Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle written by the apostle John unto the church in Ephesus. More specifically, today’s selected passages is found in verses eleven through twenty-four of the third chapter. When we come to this particular passage of scripture we find the apostle John writing unto the saints which were in Ephesus and essentially building upon that which He had heard Jesus the Christ speak during His three and a half years of public ministry. The more I read the first epistle which was written by the apostle John, the more I am struck with and by the fact that the words he wrote were based upon and had their foundation in that which He had heard the Lord Jesus Christ speak. If you then and direct your attention to the first few verses of the first chapter of this epistle you will find the apostle John writing concerning that which he saw, that which which he heard, that which he looked upon with his eyes, and that which he touched and handled with his hands. The apostle John was able to so eloquently write this epistle because he was an eyewitness to the life, the ministry and the teaching of Jesus Christ. The apostle John was present with Jesus when He taught the masses and when He preached His sermon on the mount. The apostle John was present with Jesus when He taught in parables in order to convey spiritual truths using allegories and stories. As I sit here and consider this first epistle which was written by the apostle John, I can’t help be gripped by the awesome and incredible reality that he wrote from the unique vantage point of actually being with, walking with and listening to the Lord Jesus Christ speak. The apostle John heard as Jesus Christ taught His disciples and followers to love the Lord their God with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul and with all their strength. The apostle John was present when Jesus instruct His disciples and followers to love their neighbor as themselves, and even when Jesus proceeded to describe what it means to be a neighbour.
When I look back over the parable of the Good Samaritan I can’t help but be reminded of the fact that when Jesus was seeking to convey the spiritual reality and truth concerning who exactly is a neighbor and what it means to be a neighbor is not so much contingent upon what others do to unto and for us. In fact, if you read the account as the believe physician Luke wrote it you will find Luke presenting Jesus as asking the lawyer who sought to tempt Him—of the three men who came upon, and looked upon the plight of the one who had fallen prey to thieves, was stripped of his garment, was beaten and left half dead, who actually demonstrated being a neighbor. It’s interesting and worth nothing that when Jesus wrote concerning being a neighbor, He didn’t speak concerning that which others did unto us, but rather what we do for those around us. Moreover, when Jesus asked the lawyer which one demonstrated being a neighbor, the lawyer responded to Him by declaring that the one who showed mercy demonstrated what it meant to be a neighbor. Please don’t miss the tremendous significance and importance of this fact, for more often than not we get caught up in looking for, expecting and seeing what others can do for us. So many times—when we think of what it means to be a neighbor—we look at how others have treated, and how others continue to treat us. We look upon those around us to show compassion, those around us to show mercy, those around us to show pity unto us, and yet we never take full responsibility for our own actions. When we speak of being a neighbor we must recognize and understand that speaking concerning such a reality has very little to do with what those around us do unto and for us, but what we do unto and for them. In fact, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus declared when He stated that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In other words—instead of expecting others to treat us the way we would want to be treated, we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated.
So many times we as the saints of God get stuck in our own selfish and self-seeking ways that we have absolutely no room for looking after and caring for those which are around us. We look around us and expect those around us to cater to our every whim, and we expect the world to revolve around us. We expect those which are around us to do unto us because it is easier to focus on what others can do for us than focus on what we should be doing for others. More often than not we allow ourselves to get caught up in the lie and the delusion that the world revolves around us, and that others should focus on how they treat us, and have nothing to do with how we treat others. We understand the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, but we focus on what others would do unto us, and get completely lost and sidetracked with that which we are called to do. What’s more, is that we allow ourselves to get caught up with defining how others should treat us, and what others should do unto us that we completely neglect and ignore the tremendous responsibility that falls on how we are to treat those who are around us in the world. We spend more time serving our own needs and café little if anything about the needs of those around us. The entire point and premise of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not so we can focus on what this particular Samaritan did for the victim in the story , but rather what we ourselves can do unto and what we can do for others. It’s absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that Jesus didn’t teach the parable in order that we might get caught up in expecting and looking for what others can and should do for us, but rather what we can do unto and what we can do for others. Far too many times we allow ourselves to get caught up in our own expectations for and what others can and should do for us that we focus little to any effort and energy on what we can do for and unto those who are around us. We get absolutely and utterly consumed with our needs, and with our own expectations, and in essence we take those expectations and place them on each and every person who is around us. We spend our days looking unto those around us and expecting them to treat us the way we want to be treated—all the while, completely neglecting and ignoring that Jesus never said expect others to treat us the way we want to be treated, but rather to treat others the way we would want to be treated. In other words, Jesus wasn’t condemning the expectation of others treating us the way we would want to be treated, but rather that if we are going to place an expectation on how others should treat us, we must first treat them the way we would want to be treated. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle which was written unto the Romans beginning with the ninth verse of the twelfth chapter:
“Let love be without dissimulation. Ashore that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest with the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; it if he thirst, given him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21).
