Christians like to express the concept “Love your enemies.” This is drawn from Jesus call in Matthew 5 (in the Sermon on the Mount) that states that the traditional interpretation of Leviticus “Love your neighbors, and hate your enemies” was wrong. One must also love one’s enemies. This is somewhat in conflict with the charge of Joab to King David that David was guilty of “Hating his friends, and loving his enemies.”
But Joab brings up a point. Is it possible that our focus to love our enemies make us fail to love our friends? I recall years ago when I was still in the US where I noticed that banks did a great amount of effort to show love and concern and favoritism to potential new clients, while ignoring (or worse) long-term clients.
Can the church be the same way? Cultic groups often are charged with image control where they are warm and friendly to outsiders and then are cold and demanding to members. But the church often has this problem as well at times.
Consider the situation where a person in the church has gone through problems. How do members of the church respond? Here are four common options: (it spells out the word “GABI.” This may mean nothing to you, but is the name of a vegetable (taro) here in the Philippines.
G Gossip. When a person has problems in the church, the members gossip, the suffering an opportunity for entertainment and ridicule.
A Anger. A person who has had a failing in the church often becomes a source of anger. The others feel hurt by the failing and vent on the person or their family and friends.
B Blame. When a problem occurs, the first thing many do is find out who is at fault and then be the “voice of God” judging and condemning.
I Ignore. Another option is that others decide that the best way to deal with a person who is struggling is to stay out of it… it’s not our problem.
There is a lot we do wrong in church.
- We rip passages of Scripture out of their context and throw them at people as if misusing scripture is somehow helpful.
- We give bumper sticker advice like “You need more faith” or “You need to pray more” which are forms of blame.
- We tell people that we will pray for them. Nothing wrong with praying… but if God wants us to do something to be part of the restoration process, then offering to pray may be simply a form of ignoring the problem.
- Sometimes we go a different way, expressing “tolerance,” which is still a form of ignoring. Tolerance has nothing to do with love.
My suggestion is that we will be better at loving our enemies if we first learn how to love our friends.
Is this a missional post? Maybe not. However, the Old Testament law states that the people of Israel are to express active care for strangers and aliens among them. Since I am a stranger/alien of sorts in the Philippines, I can see how important this can be. But we don’t always know how to do this. One time I was attending a church in the US that a Filipino family started attending. I noticed that after church, everyone except my family completely ignored them. I brought this up at a men’s meeting… the fact that we should make a better effort to make them feel welcome. The response I got was both positive and confusing. The pastor said that maybe I and my wife Celia (who is from the Philippines) could help the church know how to talk to this Filipino family. While this was positive in a sense, I was struck by how weird the request was. You talk to the Filipino family like you would talk to an American family. There is no need to by a book on “How to be friendly to Filipinos.” Just Be Friendly.
In the US, I see so many who are angry at foreigners, strangers, aliens. There is anger that they are “taking away our jobs,” “sneaking into our country,” and in other ways being a nuisance. Not only do I not see the church immune to this, I see many churches being a greenhouse– nurturing such anger.
In Baguio, there is animosity from many Christians here that many Muslims are moving here from Southern Philippines (trying to get away from the violence, poverty, and corruption there). Yet what an opportunity to express God’s love to strangers and aliens.
What is the summation of this rambling post? I would suggest that part of the problem the church has with expressing love to enemies, strangers, aliens (those outside of the church), is that we haven’t really learned to love our own friends in the church. All of the clever evangelistic strategies developed cannot overcome such a problem. Maybe we need to learn how to “Love our Friends” and “Love our Neighbors” so that we can learn to “Love our Enemies,” and “Love Strangers and Aliens.” If we did this, I believe we wouldn’t need gimmicks to lure people into church.