As we move forward in considering what makes a Christian distinctively different from a non-Christian, I believe we need to be reminded that the Early Church specialized in brotherliness and not only loved fellow believers but outsiders as well. That brings us to another dimension of their demonstration of love and that which made them distinctively different.
THEY LOVED THEIR ENEMIES…
That is a big pill to swallow, and I find many believers and professing Christians who find that almost impossible. But they hurt me! You do not know what they did! You are right, I may not, but God does and if you consider what was done to Jesus, your argument falls apart rather quickly.
Loving our enemies or those who hate us and have harmed us is something the person of the world not only does not do, they do not want to. I had a person tell me regarding another person, “I could not love him, even if I wanted to.” The last part of that statement is revealing and identifies the root of the problem. Yet, a genuine Christian not only wants to, the love!
In our text verses 44-45, Jesus drove this message home, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He repeated that message in Luke 6:27 and 35. The staggering truth implied is that if we do not want to, we are not genuine followers of His. That may anger some, and that is not my purpose, but I want all of us to be free of hate and to walk in love.
I offer an addendum you are not asked to like or condone their sinful ways. You are commanded to love them. Jesus practiced that kind of love. Remember His words on the Cross, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do”? Stephen exemplified that quality, praying as he was being stoned, “LORD, lay not this sin to their charge.” That is genuine Christian love. It is to love the brethren, love those outside the faith, and even love our enemies. That is only possible if we have an overriding love for God! Christ in us, the hope of glory!
THE EARLY CHURCH NOT ONLY WANTED TO FOLLOW JESUS THEY WANT TO REPRODUCE HIM IN OTHERS…
They sought to inform everyone of the Good News of the Gospel. They wanted to introduce everyone to this glorious Good News and bring them to the new birth experience. They wanted to include everyone. They took to heart the words that “God is not willing or desirous that any should perish but come to everlasting life.”
That was a costly goal and mission. There is a wide gate that leads to destruction, and it is the easy way, but it leads to death. The way to life is the straight gate and the narrow way, but it leads to everlasting life. There is a measure of self-denial and cross-bearing that we must embrace. There is no cheap, easy, instant way to be a mature Christian, but love motivated them and they persisted and persevered.
That goal is a top priority with the Father. The disciples and believers were motivated by God’s love, and they were committed to Him regardless of their plight or suffering. Some of them were stoned to death. Some were sawn asunder which is a picture of being tied with ropes and ripped apart as horses pulled in opposite directions. They were tempted and slain by the sword. Some experienced poverty and were persecuted. Yet, they demonstrated the Love of God in all things.
The difference was they were not stopped by those things but counted it an honor to suffer for Jesus. They did not seek suffering but when they did, they rejoiced. They never prayed for escape, but for opportunity, boldness, and courage. Remember in Acts after the apostles had been beaten by the Sanhedrin their prayer was beyond human reason. They prayed, “And now, LORD, behold their threatenings…” Who was threatening them? The same people who crucified Jesus.
They continued, “grant unto your servants, that with all boldness we may speak your word.” Wow! The way of Christ is not self-preservation or ease but proclaiming the Good news and demonstrating the Love of God!
THEY HAD A HARD TIME BUT THEY HAD SOMETHING DIFFERENT…
They had Joy Unspeakable and were Full of Peace and Glory! They were full of God’s New Wine! They were intoxicated not with alcoholic beverages but by the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul had an incredibly difficult life but in prison, he could sing praises to God. Nothing could rob him of his joy and the peace of God.
Believers in fellowship with Jesus possess all that makes life worthwhile in both time and eternity. My prayer is, “LORD, help me be a person who is different and manifests the love of God to everyone all the time!”