A few Sundays ago, the two house churches I help oversee came together to discuss various ways that Jesus calls us to suffer for His name’s sake. It was both a challenging and edifying conversation.
At one point, someone brought up the issue of self-defense; as in, surely God understands if we do harm to someone when our lives are being threatened, right?
That thought process certainly makes perfect sense in American society, but what did King Jesus say?
Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:31-36
“But,” one might say, “that passage must be an example of Jesus using hyperbole. I mean, it just isn’t practical. Surely He doesn’t expect His followers to actually put those teachings into practice, right? Christianity would be wiped off the face of the earth!”
I understand why someone would think that way, but those thoughts are most likely coming from someone who has not been taught the history of the earliest believers of the way of Jesus. The earliest Christians viewed Jesus’ command to love our enemies as a powerful method of evangelism.
Christians … live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. … They love all people and are persecuted by all. Nobody knows them, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and just through this, they are brought to life. … They are abused, and yet they bless. They are assaulted, and yet it is they who show respect. Doing good, they are sentenced like evildoers. When punished with death, they rejoice in the certainty of being awakened to life. … In a word: what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. – Letter to Diognetus 125-200CE, Volume 1, p. 47-48 [CD-ROM]
This is not a proof text of the Ante-Nicene Christians. They taught and lived out this command in the face of unimaginable persecution without resorting to retaliation. And by the beginning of the 4th century, Christianity made up 1/10th of the Roman Empire despite being an illegal religion.
One of the main reasons they chose to love their enemies, in addition to viewing Jesus as Lord, is their belief that He truly died for everyone and desires all to be saved.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. modeled how the power of the gospel is unleashed when we take Jesus at His word. He reflected the courage of our Savior by not seeking to destroy evil with evil, but rather, by overcoming evil with good.
In 1962, as Dr. King was speaking at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a 200lb white man rushed the stage and began to beat King with his fists. Dr. King dropped his hands and began to speak softly to the man, assuring the man that he would not be harmed by anyone there. But the man, a member of the American Nazi Party, kept on beating him.
Eventually, one of the conference leaders intervened, but Dr. King yelled out, “Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him. We have to pray for him.” After the assault, Dr. King and his aides met with the young man in a private room to speak with him, and later King informed the crowd at the convention that he would not be pressing charges against his persecutor.
Who lives like that? It’s like Dr. King was from another world.