When Christ walked the earth and began His formal ministry, He taught as one “having authority.” This amazed those around him, who were used to hearing preachers who repeated or reinforced the words of others. Christ didn’t do that; He taught His own words and preached His own gospel.
One of the earliest recorded instances of such preaching is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It provides a whirlwind tour-de-force of virtues to which disciples of Christ should aspire. Understood correctly, the sermon sets a bar that is so high it provides a pattern that those disciples can seek to apply all their lives.
One set of virtues that seem particularly difficult for mere humans is found in Matthew 5:44-47:
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
I’ve pondered on that passage a lot over the years since I became comprehendingly aware of its meaning—its real-life meaning—when I was in my teens. In the multitude of times since then when I have both been offered and perceived offense—intended or not—I have reflected on how to apply it to my life. And, in my application, I have had varying degrees of success.
How does one deal with those who thoughtlessly trample our feelings? How does one differentiate between intent and callous disregard? How does one deal with the offender and salve wounds when one is the offended?
These are some of the most troublesome questions of life, and answers have led to a wide range of results—from individuals being willingly abused to nations going to war. How is one to respond; how is one to treat others?
How we treat others is clearly set forth by Christ and the guidance for how we are to treat others must govern our response. We are to love all, we are to bless those who deride us, we are to show good works to those who will never acknowledge them, and we are to pray for our persecutors.
Does it matter whether the deriders, the ignorers, or the persecutors knowingly or unknowingly deride, ignore, or persecute? In judging between the knowing and unknowing state of the offender, we could easily make unrighteous judgment in the heat of the moment. No, love should be exemplified to all offenders, regardless of intent.
A quick side-note here: If one is being abused, in any degree, then one does not need to willingly stay in the situation that permits such abuse. When you are being burned, Christ doesn’t expect you to keep your hand in the fire to prove your willingness to live up to His ideals. What He expects is that once abused, the burden is then on you to control how you, in turn, react to the abuser.
Reacting with love to all offenders is, of course, hard. (Nobody ever said being a disciple was easy, now did they?) How does one deal with wounds to the psyche inflicted by others? The answer is, of course, through the prize of real discipleship—the Atonement of Christ. That Atonement doesn’t just cleanse us of our sins, but it makes us whole and provides the sweet Balm of Gilead that removes pain and swallows suffering. It replaces bitterness with blessings.
Why is my mind on these matters even now? As I said, there have been a multitude of times in my life when I have been both offered and perceived offense. This week offered another such opportunity to re-evaluate my discipleship and try to apply lessons learned at the feet of the Savior.
The particulars of the opportunity don’t really matter. What matters is that I recognize them for what they are or what they can be—a chance to show forth an increase of love in the face of offense, to seek my Savior’s love, and to give comfort and solace to those I love most dearly in this life.
It is time to consider how to remove the hand from the fire without using the fire as a tool to burn bridges. It is time to consider how the offenses will affect future relationships. Regardless of the results of those considerations, it is a time to show forth love to the offenders, regardless of intent.
And, as I do so, I will take comfort in the words to a popular hymn penned by Charles Wesley:
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past.
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee.
Leave, oh, leave me not alone;
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed;
All my help from thee I bring.
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.