Jesus taught, "Ye have heard that is hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:43, 44)
All Christians are very familiar with this counsel and we often cite it but knowing what we are supposed to do and actually loving our enemies, blessing those that curse us, doing good to those who hate us, and praying for those who use us is often not easy to put into practice.
Even so, there are those who truly can forgive and show love to those who have committed great wrongs against them but sometimes it is easier to forgive one large injustice than it is to overlook many small offenses. For example, it can be easier for someone to forgive a person of driving drunk and killing a loved one than it is to tolerate someone who has an irritating habit or is rude or is inconsiderate and behaves selfishly.
It could be the boss who always criticizes but never compliments. It could be the neighbor who lets their dog run loose in people's yard and messing it up. It could be a co-worker who talks incessantly or is always calling in sick, causing your workload to increase. It could be a spouse whose spending habits constantly keeps the family budget out of balance.
Unlike a one-time tragedy that we must struggle to deal with, little annoyances that continually keep happening to us are often much more difficult to cope with and can wear a person down both emotionally and spiritually. In times like that it becomes more difficult to show love and bless the lives of those who are an irritant to us.
And it is times like that when we tend to feel justified in being a little angry, feeling a little resentful, and having a condescending attitude toward the person who is making our life unpleasant. At times like these, we tend to cite the example of Jesus overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers, or the harsh criticism He directed toward the Pharisees as evidence that we are still behaving in a Christ-like manner despite our resentful attitude.
But the scripture cited above is only a part of what Jesus had to say on this subject. He went on to say that the reason why we should love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despitefully use us is so "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans [do] the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so [do]? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heave is perfect" (Matthew 5:45-48).
There a several important principles involved in this statement. The first is that when we do good to those who do bad to us we do so "that ye may be[come] children of your Father in heaven." The clear implication of this statement is that treating others in this manner helps us become children of God. The opposite of this also seems to be true. Not behaving with love towards others will prevent us from becoming children of God. In other words, to inherit the kingdom of heaven we must show love to others, regardless of who they are or what they have done.
The reason why is because God shows love to everyone, even sinners. The evidence of this is that He provides for the needs of both the good and bad, the just and the unjust, by sending sunshine and rain on all men. If God loves even the worst sinner, then we too must learn to show love to all men, regardless of who they are, if we hope to become God's children.
Jesus further explained that we can't expect to receive a reward in heaven if all we do is love or treat kindly those who love us and treat us with kindness. The reason why there is no reward for this kind of behavior is because even sinners do those things. Therefore, if we expect to receive any blessings from God, we certainly must behave better than a sinner. It takes no effort to be nice to someone who is nice to us therefore it is obvious that God expects us to put forth some effort to do what doesn't come naturally to us.
But how much effort does God expect of us? Jesus said that we must become "perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Since no one has ever achieved (or can achieve) perfection in this life, it is obvious that we must put forth a strong and continual effort to become as perfect as we possibly can and part of that process of becoming perfect is showing love to others no matter how they treat us.
The apostle Paul identifies "the works of the flesh" as including "hatred, variance (discord), emulations (jealousy), wrath (anger), strife,… envyings… [and] provoking one another (being contentious, disagreeable, arguing)." He states that anyone who "do[es] such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He states that those who walk in the Spirit of godliness can be recognized because they exhibit "love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness, goodness… meekness [and] temperance (self-control)." He then counsels Christians that if we say we believe in Christ then we must also "walk (behave) in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:19-25).
According to the scriptures, to inherit the kingdom of God we must be perfect. Although there has been much discussion about what it means to be perfect, it's clear that it includes "walking in the Spirit" instead of doing "the works of the flesh." When Paul talks about doing "the works of the flesh" he is referring to the mortal body of man which is made of flesh and bones doing that which comes naturally.
What comes naturally is doing those things that make us feel good physically. As such, the works of the flesh are usually those things that are centered around our self-interests. It is not natural for people to think about the needs of others first. Since the works of the Spirit center around caring for others, this is why Paul said, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14)
King Benjamin described this situation in stronger terms when he said, "For the natural man is an enemy to God and has been from the fall of Adam and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ, the Lord and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doeth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).
When we behave according to the enticing of the natural man we are acting contrary to the ways of God. This is why the natural man is an enemy to God and why it is necessary to "walk in the Spirit" in order to inherit the kingdom of God.
But when we are annoyed by others it's easy to rationalize that we don't really hate them or are even angry with them. We're just irritated with them. Therefore, we tell ourselves we're not behaving unjustly or acting in an unChrist-like manner. But irritation is a mild form of anger and it is a natural reaction to someone treating us unfairly. Although we may not be causing strife, discord, or contention, neither are we harboring feelings of goodwill, kindness, love, or peace.
