We continue looking at the way the cross shapes our relationships with others, and how to biblically view evil and suffering.
12. Loving our Enemies
In our relationships, we are to display the same blend of love and justice which God showed at the cross. In all honesty, this is easier said than done.
Conciliation and discipline
- Peace-making isn’t one-sided. It may at times prove impossible to live in peace.
- We are called to mirror our Father’s peace-making. The peace that he secured for us wasn’t cheap, but costly. We shouldn’t expect any less. If we are the offending party, the cost may take the form of humbling ourselves, apologizing and making any necessary restitution. In other cases, we may have to listen to both sides and witness the mutual bitterness; or to have to offer reproof or rebuke and thus risk losing a friendship.
- We are never to withhold or refuse forgiveness if it is asked of us. Neither are we to cheapen forgiveness by offering it where there has been no repentance.
- In the family: Human fatherhood is derived from the eternal fatherhood of God. Consequently, human parents are to model their love on God’s love. The Lord disciplines those he loves. A child’s wrong deed therefore deserves punishment, which should be administered in love and in accordance with justice.
- In the church: The New Testament gives clear instructions about church discipline, which has the aims of preserving the church’s holiness and of restoring the offending member. Jesus gave instructions on this, as did Paul.
Christian attitudes to evil
How should the cross, in which God’s mercy shines at its brightest, affect our attitudes towards evil? We can get some answers from Romans chapters 12 and 13.
- Evil is to be hated. God hates evil, and so should we.
- Evil is not to be repaid. Jesus exemplified this for us.
- Evil is to be overcome. How? By blessing those who persecute us and by doing good to our enemies.
- Evil is to be punished. Which brings us to…
The authority of the state
From Romans 13:
- The origin of authority is God
- The purpose of authority is to reward and to punish. See also 1 Peter 2:14.
- The means of exercising authority: through the use of force (i.e. the controlled and principled use of power) and not through violence. This use of force shouldn’t be indiscriminate, but limited to wrongdoers and criminals.
- The recognition of the state’s authority: This is part of our submission to authority. We are to obey laws, pay taxes, pray for the rulers. Christians submit to governing authorities up to the point where obeying the state would be disobeying God (Acts 5:29)
13. Suffering and Glory
How do we reconcile human suffering with God’s justice and love?
- Suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s world
- Some suffering may be due to sin—either our own or the sin of others. Jesus categorically rejected the notion that all suffering is due to sin (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:1-3)
What can we learn from the cross about suffering? How does the cross speak to us in our pain?
- The cross is a stimulus to patient endurance. Suffering is evil and has to be resisted. However, there may come a time when we have to accept it (2 Cor 12:7-10). If we suffer for good and endure it, this is commendable before God.
- The cross is a path to mature holiness. Stott quotes Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 5:8-9 and says:
Both verses speak of a process in which Jesus was ‘made perfect’ and both ascribe the perfecting process to his ‘suffering’. Not of course that he was ever imperfect in the sense that he had done wrong, for Hebrews underlines his sinlessness [Heb 4:15, 7:26]. It was rather that he needed further experiences and opportunities in order to become teleios, ‘mature’. In particular, ‘he learned obedience from what he suffered’. He was never disobedient. But his sufferings were the testing-ground in which his obedience became full-grown.
If suffering was the means by which the sinless Christ became mature, so much more do we need it in our sinfulness. Significantly, James uses the same language of ‘perfection’ and ‘maturity’ in relation to Christians. Just as suffering led to maturity through obedience for Christ, so it leads to maturity through perseverance for us [James 1:2-4].
One of the images used to describe how God uses suffering to achieve his purpose of making us holy is that of the metalworker refining silver or gold. Through this distressing process, Peter says that our faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
- The cross of Christ is the symbol of suffering service. We are familiar with the “Servant songs” in Isaiah (42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and possibly 44:1-5), which are applied to Jesus. Paul also gives us some examples of suffering service: Ephesians 3:13, Colossians 1:24, 2 Timothy 2:8-10.
- The cross of Christ is the hope of final glory.
Jesus looked beyond his death to his resurrection, beyond his sufferings to his glory and indeed was sustained in his trials by ‘the joy set before him‘.
The hope of glory makes suffering bearable. We should be careful not to apply this principle to all suffering, becasue not all suffering leads to glory.