*August 28 - September 3
|SABBATH AFTERNOON August 28|
Read for This Week's Study:
|Jer 31:31-34, Matt. 5:44, 6:12, Luke 6:27-36, 23:1-34.|
| "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace
Some people have or claim to have only friends and no enemies; some have no friends but only enemies. Most of us are somewhere in the middle: We have friends, but we also do not get along with everybody. This may seem a simple fact of life, but, as Christians, we cannot simply shrug our shoulders if our relationship with some others is disrupted or if we harbor feelings of distrust, even antipathy, toward some people. Nor should it leave us indifferent if some people have problems with us. The Christian message of love has relevance for our relationship with those whom we dislike or, even worse, might even feel hateful toward.
We are admonished to "turn from evil and do good" and to "seek peace and pursue it" in every way we can (Ps. 34:14, NIV). Though it is important not to forget the larger picture, this week we'll focus on ourselves and the way we relate to those with whom we have (shall we put it kindly?) unresolved issues.
The Week at a Glance:
|What does Christ's example on the cross tell us about loving our enemies? How can we love our enemies? Why should we do so? Why must we forgive before we can love?|
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 4.
Jesus and His Enemies
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Read Luke 23:1-34, reviewing the events that lead to Christ uttering these incredible words. In light of all that was happening to Jesus, how He was being treated, how He was being spoken to, how He was being mocked, how He was being lied about, what powerful lesson can we learn from this example regarding how we treat our enemies?
Unrewarded, unaccepted, reviled, mocked, tortured, Jesus has every reason to hate those who treated Him as they did. And yet, amid His own sufferings, amid His own abasement, Jesusforgetting selfprays for those who would, by most standards, be deemed His enemies. What an amazing testimony to God's love! What a powerful rebuke to our own pride, envy, and hateful attitudes toward others!
Some of history's cruelest and meanest characters have been able to manifest kindness and love to those who were kind and loving to them. Indeed, almost anyone can do that. But we see Jesus here living out a principle that reflects something greater: unconditional love, even to those who hate Him back. It's hard to imagine a more powerful witness to the world of the character of our God and His power to work in our lives.
This attitude, in a sense, reveals the essence of the Cross. "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10). In other words, despite our attitude toward God, He poured Himself out for us through the life and suffering of Jesus. And He did this even while we were sinners, even while we were alienated and estranged from Him.
With such an example before us, how could we do anything other than, through God's grace, seek to manifest that same principle ourselves?
|Go back over Luke 23:1-34. In what similar ways have you been treated unfairly? How did you respond? What does your response, in contrast to Christ's, tell you about your own personal need to grow in grace?|
Loving Our Enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27-36).
Ghandi (1869-1948) once said, "It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion."Non-Violence in Peace and War (New York: New Directions Pub. Corp., 1965), vol. 2, sect. 248. These words sound like an echo from the One who practiced, even more perfectly than Ghandi, what He preached.
What basic principle was given by Christ, which must govern our relationship with those who have turned against us? Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27-36.
Having grown up in Galilee, an area renowned for its political unrest, and living in a land under occupation by a ruthless foreign power, Christ knew about civil unrest, war, tyranny, and enemies. When He began His work and challenged the beliefs and practices of the religious elite of His days, He inevitably made many bitter enemies. But He did, indeed, love His enemies, even when He was brutally arrested, flogged, and nailed to a cross (Luke 23:34).
Review the following texts, which spell out in more detail what loving our enemies implies: Proverbs 24:17, 25:21, Matthew 5:38-42, Ephesians 4:26.
"We are to love our enemies with the same love that Christ manifested toward His enemies by giving His life to save them. Many may say, 'This is a hard commandment; for I want to keep just as far as I can from my enemies.' But acting in accordance with your own inclination would not be carrying out the principles that our Saviour has given. 'Do good,' He says, 'to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. . . .' This scripture illustrates one phase of Christian perfection. While we were yet enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us. We are to follow His example."Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry, pp. 253, 254.
|We clearly have been told by inspiration to love our enemies Now,
if someone were to ask you, "How do you love your enemies?" what would you
Increase Our Faith
For the past two days, we've looked at one of the loftiest principles in Scripture: love, not for those who love us back but for our enemies. We have not only Christ's words to that effect but His example, too, manifested most clearly at the Cross, unquestionably the greatest revelation of that principle ever revealed in the universe.
