Belong: Find Your Place at the Table
Live In Harmony
We noticed last week that at the end of verse 13 Paul instructs us to “Practice hospitality.” I said then that “hospitality” is built from phileo, meaning love, and xenia, “strangers.” This care for strangers, for foreigners, is consistent in the Bible and, especially, in the teaching of Jesus.
These words, in fact, sound very much like Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Mt 5:43-45); also Luke 6:27-28: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you."
Proverbs 20:22: Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you.
Proverbs 25:21: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
We are talking now about a way of life that is truly extraordinary. It involves a different view of your own life and of the world. And it has imbedded in it a tremendous hope and power.
This section of the chapter hones in on a great need in our faith community, our city, and our world. The teaching is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Peter teaches this same approach to retaliation in I Peter 3:9: Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
You make a living sacrifice, all in, and you will get pushback from others. You will experience opposition and persecution.
You Must Be Innocent to Experience Persecution
Persecution does not imply guilt. You may be persecuted for no good reason. You may be persecuted for doing good.
But you are not being persecuted when you receive a just punishment for your crime or sin.
The whole idea here is that you live in a good and holy way that follows the example of Jesus. And you end up being insulted, beaten, or thrown out for your good behavior.
A Note about Abuse: Those who suffer spousal abuse or elder abuse should report such abuse and let the proper authorities deal with it. Neither Jesus nor Paul are calling you to suffer at the hands of those who should be loving you. If an authority figure in your life is abusing you, please tell someone.
A Note about Self-Defense: Every human has the God-given prerogative to defend themselves against those who seek to harm them. And every human has the right and responsibility to protect their families. Nothing in the teachings of Jesus should be taken as permission to hurt those you should love or instruction to suffer such abuse without protest.
What is Persecution?
It’s when they insult you, hate you, curse you, treat you abusively. We are talking about being abused by others both verbally and sometimes physically.
Turn the other cheek, Jesus said. This is a response to someone who has slapped you.
Go with them two miles, Jesus said. This is a response to someone who has treated you as a nonperson, who has made you do their menial work. The soldiers who do this could carry their own packs themselves. But they would rather you did it.
Someone takes your coat on a cold day. They are stealing from you. What do you do? You hand them your shirt also.
Someone lies about you. They give false testimony. They accuse you of things you never said or did. What do you do? You take it quietly without response, like a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so you open not your mouth.
Someone takes a twisted circle of thorns and crushes it down on your head. Someone takes a whip and beats you. Someone presses your hand to a beam and drives a nail through it. Someone suspends you from a pole by affixing you with spikes to the wood. What do you do? You say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
If this seems too high a goal, too lofty a mark, and an impossible requirement, then hear again the very words of our Crucified Lord, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Again, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Those Who Persecute You:
The insiders. There are those who are within the family of faith that may persecute you if you do what is right.
- Jesus’ family did this to him, mocking him. His neighbors and friends also reacted this way to his words and his deeds. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they said. “Who does he think he is?”
- Those who are closest to you may be the fierce in their resistance to you and your walk with Christ. It feels to them like they are losing something as you anchor your soul in another place, as you take on the Yoke of Christ and call him Lord.
The competitors. Those who feel like you should be one of them, but you are acting like you are not.
- You are challenging some of their cherished assumptions and prejudices, and they do not like it.
- Your behavior is making them question their own behavior and their own thinking. They are too insecure to endure the questions, to full of fear.
The outsiders. Part of this directly pertains to how we treat outsiders—those who are beyond these walls and outside of faith in Christ—even hostile to faith in Christ.
- The impulse to curse them is replaced by the impulse for them to know Jesus and the good news of salvation.
What does it mean to bless?
- The word is eulogia, literally “good word.” It means to speak a good word toward them, to wish them well with our words.
- A curse is the opposite—to speak a curse against; to speak evil on someone.
Rejoice and Mourn
Connect this to blessing those who persecute, this would involve wishing our enemies well, not ill. Hurting with them when misfortune comes; rejoicing with them when good things come.
In a larger context, emotional engagement with others. Being a good listener and a good friend. Being tender-hearted.
Live in Harmony
Live in harmony—Be of the same mind one toward another. What does that mean. It means to have the same regard one for another, not to play favorites, to not be a respecter of persons, to not show favoritism.
- You will remember that this was a chief feature of the social Jesus. He was comfortable with all around him.
- Jesus had more reason to be high-minded than any of us. Yet he chose to associate with the humble.
- This same mind toward one another means that I think about you—whatever your economic status or race—just like I think about every other person in the body.
- This is extremely difficult. It may be impossible. We all gravitate to our own people, our own kind, especially economically, but also racially. To try to challenge this gravity in the church of Jesus Christ is truly difficult, maybe impossible.
Do not be proud—mind not high things, hypselos. Don’t get caught up in the hype of life.
Be willing to associate with people of low position
- Do not be conceited.
- sun—be with people of low estate; people who are poor or deprived or emotionally depressed. If you could describe a person as low in some way, that would be the person God calls you to come alongside of and be with. Don’t think that you are too high and mighty for those of low estate.
We don’t do this, of course. No one does. The entire world is layered very carefully into caste and class. We are very sensitive about this. People who are poor may not be clean, may not even have money to buy soap or tap water or maybe even extra clothes to wear while they clean a spare outfit. So we encounter all kinds of sensory issues of sight and sound and smell as we cross out of our caste or class and into another one. And it is a matter of some discomfort most of us truly want to avoid.
Jesus, of course, was comfortable among the poor since that is who he was—a peasant, as were his parents, as far as we can tell.
Bless and Not Curse
It is the golden rule stated in a different way (Luke 6:31)
- It assumes the best of people
- It is full of faith. You only respond this way when your behavior is anchored somewhere besides the dog-eat-dog world.
- It is full of hope. A person who blesses those who persecute them has an unshakable hope in God.
It distinguishes you from the unregenerate masses
- If you do good only to those who do good to you, what have you done differently than any sinner?
- If you greet only those who greet you, are you different?
- If you only love those who love you, how is that different from any sinner’s behavior?
It heaps coals of fire—bringing conviction of sin.
It mimics the Father.
It is your own Salvation:
- Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
- “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lu 6:36).
- Why would I behave this way? Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). In other words, this is the way that redeemed people live.