The words which we find the apostle Paul writing in this particular portion of the epistle focuses a tremendous amount of attention on how we as the saints of God are to look upon and treat those who are around us- These words which were written by the apostle Paul focus on being of the same mind one toward another, and to not mind high things, but condescend to men of low estate. The apostle Paul instructs his readers and his audience to do anything and everything within their power to leave and be at peace with and among men, and to avenge not ourselves, not give place unto wrath. Furthermore, the apostle Paul goes on to write unto the saints which were at Rome that we should not avenge ourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written in the scripture how vengeance belongs to the Lord and only Him. What’s more, is the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome that if their enemy hunger, they were to feed them, and if their enemy thirst, we are to give them to drink. The apostle Paul closes out this particular chapter be emphatically writing and declaring that we are to not be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good. As I sit here this morning and I consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this passage of Scripture, I can’t help but be gripped by and consumed with the reality that the Lord sees no difference and draws no distinction between our neighbours and our enemies. What I mean by this, is the Lord doesn’t ask or even demand of us to treat our neighbours one way, but to treat our enemies completely different. The Lord doesn’t expect us to do good unto our neighbours, and to completely neglect and ignore our enemies and how they treat us. Far too many times we allow ourselves to get caught up in treating our neighbours one way, and we completely neglect and ignore the fact that we are to treat our enemies the same way we are to treat our neighbours. As surely and as certainly as we are to do good unto our neighbours, so also we must do good unto our enemies in a similar fashion. Oh how often we allow ourselves to get caught up in drawing a distinction between our neighbours and our enemies, and we think and feel as though our neighbours deserve to be treated one way, while our enemies deserve to be treated another way. What’s more, is that there are those among us, and there are certain times when we ourselves not only draw a line in the sand between our neighbours and our enemies, but we also don’t even treat our neighbours as we would want them to treat us. What I mean by this, is that not only do we not treat our enemies the way Jesus the Christ instructed us to treat them, but we don’t even treat our neighbours the way Christ instructed us to treat them. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which our Lord spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount beginning with the thirty-eighth verse of the fifth chapter:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other others. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 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; 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. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:38-48).