It's one thing to be told what to do, to know what to do, or even to want to do it; it's another, however, to do it. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in our lives, we need power from above.
Read Matthew 18:21, 22 and Luke 17:3-5. What question do the disciples ask Jesus? How does He answer? How do they respond to His answer?
"Lord, increase our faith." Who of us couldn't relate to their request? Jesus here points them to a standard they are not used to, a standard that goes beyond what even many of the most forgiving people would aspire to-which is why their response is so sensible. They want to do this but realize they need something more than what they have in themselves at the moment to be able to do it. Thus, their appeal to Jesus for help.
Of course, faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8), but there's so much we can do to receive the gift, to multiply the gift, to strengthen the gift. Here's where a life of prayer, of devotion, and of meditation upon Christ all play a crucial role. Only as we surrender ourselves to the Lord, only as we reckon ourselves dead to self and sin (Rom. 6:10, 11), only as we allow the Lord to work in us (vs. 4), will we by God's grace be able to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to do good to them. Left to their own, our sinful, vengeful hearts will never allow us to love our enemies. That's why we need to surrender constantly to the Lord, and we can do that only by a conscious choice on our part to make such a surrender.
|Who are your enemies? What makes them your enemies? If you're not
loving them, what's the first step you could take in at least trying
The Grace of Forgiving (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 6:12).
Before we can love our enemies, we must forgive them; and before we can forgive, we must first learn to accept forgiveness. This is where the Christian life begins: the certainty of having been accepted by God and the assurance of forgiveness through faith in our risen Lord.
How does the Lord's Prayer remind us that we must, in turn, be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us? Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 6:12, Heb. 8:12.
"If we really know Christ as our Savior our hearts are broken and cannot be hard, and we cannot refuse forgiveness. If you are refusing forgiveness to anybody I suggest that you have never been forgiven. . . . Pray to God and say, 'Forgive me 0 God as I forgive others because of what Thou hast done for me. All I ask is that Thou shouldst forgive me in the same manner; not to the same degree, because all I do is imperfect. In the same way, as it were, as Thou hast forgiven me, I am forgiving others. Forgive me as I forgive them because of what the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ has done in my heart.' "D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1960), vol. 2, pp. 75, 76.
The author presents a crucial point. To truly forgive, we must understand how much we have been forgiven. Whatever others have done to us, is it worse than what our sins have done to the Lord? Hardly. The distance we have to cross in order to forgive others is almost nonexistent in contrast to the distance Christ, the eternal God, crossed in order to forgive us. This is a reality we must constantly keep before us if we are to forgive and then to love.
How does the Cross help us understand what our forgiveness cost God? Isa. 53:4-6, Phil. 2:5-8.
By dwelling on the Cross, by dwelling on the cost of our forgiveness, we can, through God's grace, come to the point where we can learn to forgive others, even those whom we might deem, and rightly so, our enemies.
|Are you having trouble forgiving, much less loving, an enemy? Write down your understanding of what Christ suffered at the Cross in order to forgive you. Pray and meditate over just what He did in your behalf. See if it will not help open you up toward those who have earned your anger.|
Why Should We Love Our Enemies?
"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1).
Why should we love our enemies?
If you answered the above question, Because God tells us to, you have given probably the best answer a Christian can give. We should love our enemies, because our God has told us to, and if we are Christians, we obey the Lord.
But the Lord doesn't ask us to do things in a vacuum; there's usually a practical reason for what He asks, because He loves us and wants what's for our good. (See Deut. 10:13.) Thus, there's an incredible amount of practical, personal good that can come not just to our enemies but to ourselves by learning to love those whom we deem enemies. Think of how much different our world would be if we learned to love our enemies. It would be the closest thing to heaven we're ever going to find on this earth, at least for now.
