Some years ago, there was a group of men called the Jesus Seminar. They didn't believe that what the Bible said was true, and they were trying to work out what Jesus actually said. They did so using a rather strange method. They tried looking at what the Bible said that Jesus said, and getting rid of everything that might have been said by the Judaism of the time or by the early Church. Since Jesus was a Jew of the time, and the early Church came into existence largely as a result of what he said and did, those criteria are going to give an awful lot of false negatives. In addition, they wanted it to be in more than one source, but if the gospels were too similar they didn't count them, which is more bad criteria. Using their criteria, what you get out even a sceptical non-Christian historian would pretty much have to admit that Jesus said. But there are a lot of things that Jesus pretty certainly said that they will miss out. But anyway...
As I remember it, they ended up concluding that there was one thing that Jesus absolutely definitely said, which was so different from anything other people were saying, and it's something that we still ignore pretty spectacularly. It was this: "love your enemies".
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Luke 6:32-35, TNIV
All too often, we just don't do it. We love people who are like us or people who are nice to us. If people aren't nice to us, we try to be polite back and sometimes pray for them or something. But we don't really love them.
Let's take a clear example. Richard Dawkins. I lived round the corner from him for three years, and the extent of my love for him was not running him over in my car when he was cycling. That's polite, but not exactly what I'd call really loving.
The way that most Christians respond to Richard Dawkins usually seems to be taking one of the following options:
- Ignoring him and hoping he'll go away
- Finding a Christian who knows a bit about science to do a talk
- Writing a badly thought through response
- Finding someone who really has read Richard Dawkins and engaged with him to do a talk or write a book
- Finding someone to do a public debate with Richard Dawkins
- Praying for Richard Dawkins to become a Christian
I don't think any of those should be our first course of action. Some of them are helpful and useful, and some good books have been written on Dawkins. I think our first course of action should be to love him. I sincerely hope there are Christian organisations and churches and individuals who send him a Christmas hamper or something. Not because they want him to pay attention to them, but because they love him.
The way that things should work (e.g. in 1 Peter 3) is this:
- People attack Christians
- We respond by loving them
- People ask us about what we believe
- We tell them about Jesus