One thing you will notice within the opening chapter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount how he called their attention to that which they heard—that which they heard, and that which defined their actions up until that moment in time. Jesus—on more than one occasion within the Sermon on the mount—declared unto them how they had heard that it was said to do one thing, but how He was now instructing and leading them in a completely different and new way. This principle is applicable when Jesus spoke unto them concerning how they had heard, and how it was written to hate their enemy and love their neighbour, but how Jesus Himself was calling them into a new and completely different way of living. It was true that it was instructed and written how they were to love their neighbours, and how they were to hate their enemies, but under this New Covenant and with this New Testament, such a practice was no longer permissible or allowed. What I so absolutely love about this particular passage is that Jesus draws no line and sees no distinction between our neighbour and our enemy, for in His eyes, both are the same. Pause for a moment and think about that. Consider the fact that Jesus doesn’t look at, and Jesus doesn’t view things the way we do, for Jesus doesn’t see enemies and neighbours. Oh, consider how much this concept would not only completely wreck your theology, but how much it also has the potential to completely rock and shatter how you live your life and conduct yourself on a daily and consistent basis. I am convinced that there are many of us who spend a considerable amount of time drawing a defining line in the sand between our neighbours and our enemies, and we feel as though we have the right to treat the two differently. We think and believe that we can and should treat our enemies differently because after all—they are our enemies, and have somehow said or done something that has wronged and offended us. I am reminded of how many men and women live their lives with this dividing line in the sand, and how they are completely incapable and unable to view their enemies in the same light as their neighbours. What is so incredibly challenging about the words which Jesus spoke in this passage of Scripture is that He calls us to look upon and treat our enemies the same way we are to treat our neighbours, and not allow ourselves to get caught up in these dividing lines which we have been so good at drawing in the sand. Jesus did acknowledge the fact that we had heard how it had been written to love our neighbours and hate our enemies, but Jesus took what we have heard, flipped it on its head, and completely transformed our way of thinking. Not only are we to do good unto our neighbours, but we are to love our enemies, we are to bless those that curse us, we are to do good to them that hate us, and we are to pray for those which despitefully use us and persecute us. Pause for a moment and consider how incredibly hard this actually is, and how far too many times we allow ourselves to fall victim and fall prey to this false and wrong mindset on a daily and regular basis.
What we find in the twelfth chapter of the epistle which was written by the apostle Paul is a guide and a pattern on how we are to conduct ourselves within our lives on a daily and consistent basis, and how we are to do unto others what we would have them do unto us. With that being said, we must also recognize and understand how the apostle Paul instructed his readers and audience to love their enemies, and to do goo unto their enemies—the complete opposite of what we have been taught to do, and the complete opposite of what is actually in our hearts to do. If we are honest with ourselves, it is much easier to speak evil of, and to do evil against our enemies rather than loving and loving on them. It is far easier to criticize our enemies rather than blessing them, rather than praying for them, and rather than treating them as we have treated and continue to treat our neighbours. One of the most compelling realities surrounding Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is that when He looks upon our lives, He sees no difference, and He draws no distinction between our enemies and our neighbours, for He views them in the same light. Jesus doesn’t have one set of guidelines, and one set of standards for our enemies, and another for our neighbours. Jesus doesn’t provide us with a description of how we are to treat our neighbours, and a second, separate list for how we are to treat our enemies. In all reality, we are incredibly good at drawing these dividing lines in the sand, and allowing ourselves to establish parameters on how we treat those around us. This is particularly and especially true with how they have treated us in the past, and how they continue to treat us in the present. Far too many times we allow ourselves to get caught up in placing parameters for how we treat others based on how they treat us, and we will only treat them well if they first treat us well. The problem with this logic, and the problem with this mindset is that it falls apart when we consider the fact that Jesus calls us to love our enemies, calls us to bless those who curse us, calls us to do good to them which hate us, and to pray for those which despitefully use us. The parameters which we set up and establish within our lives concerning how we treat, and how we react to those around us are more often than not based in a false mindset and false reality of what we believe within our hearts is an acceptable way to live our lives and to conduct ourselves. I am utterly and completely convinced that one of the greatest problems plaguing our country and nation today is allowing this dividing line between neighbours and enemies to utterly and completely consume us. We allow ourselves to get caught up in defining those who are enemies around versus those who are neighbours. We completely neglect and ignore the fact that we don’t have the right to define who is an enemy and who is a neighbor, nor do we get to choose how we treat the one versus the other.
