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Offensive Love

by on July 7, 2006 in Articles

Around the world the Holy Spirit is moving, and the enemy is desperate. The gospel is spreading rapidly, but where it is being resisted the response is as fierce and hateful as at any time in history. Our desire as Christians to share our faith and stand up for biblical principles has brought on the wrath of people around the world and in our own neighborhoods.

How do you respond to people like this—those in our country or far away who hate us because we’re believers in Christ? I am tempted to react either defensively or offensively.  For protection, I want to pull up the drawbridge and build walls to protect my family, my church, my values. Or in righteous anger I want to see those who hurt Christians around the world judged, humiliated, and defeated.

Often we slip into an “us-and-them” mentality. But what is God’s response? How does He feel about the people who don’t like us or who even persecute us? Psalm 87 gives us a glimpse:

  1. He has set his foundation on the holy mountain;
  2. the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
  3. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: Selah
  4. “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
  5. Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”
  6. The Lord will write in the register of the
    peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” Selah
  7. As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”

It’s clear from the first three verses that God loves His people and thoroughly enjoys being among them. He loves Jerusalem, calling it “His establishment” or “His place.” It’s like there is a flashing neon light over the city of Jerusalem that says, “God’s Place.” Because He loves His people, God made this His dwelling place. Verse 2 states that He particularly loves the gates—where people gather. It is one of the most vulnerable parts of the city, but God’s presence grants security.

At the end of the third verse the word “Selah” indicates a pause after the first stanza. This suggests that the reader should stop and think for a minute about how glorious it is to be with God in His place.

But in verses 4–7 comes the shocking second stanza. There are other people whom God loves—foreigners whom Israel doesn’t especially love—and He plans to make them citizens of Jerusalem, with all its benefits and security. Then comes the word “Selah” again. Stop and think about that.

From Jerusalem the camera angle widens to pan the nations of the world and issue a formal proclamation of God’s intentions. But this is not just a random sample of any nations. These are not just any foreigners, they are Israel’s enemies—a constant threat to God’s people and their way of life.

And what does God say about all these foreigners, these outsiders, these enemies? They are going to know God! The Hebrew word for “acknowledge” in verse 4 means “to have a special relationship with.” The same word is used of Israel’s special relationship with God in Amos 3:2. “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.” The psalmist creates the image that these enemies will become native-born citizens of Jerusalem, with all the benefits of citizenship.

In verses 4 and 5 the psalmist paints a picture of God visiting His temple in Zion and responding with a mixture of mock incredulity and divine joy at whom He sees. It’s as if He says, “Wow! Look at all these wonderful new citizens of Jerusalem!” Imagine God pumping His fist as He says, “Yes! Look at them, here in my temple. I’m going to make them all citizens of My place.”

Then, as the psalm fades out in verse 7, we see the picture of a grand international party of people enjoying the presence of God in the fullness of life and salvation in Jerusalem. The new citizens respond, “All my fountains are in you.” Fountains or springs are often used as biblical imagery for life. These springs are found only in Zion, not in the nations from which these people have come.

Israel’s response: “We knew God was going to rule and judge the pagan Gentiles, but this is too much. You mean He’s going to make them equal with us? He’s going to give those Gentile dogs, our enemies, equal citizenship with us and share our inheritance with them?”

God didn’t say this just to shock ancient Israel, but to remind them of why He had called them to be His special people … so they could attract others to their God and invite them to His party. This is the truth of Genesis 12:1–3 and Psalm 67:1–5: God blessed Israel so the nations might bless Him. This is the truth David shouted when he went to face Goliath: God will give us the victory so that the world will know Him, the God of Israel.

Although Christian believers are not the Israelites, God’s perspective hasn’t changed. His devotion to His followers does not negate His love for those who have made themselves our enemies. He exults in the prospect that some of those people who are working against us will join His party. And He wants us to love them too. In fact He wants us to invite them to the party.

Who are the Babylonians and Philistines in our lives? Whom do we not like because they don’t like us? Most of us have faced the sneer of people who think that Christians are deluded, or even dangerous. Sometimes they make fun of our lifestyle or exclude us; sometimes they take advantage of us.

And beyond those who simply dislike us or make life difficult for us, there are people who aggressively attack our values: media that mock us, gay-rights advocates who attack a biblical understanding of marriage, abortion-rights people who threaten the unborn. Sometimes we feel threatened by people of other faiths, especially when followers of those faiths are hostile to Christians in other countries.

How can we invite these people to join God’s party? Here are a few steps:

  1. Get God’s attitude. We can begin by confessing our wrong attitude and asking God to give us His heart and mind. Then we can try to look at them the way He sees them—“they” are potentially “us.”
  2. Reorder our lives. We can stop being defensive and begin sharing God’s love with those near us and those far away.

 

God loves the people whom we don’t particularly like—those who are hateful to us, who resist us as never before. He loves them as much as He loves us. And He calls us to invite them to His eternal, international party. By sharing the good news and watching the Holy Spirit do His work of reconciliation, we can bring God joy and enter into His celebration as He saves even those who were once our enemies.

 

Dr. Steve Strauss (ThM, 1980), a former pastor and professor in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is the US director of Serving In Mission (SIM).

 

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