, we who trust in him will also rise. This is the attitude we are to strive for when dealing with our neighbors. And, because Christ has been victorious over sin, death and the devil, he enables us to do good works – including loving our neighbor – by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, R. E. (Ed.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament (Vol. 1). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Luther, M. (1991). Luther's Small Catechism. (C. P. House, Trans.) Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Packer, J. I., & Tenney, M. C. (Eds.). (1980). Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible. Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Police Training Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2013, from Police Training Institute University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

End Notes

[1] Romans 12:20 
[2] Matthew 6:15 
[3] Ephesians 4:32 
[4] Psalm 51:5 
[5] Genesis 8:21 
[6] Matthew 15:19