As Jesus sat on the hillside, he told his Jewish listeners, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… except for Rome. Since they are oppressing Israel, our native nation, we have every justification to declare and support a bloody, violent revolution against them!”
Obviously, the bit after the ellipses is a fabrication and not found in the Sermon on the Mount. However, how many modern Christians would read this addendum into the text? This question is all the more relevant considering the recent events involving Syria. What are Christians to think in times like these? Think about it: how ironic is it to be a faith that emphasizes God’s love for the all the nations of the world and yet be citizens of a country that is possibly about to bomb one of those nations? What are we to think about this, being both American and Christian?
Ultimately, we know that Paul teaches us in Philippians that our citizenship is not of this world, but from heaven. Our allegiance for the gospel overrides our allegiance to any country. What does that mean though? The Philippians knew exactly what that meant. They were a colony who had full citizenship of Rome, even though they were not located there. However, Rome came and brought their culture into a foreign land. Philippi was Roman in every way, except for location. The point, I believe, is that Paul wants us to live in this world, but change the very culture of it, to “colonize” it, and influence it with the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ himself. To be in the world, but not of the world or drawing from its influence.
Thus, no matter what the opinion our country holds about what to do in situation like the one the U.S. is facing with Syria, our opinions and personal convictions should be those which reflect the character, lifestyle, and ethics of Jesus Christ. So, what does that look like? The mission of Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about his enemies. The passage at the opening says a ton. We are not to hate our enemy! We are to love them and pray for them. Is it possible to love your enemy when you drop a bomb on them? Even if you don’t personally do it, is it truly loving to support such an action?
Jesus models so clearly how we should treat our enemies. He is emphatic that violence is not the answer. Most people would agree that peace is the goal. However, how can peace be the goal if peace is not the means? Paul warns us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Jesus agreed with Paul that his kingdom is not of this world, that it is not influenced or derived from it. He says to Pilate in John 18:36, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” There, Jesus makes an important distinction! If his kingdom were of this world, if it acted as the other nations did, then his disciples would be fighting. However, they are not of this world. And so they aren’t fighting.
How does Jesus deal with his enemies then? Instead of violently and coercively overthrowing them, he nonviolently and lovingly lays down his life for them at their own hands. As the Roman soldiers are shaming him and torturing him on the cross, he cries out “Father, forgive them!” The kingdoms of the world sacrifice others for the benefit of themselves. But the people of the kingdom of God sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.
So, remember, our citizenship is in heaven. Our primary allegiance is not to Caesar, to any government, but to Jesus. We are to reflect God’s character to the world, through his kingdom. This includes loving our enemies and sacrificing for them, even if this means going against our native country. We are not of this world.
This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.