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that there is a lot of tension and division within this country, and this country is and has for quite some time been on a collision course with destroying itself from within. I am convinced that the greatest threat this country, and the greatest threat this nation faces is not from those enemies and adversaries which are without, but rather those dangers and those threats which are present within and among us. The more time that elapses, and the more time that passes, the more I am utterly and completely convinced that this nation is in direct danger by the overwhelming pressure and tension that is and has been mounted up due to division which is present among and all around us. One of the greatest tragedies that faces this nation of ours in which we live is that we allow ourselves to get caught up in drawing lines between who is our enemy and who is our enemy, and we completely lose sight of the fact that no such line was every drawn by Jesus who is the Christ. There are many within this nation—perhaps even those who are present among us within the house of the Lord—who view everyone before and around them as enemies, and who are completely incapable of viewing their enemies as their neighbours. Pause for a moment and consider that reality, and how that reality directly impacts and affects your life. Consider the fact that we have been called to view our enemies the same way we view our neighbours. What’s more, is that we are called to a place where we are actually able to view our enemies in the same light, and the same way we view our neighbours. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—can you view your enemies the same way you view your neighbours, and could you treat your enemies the same way you have treated your neighbours? Could you actually allow yourself to do good unto your enemy? The answer to this question is actually incredibly important, for it brings us face to face with our own mortality, and the bitterness and offense that might very well be present within our hearts. In fact, I would dare say that there are those among us—perhaps even myself being included in this statement—who can’t treat our enemies the way we treat our neighbours, for we don’t even treat our neighbours the way we have been called to treat them. Tell me—how can we expect to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to them which hate us, and to pray for them which despitefully use us if we can’t even treat our neighbours with honor, with respect, with dignity, with love, with compassion, and with bowels of mercy? I would dare say that we cannot and should not expect to be able to love our enemies if we can’t even get right loving our neighbours, and treating our neighbours the way we ourselves want to be treated.
It is absolutely incredible when reading the words which the apostle John wrote in the third chapter of this first epistle written unto the saints at Ephesus, for the apostle opens and begins the latter half of the chapter by writing how the message we have heard from the beginning is that we should love one another. In all reality—if you read the entire first epistle which the apostle John wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus, you will quickly discover that it is centered around, and it is centered upon our willingness, and our ability to love our neighbours, and our willingness to love others. The apostle John writes unto his audience concerning the message which was heard from the beginning—namely that we should love one another. What’s more, is the apostle John goes on to write how we are not to be like Cain, who was of the wicked one, and slew his brother. IT’s worth noting and point out how the apostle John writes concerning Cain how he slew his brother because his works were evil, and how his brother’s deeds were righteous. Cain rose up against and slew his brother Abel because he could not handle the righteous deeds of his brother, and could not stand the fact that his brother was accepted in the sight of God, while he was apparently rejected. The account of the first two brothers in Scripture concerns both bringing forth unto the Lord an offering, and how Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, but how Abel brought of the sheep of his flock. Cain brought forth before the Lord that which was produced, and that which came from the curse, while Abel brought before the Lord that which was pleasing, and that which was acceptable in His sight. Oh that we would recognize and understand this tremendous reality, for it has the ability to radically alter, shape and transform the way we think, and the way we conduct our lives as the saints of God. Cain rose up against his brother Abel because he could not stand, and he could not handle feeling as though he was rejected before, and rejected by the living God. Cain allowed his displeasure, allowed his anger, and allowed his rage to completely consume and lay hold of him, and so much so that he actually rose up against his brother Abel and murdered him while out in the field. While Joseph’s brothers did not murder their younger brother, their story is somewhat similar in that they had a hard time accepting the fact that their younger brother was accepted by their father. Joseph’s brothers sought to slay him, but were persuaded by one from among them to cast him into a well instead. It’s worth noting that his one brother suggested this idea in order that he might rescue his brother at a later time. Much to the shock, the horror and dismay of this brother, Joseph was sold as a slave unto a caravan that was traveling down into Egypt. What began as hatred and animosity within the hearts of Joseph’s brothers would eventually culminate in their selling him into slavery, and then declaring unto their father how Joseph was dead—killed by a wild beast and animal in the field. Though they did not rise up against and murder their brother, they nonetheless allowed themselves to get caught up in the favor their brother had with the father, and as a direct result, they sold him into slavery. Oh that we would recognize and understand just what such emotions, and such thoughts can in fact bring us to—perhaps actions which would otherwise not be committed and performed by us within our lives.
