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A Perfect Heart


(Matthew 5:40-48 NKJV) "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. {41} "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. {42} "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. {43} "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Yesterday I found out that a person who had done me much harm had been greatly blessed by God. My initial reaction was "that's unfair, they should be punished, not rewarded for what they did". Then God reminded me... "Did not you not forgive that person and pray that they would be blessed and be happy. I have answered your prayer.". I felt like Jonah under the tree blaming God for being merciful to Nineveh and crying out "I knew You would do that!...That's not fair God". God is merciful to sinners and kind to the unrighteous and cruel and wicked. He send His rain on the just and the unjust and material prosperity on saint and sinner alike. God loves His enemies and blesses those who curse Him. This blessing may include material things and the basic necessities of life.

Matthew 5:44-45 (NKJV) {44} "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

A perfect heart is one that can love its enemies. It is like Nelson Mandela who, on assuming power in South Africa, did not take revenge. King David took no revenge on the family of Saul that had made his life miserable for so many years but instead looked for those he could bless. Thus God said of David that he had a perfect heart (1 Kings 15:3). Stephen as he was being stoned said "Lord do not charge them with this sin". Jesus Himself as He was being nailed to the cross said "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do". Your attitude to your enemies is a good measure of how far the grace of God has penetrated your life. A true awareness of the grace of God will change how you view the faults of others. This is shown in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-35 where a servant who was forgiven an enormous debt refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed a quite moderate sum. God's response to such ingratitude is startling in its ferocity.

(Matthew 18:32-35 NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' {34} "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

In the Lord's prayer we find the same thought expressed:

(Matthew 6:12 NKJV) And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
The perfect heart is one that is perfected in love and which can love its enemies and forgive the debts and sins of others against it.

The reciprocal side of this is that the grace we give is the grace we receive. Undoubtedly, especially at the beginning of our Christian walk, we receive far more grace from God and others than we give out. However as we mature in Christ there is a certain expectation that we will be gracious also. In fact there is a very firm expectation that we will be gracious also.

(Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV) "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. {15} "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Our own continual forgiveness depends on us being "merciful servants" who forgive others also. This theme recurs through all the gospels as Jesus tackled the unforgiving legalism of His day head on.

(Luke 6:37-38 NKJV) "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
We need to give grace to others if we are to receive grace ourselves.

How then do we attain to the perfect heart?

I think this needs to be broken into two complementary parts. The things we need to stop thinking and doing and then the things we need to start thinking and doing. Many people stop short of loving their enemies because they have certain self-protective beliefs such as "Its not fair...", "They will just hurt me more.." and "I can't love them, I have been hurt too much...". These beliefs need to be looked at in the light of logic and Scripture. Firstly it is fair. If we expect others to forgive us and not punish us according to our sins so we should forgive others and not punish them according to their sins. Secondly loving people does not necessarily mean that you will put yourself back into a dangerous and hurtful situation. It does mean that you will pray for God to bless them and that you will meet basic needs (such as food and drink) that you can safely provide.

(Romans 12:19-21 NIV) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. {20} On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Thirdly you are not a prisoner of pain. Despite what psychologists may sometimes have said trauma does not leave you without choices. It is not inevitable for hurt people to become bitter or neurotic. Many of the survivors of concentration camps are relatively whole people. Step by step you can choose to love your enemies and escape the dark dungeon called bitterness. Sometimes love grows gradually and you will have to gradually increase in love and decrease in anger. Use the cross as your starting point. Ask how Jesus on the cross sees them and would treat them. Look at them against the background of the cross and of God's love for them and plans for their life. As you do this you may find it much easier to begin on God's program of forgiveness.

Things we need to start doing.... We need to see loving and blessing our enemies as the path to personal wholeness and a perfect heart. It needs to be taken out of the "too hard basket" and put back on the agenda for ordinary bible-believing Christians. The second thing we need to do is to start straight away. Forgiveness is like a muscle that builds with use. And it needs to be stretched a little in order to grow in size. Forgive as much as you can possibly forgive today and you will be able to forgive yet more tomorrow. Bless people as much as you can today and you will be able to bless them more tomorrow.

As part of this process we need to constantly go to God for His perspective on the person or incident and we can only do this through prayer, the reading of the word and the timely advice of godly friends. I remember a time when a colleague of mine was belittling me at every opportunity. I come from a background where "face" is very important and her comments in front of others were cutting me to pieces. I wanted to retaliate with stinging sarcasm but I was also teaching through 1 Peter at the time and came to the verses.

(1 Peter 3:8-11 NKJV) Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; {9} not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. {10} For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. {11} Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.

I have always believed in putting Scripture into practice as literally as possible so when I was put down I returned a blessing - at first admittedly through inwardly gritted teeth. Over a very short period of time the situation changed and within three weeks her entire personality was transformed. It was the conviction of Scripture that gave me the strength to be obedient. At other times it has been God's quiet voice in prayer and at still others it has been my courageous friends sitting me down and telling me the truth. Loving our enemies and blessing them is not easy and we need all the encouragement we can get to do it.

I find that getting the right perspective on my pain is all important. When I am in pain I tend to look at the world as if I were the center of it . Here are ten "pocket perspectives" that keep me sane:

These perspective statements may help you to grow in Christ and love and bless your enemies. They tend to revolve around whether our Christian life revolves around justice or around grace. If I get obsessed with seeing justice done I become narrow and bitter and hard. If I become obsessed with love , faithfulness and mercy I become perfect in heart. Grace is given even to those who make no effort at all. Grace extends to sinners. (Romans 4:5 NIV)

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God loves His enemies and blesses them even though they make no effort at deserving it. There are however at least three "levels" or "ways' God blesses.

1. Firstly God provides basic life necessities to the just and unjust alike by His grace (Matthew 5:45).

2. Secondly He provides salvation and eternal life to all who trust Him (John 3:16). Faith is the only requirement. The gift of eternal life is completely unearned and independent of how well they live their lives or how much effort they put into their Christian walk.

3. Thirdly He has a "crown of life" that is awarded for outstanding effort as a Christian (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Timothy 4:8, Revelation 2:10). This crown is the reward for performance , salvation though is free. Our enemies may have houses, land and wealth and live in luxury but it is the Christian of perfect heart that will win the unfading crown of glory.

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.