Read Romans 12:20, 21 and 1 Thessalonians 5:15. What is Paul saying there? How do his words fit in with the overall theme of this week's lesson?
God has done so much for us. As Christians, we have so much reason to have hope, because we have the promise not only of all things working for good now but the promise of eternity in a whole new existence; one filled with love, peace, and prosperity, an existence we can't even begin to comprehend now. Thus, with such a promise before us, we, of all people, should be able to rise above the common hatreds that have poisoned this planet until it's a cauldron of hate, violence, and revenge. What better way to be salt, to be light, than to love our enemies, thus bearing a powerful witness to the world that we have something it desperately needs, and that, of course, is Jesus.
|Read "The Measure
of Forgiveness" in Ellen G. White's book Christ's Object Lessons
(pp. 243-251). Note in particular the following statement:
"Our Lord teaches that matters of difficulty between Christians are to be settled within the church. They should not be opened before those who do not fear God. If a Christian is wronged by his brother, let him not appeal to unbelievers in a court of justice. Let him follow out the instruction Christ has given. Instead of trying to avenge himself, let him seek to save his brother. God will guard the interests of those who love and fear Him, and with confidence we may commit our case to Him who judges righteously."Pages 248, 249.
| Dwell more on this idea of the practical good that
can come from loving our enemies. Discuss what this world would be like if
this principle were to take hold of the world as quickly and as firmly as
does the desire for revenge.
Should the idea that in the end God will bring justice and punishment to evildoers play a role in helping us learn to love our enemies? Is it really love if we want God ultimately to punish them? How does Christ's prayer on the cross help answer that question?
Relatives of a murder or rape victim often say they will never be able to forgive the person who committed that heinous crime. How can one help someone in dealing with this very human and understandable reaction?
|Many of us have enemies or are regarded by others as their enemies. It is important to analyze our relationships and ask ourselves why some relationships have broken down and what can be done to restore them. As Christians, we are challenged to build positive relationships, even with those we do not really like. Loving our enemies does not come naturally. Yet, if we realize how God always stands ready to forgive us, we should be prepared also to forgive "our debtors."|
|I N S I D E Story|
Wises Up by DENNIS RODRIGUES
As a teenager Solomon was not so smart. He let his peers influence his decisions and began smoking and taking drugs. He experimented with every drug he could get, and often he grew weak because he was not eating. Drugs were all he cared for.
Solomon and his friends were always together, smoking and taking drugs. They formed a gang and often fought with other teens. Once when he was high on drugs, he picked up a machete, ready to strike his father. But a voice shouted to him, "Stop!" and he dropped the machete as if it were on fire.
"Help me, please!" he cried. His family took him to a mental hospital for treatment. But the hospital kept him for only a few days.
Solomon's grandmother prayed for him constantly and encouraged him to attend church with her and let God heal him. Solomon went, and there he felt God's love calling him. But he continued taking drugs for ten more years. Then Solomon's grandmother and his father died. The two people who had tried to help him were gone. Finally Solomon could run away from God no longer. He gave up and gave his life to God. It had taken him years to heed the voice of God.
Solomon did not know which church to attend. He tried several before he visited an Adventist church. There he watched the pastor baptize someone, and instantly he knew what he must do. He went to the pastor and asked for baptism. The pastor reviewed the doctrines with him and baptized Solomon.
Solomon's repentance was real. He serves his church and his God with joy and faithfulness as a deacon and an elder. Several members of his family have given their hearts to Christ because of his witness.
Recently he held his own evangelistic series and led seven people to Jesus.
He is trained as an accountant, but he has chosen simpler work that puts him in touch with people he can talk to about God. Solomon shares his faith on the bus, to strangers in the street. "For years I was compelled to take drugs; today I am by God compelled to preach," he says. He is eager to redeem the time he has left for God.
DENNIS RODRIGUES is a pastor living in Tegulcigalpa, Honduras.
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