As you continue reading the words which the apostle John wrote in the latter half of this third chapter, you will find the apostle go on to instruct us to marvel not if the world hate us, and undoubtedly, the apostle John thought back to the words of Jesus when He declared unto His disciples that if the world hated Him, the world would also hate us. Undoubtedly the apostle John looked back upon, and remembered how Jesus had declared unto them how the world would hate them, for the world first hated Him. This is actually quite remarkable, for it’s almost as if Jesus Christ was preparing His disciples for the world to hate and not receive them. PREPARING TO BE HATED! PREPARING TO BE DESPISED! PREPARING TO BE RIDICULED! PREPARED TO BE PERSECUTED! The more I consider this particular reality, the more I can’t help but get the strong sense that Jesus set out to prepare His disciples to be hated by the world, and to not expect to be loved, or even to be received by the world around them. This is actually quite remarkable and intriguing when you consider how Jesus called us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us [even if they don’t do unto us], and how Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, and to bless those who curse us, and to do good unto those who despitefully use us, and to pray for those who persecute us. One of the most interesting and intriguing realities concerning the words which Jesus the Christ declared during His earthly life and ministry is that He set out to prepare His disciples and followers to be hated and despised by the world, and to prepare themselves to be persecuted, opposed, and mistreated. DON’T EXPECT LOVE! DON’T EXPECT TO BE LOVED! Far too many times we look for and expect love from others, and when we don’t receive that love, we find it incredibly difficult to allow ourselves to love those who are around us. One of the most important realities concerning the words which Jesus spoke is that the love we demonstrate to others is not, and should not be contingent upon the love which others demonstrate toward us. This is especially true when we consider the fact that Jesus didn’t prepare us to be loved, but rather, he prepared us to be hated. I have to admit that this almost doesn’t seem like teaching which is easy for us to follow and live by, and yet this is exactly what Jesus set out to teach His disciples. We must recognize and understand that Jesus didn’t prepare His disciples to be loved by, and loved in the world, nor did He prepare His disciples to be accepted and received in the world. We would like to think that the world will not only receive, but also love us, and as a result, we put wrong and false expectations on the world and those which are around us. We do ourselves great damage, and we do ourselves a great disservice when we think and believe that the world around us will love us the way we want to be loved, or the way we need to be loved. We set ourselves up for bitterness and offense when we look to the world for love, and expect the world to love us, rather than hating and despising us. Oh how absolutely and incredibly intriguing it is to consider the fact that Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, and then He prepares us to go out into and live in a world that can and will hate us. It’s almost as if Jesus was declaring unto His disciples, “You are to love your enemies, you are to bless those who curse you, you are to do good unto those who despitefully use you, you are to pray for those who persecute you, and oh yeah, by the way, you are going to be hated in the world for my name’s sake.”
I believe with all my heart that more often than not we allow ourselves to get caught up in these false and wrong expectations regarding others, and how they should treat us. We spend more time allowing ourselves to get caught up in expecting the world around us to do unto us as we want to be done, and to love, receive and accept us. The truth of the matter is that this simply isn’t the case, and Jesus instructed and encouraged us to not expect such a reality within our lives. I would dare say that one of the greatest dangers and traps we face is expecting others to treat us the way we treat, or the way we would treat them. It is a tremendous danger when we expect those around us to love, to respect, to receive, and to appreciate us, and to do so the way we would set out to do unto them. Notice that the apostle John goes on to declare that we know we have passed from death to life if we love the brethren, and that if we love not our brethren, we abide in death. What’s more, is that the apostle goes on to write how he who hates is brother is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding within him. The apostle goes on to reiterate and reemphasize the words which Jesus Himself declared in the upper room, for Jesus declared “Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.” In the third chapter of this epistle, the apostle goes on to declare that we perceive the love of God because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay our lives down for the brethren. Perhaps the single greatest question I feel I must ask you at this juncture is what you are willing to do for those around you, and how you are willing to treat those whom you interact with on a daily basis—those who you perceive as neighbours, and those you perceive as enemies. The apostle John continues to write and declare that whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowls of compassion from him—how can the love of God dwell within them. The apostle would also emphatically declare that we are to love not in word only, but we are to love in both deed and truth. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which James the half brother of Jesus wrote in his epistle which is found in the New Testament. I leave you with the words which this author wrote in the second chapter beginning with the fourteenth verse:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those thing which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when he had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26).