It’s puzzling. When I speak on living by faith I often ask, "How many of you know that Jesus calls us to love our enemies?" Everyone nods and says they know this.
Then I ask, "How many of you know the reason Jesus gives for why we should love our enemies?" Almost always the response is the same — very few know the reason.
Why don’t we know the reason?
Are we so good at loving our enemies that we don’t need Jesus’ reason? Um — no. I’m not so good at loving my enemies. And I’m pretty sure we all need help in this. And yet we remember only the command — but not the reason Jesus gives to help us obey the command.
What is the reason?
Here’s what Jesus taught in Luke 6:35, "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great." Jesus motivates our love for enemies with the promise of reward — more of his heart-satisfying presence.
Here’s how this works: When we know that Christ has secured for us the joy of his presence forever — and that loving our enemies will bring us even more of that joy — we will be freed and motivated to love our enemies. So — if we aren’t very good at loving our enemies — and this reason would help us love our enemies — why don’t we remember the reason? It’s strange.
Imagine someone said “Walk three miles down to the Bank — and you will receive three billion dollars.” Notice there’s a command — and there’s a reason to help you obey the command. So, while you are walking to the Bank, is it possible you might forget the reason? Not a chance.
And yet — when Jesus urges us to love our enemies because of a reward infinitely better than three billion dollars — we remember the command but can’t think of the reason. [Stunned silence.]
Can you feel how wrong that is? So why do we do that? Here are my thoughts:
First, we’ve heard that the Christian life is motivated by gratitude — not rewards.
If this is what we’ve heard then we’ll assume rewards aren’t supposed to motivate us or that they are not very important, and we’ll forget them.
But over and over again God does motivate us with promises of reward. So they must be important.
See, gratitude does not replace reward. Gratitude reminds us of God’s past faithfulness so we trust his promise of future reward. So nurture gratitude and be motivated by God’s promise of reward.
Second, we think God himself should be enough motivation — that we should not need any other reward.
This shows a misunderstanding of rewards. Biblical rewards are not something apart from God. Every reward involves more of God.
Like Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
So God is enough motivation — he is the reward.
Third, the health-and-wealth gospel makes us nervous about rewards.
It’s tragic that people obey God in order to get health or wealth. But that’s not how Jesus motivates us. Jesus motivates us with the promise of himself — like in John 14:23, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."
Why keep Jesus’s word? Because if I do, I will experience more of the Father and Son’s all-satisfying presence. So the alternative to the health-and-wealth gospel is not don’t pursue rewards. It is pursue God as your reward.
Fourth, we think our will-power is enough.
What do we do when we struggle to love our enemies?
What Jesus wants us to do is open our Bibles, find the reasons he gives to empower love for enemies, and pray over those reasons until the Holy Spirit changes our hearts.
But too often that’s not what we do. Too often we just rely on our own will-power, grit our teeth, and try harder. Which shows that we think we have the will-power to obey Jesus. But we don’t. Which is why he gives reasons which the Spirit will use to empower obedience.
Now, Back to My Walk to the Bank
Three miles is a long walk. I’m getting tired. I’m not sure I want to do this. I’d rather turn left and head to the beach.
What reason did he give me for walking to the Bank? Oh, that’s right. There’s three billion dollars waiting for me!
Suddenly I’m no longer tired. I want to get to the Bank. Forget the beach.
That’s how reasons help us obey.
So learn the reasons in Scripture — and use the reasons in Scripture.
See you at the Bank.