Love your neighbor

Christian living goes against the grain of our natural human tendencies. Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and said, “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 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” (Matthew 5:44-45, NKJV). Paul expanded on this teaching by instructing Christians to “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17, NKJV). By this Paul meant that “Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute” (note on Romans 12:17). Paul concluded his argument by stating, “Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20, NKJV).

Paul made it clear that the goal of Christian living is to conquer evil by doing good to those that don’t deserve it (Romans 12:21). One of the ways that Paul suggested we can do this is by submitting to the authorities that exist because they are ordained by God (Romans 13:1). This was particularly relevant to the first century Roman Christians because they were constantly being harassed because of their faith in Christ. The Roman emperors used their power to unjustly punish Christians and are known for burning them alive and letting wild animals tear them to pieces. “Even the possibility of a persecuting state did not shake Paul’ conviction that civil government is ordained by God (note on Romans 13:1). Paul stated, For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Romans 13:3).

Paul summarized his argument in favor of submission to authority by stating that we should, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8, NKJV). Paul compared the Christian’s responsibility to love others to a debt that can never be repaid. “No matter how much one has loved, he is under obligation to keep on loving” (note on Romans 13:8). Paul went on to say, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Romans 13:9, NKJV). The point Paul was trying to make was that loving our neighbor encompasses all of our Christian social responsibilities” (note on Romans 13:9) and therefore makes it impossible for Satan to condemn us.

Paul seemed to anticipate that things would get worse for Christians as the return of Christ got closer. He stated, ” The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12, NKJV). The Greek word translated armor, hoplon was used by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians where he stated, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The weapons or armor that Paul was referring to was most likely submission to the will of God. Even though Christians may be mistreated because of their meekness and gentleness towards others, Satan cannot do any spiritual damage to our lives if we submit ourselves to the will of God (Ephesians 6:10),

Choosing

Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the  temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”

Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:

Thus saith the LORD, the  God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.