There are those who believe that since we can't achieve perfection in this life that it's okay if we get a little aggravated with others from time to time because, as long as we are trying to follow the Spirit, the atonement of Christ will make up for our shortcomings. In other words, God will over look our little sins. It's the big sins that we need to worry about committing.
But such an argument shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to live in eternity with God. Jesus taught, "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger with one another" (3 Nephi 11:29). Anger is not from God. It is from the devil who is the sworn enemy of God and his goal is to do everything in his power to lead people away from Christ.
Jesus taught: "That which is of God is light and he that receiveth light and continueth in God receiveth more light and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24). The way we become perfect is by increasing our light and the more we walk in the light the further we get from darkness (John 8:12; Ephesians 5:8). On the other hand, Satan is the prince of darkness and when we give into anger, even in the least degree, we are turning away from the light and going towards darkness.
While it may not seem like a major sin to be annoyed with someone who treats us in an irritating manner, when we give into the feelings of condescension or condemnation we are turning from the light and giving darkness a chance to enter our soul. And as soon as we turn from the light Satan is always ready to build on the darkness we are willing to embrace. He tries to make us feel comfortable with those feelings because he knows that any amount of darkness reduces our light and our capacity to become more like Christ. As such, it harms us spiritually because it retards our spiritual growth.
But if our goal is to emulate God and He is a jealous God (Exodus ), who hates iniquity (Hebrews 1:9),who pours out His wrath upon the wicked (D&C 1:9; Alma 40:10), and will condemn us for our thoughts and our words (Alma 12:14) then why is it wrong for us to do these things? More than that, why is it wrong for us to feel annoyed, irritated, or displeased when someone treats us unfairly, unjustly, or is offensive? Why must we love our neighbor no matter how they treat us or bless those who curse us, or pray for those who despitefully use us when God doesn't treat them that way? Shouldn't we react to unrighteous behavior the same way God does?
God gave us the answer to that question when He said, "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10).
There are three reasons why we are required to forgive all men when God is not bound by that same rule. The first is that God has more wisdom than we do. He has said, "But as you cannot always judge the righteous or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace" (D&C 10:37).
We cannot read minds or know the motives of men's hearts therefore it is impossible for us to make a righteous judgment. That would be like a judge deciding a case without hearing all the evidence.
But even if we know why someone behaves as they do, we don't have the wisdom that God possess if, for no other reason, than because we don't have the experience He has. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we not only believe that we are the literal offspring of God prior to being born in mortality, but we also believe that God Himself was once as we are now.
That means God, our Father in heaven, has gone through the experience we call mortality and is well aware of the temptations and challenges that we, His children, now face. More than that, He has overseen the history of mankind and, in the last 6,000 years, has seen every act that man is capable of committing. Just from having that much experience behind Him, His wisdom is far greater than those of us who have only lived less than a hundred years in mortality. Our wisdom, compared to His, would be like comparing the wisdom of a five year old to that of their grandfather.
And that leads to the second reason why we must forgive all men when God doesn't need to. As long as a child lives with their parent that parent has the responsibility not only to feed, clothe, and house them but to teach and guide them in their spiritual and physical development.
Many times, teaching takes the form of discipline and it is up to the parent to decide how that form of training should be administered. It could include giving their child a calm talking to, a stern lecture, being put in time-out, or a spanking but it is the parent who decides what technique to use and when to use it.
On the other hand, even when a teenage child is put in charge of watching over their siblings, it is not their responsibility nor do they have the authority to dispense the same kind of discipline that the parents administer. For example, it is appropriate for a parent to reprimand one of their children but it is inappropriate for one of their children to reprimand one of their siblings.
In the same way, all of us are children of our Father in heaven. While He has the right and authority to discipline us as He sees fit, we do not have the right to exercise discipline or judgment over those whom we have no authority. A parent has authority over their children and a boss has authority over their workers but we don't have authority over our friends, neighbors, co-workers, or strangers. Therefore, we are required to show love to all men while God is free to choose how He wants to deal with His children.
And that leads to the third reason why we must forgive all men which is, it is part of our training. Just as children learn from watching their parents, so we too learn from our Father in heaven as we observe how He deals with His children. If we remain true and faithful to the covenants we make, the time will come when we will have the privilege of having spirit children of our own and then it will be our turn to teach and guide them in their spiritual and physical development. And the way we will do that is by emulating what we saw our Father in heaven do with us.
Although we know we should love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who despise us, and be kind to those who annoy, irritate, and frustrate us, it is not an easy thing to do. While we may sometimes question why we should behave that way to people who don't behave righteously, when we follow that counsel our light will shine brighter and brighter until we are worthy to stand in the presence of God.
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