Lots of stories are told about Abraham Lincoln. I am sure not all of them are true. But I love the following one.
On one occasion, Lincoln gathered his meagre earnings as a country lawyer and cast the highest bid in an auction for a slave. Having purchased the slave, he immediately set her free. ‘Mr. Lincoln, are you really setting me free?’ Yes, he was. ‘Are you saying I no longer have to follow a master?’ Yes, she was no under no obligations, she could go wherever she wished. ‘Then,’ she said, ‘I want to go with you.’
Bryan Chapell comments, ‘gratitude for release from slavery sparks loyalty for the one who provided freedom … We become committed to God’s words and ways in heartfelt thanks to his mercy towards us.’
The gospel of grace tells us that God has freed us from sin and condemnation. Jesus lived the perfect life we have failed to live and died for all the wrong that is within us. As we turn to him in dependant trust, we are accepted into his family as beloved sons and daughters. As the greatest of all parents, his love for us is steadfast. Nothing we can do can make him love us more or less. So, why would we obey him?
We obey him because, like that slave, his mercy towards us produces heartfelt thanks. God has done infinitely more for us than Lincoln did for that woman. Such love should have a profound effect on us. ‘We love because God first loved us.’ Jesus was not nagging his disciples when he said, ‘if you love me you will obey my commands.’ Grace does not provide an excuse for sin; it actually provides the true motivation for holiness.
With this this in mind, I want to remind you of Jesus’ most challenging command: love your enemies. I am going to show you how Jesus loved you while you were his enemy and now he enables you to follow his example of love.
Jesus refused to take the easy path to his throne
David had been anointed by Samuel to be the future king of Israel. The word Messiah/Christ means ‘anointed one.’ So although David is an imperfect man, there are patterns in his story that point ahead to his great descendant, Jesus Christ, who was called Son of David. In this passage, David’s actions reveal how the Messiah will not take the easy route to throne.
After God had given David victory over Goliath, King Saul had become murderously jealous of him. David had to go on the run. Now Saul finds himself outside the cave where David is hiding, and he needs to go to the toilet. As he squats down in the cave, David’s men encourage David to kill him. Kill Saul and take the throne. But David knows that he must do things God’s way in God’s time and not take the easy way out.
I listened to two sermons that both saw a parallel here with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus knew that the Psalms said that God would make the nations his inheritance (2:8). Satan says, ‘bow before me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world and their glory’ (Matthew 4:9). Satan is saying, ‘you can have a throne without having to take the journey to the cross.’ But the Son of David did not take the easy route to a throne. There would be no gospel of grace if Jesus didn’t take his throne in God’s time and in God’s way. Jesus is the real hero this passage points us to. Our hearts should be filled with love and gratitude for the Son of David.
Jesus loved his enemies
After Saul is finished in the cave, David follows him out, and calls out to him, ‘my Lord and king!’ ‘Why do you listen to the words of men who say, “Behold, David seeks your harm”?’ David points to the corner of Saul’s robe that he had cut off. ‘I could have killed you, but I did not.’
Look at the effect David’s kindness has on Saul! It melts his heart. Saul lifted his voice and wept. ‘You have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.’ The Bible teaches us that God’s kindness to us ought to bring us to repentance. One of the reasons we should be kind to those who do wrong to us is that we long to see them change. Sadly, Saul’s change of heart was short lived, and he would soon be breathing murderous threats against David again.
We should delight to see David show kindness to his enemies. For the Son of David has shown such kindness to us. The Bible says, while we were still hostile to his loving rule, Christ died for us. Having received such grace, it should be our desire to extend that grace to others.
But I struggle to love my enemies. I find it hard to be kind to those whose words have hurt me. I don’t want to be good to those who rub me up the wrong way. I want to do the right thing, but I find it so hard. And I have not been hurt the way some of you have been hurt, so I have no idea how difficult this command must be for you. So, how do you learn to be kind to those who hate you?
Firstly, by preaching the gospel to yourself—he is asking you to imitate what he has done for you. ‘God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Christ died for me, even though I was his enemy. Secondly, preach the gospel of grace to yourself—ask God to let his grace soften your heart. ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Thirdly, preach the gospel of grace to yourself—let your inability to love bring you to your knees, where you ask for his ability to love. You have been born of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is love. When your hatred is revealed to you, go to the Father who is patient with you, and ask him to do within you immeasurably more than we can imagine.
One final thought. God’s loving grace to us causes us to desire to follow his commands in grateful obedience. God’s loving grace also assures us that God calls us to obey his commands because he knows that is what is good for you. He wants to lead us in the way that is best for us. This truth is very obvious when it comes to overcoming bitterness. As one person has said, ‘bitterness is an acid that destroys its own container.’ So grace gives you desire to obey, grace shows you how to obey, and grace enables you to obey.