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This past May, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. Included in his comments was the following quote, “Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ.” The Pew Research Center confirmed the wide-spread harassment Christians and a survey by First Liberty documents over 1200 cases of discrimination of believers within the United States in 2016.
Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated by the world (Matthew 10:22; John 15:21). Perhaps the degree of persecution most Americans face pales in comparison to some. Yet, even when enticed, we want to fight back with either our fists, or at least our tongues. I am a good southern girl, so my typical default is to give someone a good, “bless their heart,” to anyone who will listen. However, this is not what Jesus instructs us nor is it what He exemplified. His teachings and behavior embodied compassion.
The Greek word for compassion contains the idea to be moved in the inmost parts to have sympathy for another person. In Luke 15, when the father of the lost son saw his son approaching from the distance, he was moved with compassion so he ran up and hugged his son. When the Good Samaritan saw the injured man lying on the road, he felt compassion for him and then went up to the man and bandaged his wounds (Luke 10:33). Once, Jesus arrived on the shore and saw a large crowd. He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Therefore, he decided to teach the crowd (Mark 6:34). In each of these instances, the person in need is underserving of the action of the benefactor. Yet, each was compelled to respond.
As believers, our compulsion to respond to a combative world should be the difference Jesus has made in our own personal lives. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 discusses how through Christ we are a new creation and therefore we have a ministry of reconciliation. We now no longer live for ourselves, but for him who was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15). Because of this, we are to take God’s message of reconciliation to the world.
So how should we do this practically?
Luke records Jesus teaching his disciples to do good to those who hate them (Luke 6:37). This is an active expression of love towards those who despise us. Showing kindness towards our friends is natural. Going out of our way to do good to those who hate us requires grace. Yet, if we are moved with compassion, we will see those who hate us as in need of grace.
In Matthew 5:44-45, Jesus teaches to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven. He was not giving a suggestion of how to handle controversy. Rather, He was exhorting a new way of living. This teaching goes against every fleshly impulse. Yet, I have found that my attitude changes towards someone when I begin to pray for them. Prayer is as much for the one praying as it is for the one for whom the prayer is asked.
Scripture teaches followers of Jesus to bless our enemies (Luke 6:28). This teaching is diametrically opposed to our fleshly tendency. The term used not only refers to someone speaking fondly of another, but when used with reference of enemies, it implies asking God’s special favor upon them (Luke 6:28). When we control our tongues, we allow God to control the outcome.
Luke 6:29-30 gives four illustrations of how we are to be generous despite opposition. In first illustration, the expression “turn the other cheek” referred to someone allowing himself the chance to be publicly ridiculed for a second time. The next image of generosity is of someone who takes an undergarment and then the person gives the overcoat as well. The final examples are of giving to beggars and to those who take from you. These two verses highlight how generosity to the point of vulnerability shows a radical love that God honors (6:35-36).
When Jesus was on the cross, one of His final sayings was one of forgiveness (Luke 23:24). Christ is straight forward in teaching that if you forgive then you will be forgiven and you withhold forgiveness, it will be withheld from you (Matthew 6:14-15). Even when someone does not ask for our forgiveness, as believers, we are to offer it to them because God has forgiven us.
The most moving example of forgiveness of an enemy was recorded by Corrie ten Boom of her experience in 1947. She survived a Nazi concentration camp, after having been captured as a Christian for hiding Jews. Years later, after giving a talk on God’s forgiveness, a man revealed to her that he was a guard at her concentration camp. He then asked her for forgiveness for his transgressions against her. By God’s grace, they were both able to experience the intensity of God’s love.
Controversy will exist until the return of Christ. We as believers must learn how to live in a world that opposes the faith. In light of opposition, we must continue to recognize the hope we have in Christ and live out the difference He has made in our lives so we may continue to be salt and light to the nations. We must remember when mocked that the person jeering needs Jesus.
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Cortney Whiting is a wife and mother of two wonderfully energetic children. She received her Masters of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently serves as a lay-leader and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at www.unveilinggraces.blogspot.