Exodus 23:4-5 and the Odd Nature of the People of God

ox-in-ditch-2 (2)Jesus said some fairly odd things about the nature of the people of God.  He talked about loving enemies, praying for those who persecute you, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile (to name just a few).  Because Jesus was fulfilling the Covenant given to the Israelites it should come as no wonder that much of what seems radical and new in Jesus’ teaching was really his perfect explanation and application of what was already supposed to be the odd nature of the people of God.  Look at this short portion of the Covenant:

When you happen to come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has wandered off, you should bring it back to them.  When you see a donkey that belongs to someone who hates you and it’s lying down under its load and you are inclined not to help set it free, you must help set it free.

Here is what Jesus probably had in mind when he said to love your enemies.  The people of God are supposed to act differently than the rest of the world, including going out of their way to help those who hate us if it is within our power to help them.  This is a hard saying.  Even God knows that fact because he states right in the passage that when “you are inclined not to help,” you must overcome that initial reaction and act in a manner that shows you are one of the people of God.

Humanly speaking, this would be almost impossible to do in every situation we encounter in life.  Every time we see something go wrong for someone who hates us or someone who would like to do us harm, we are tempted to let our enemies get what they deserve.  We may not actively work to harm them further, but we do not intend to help alleviate their problems.

Yet God does not deal with us as we deserve.  Therefore if we are to demonstrate that we are children of God, we must not deal with others as they deserve, either.  If God shows compassion and deals with us in mercy despite what we deserve, then we must do the same for those who, in our eyes, deserve less as well.  Thanks be to God that having an attitude like this and being able to act like this is possible as we receive more and more of the grace of God in our lives and are transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.  Humanly speaking this may be so difficult it is almost impossible, but when we are a part of the people of God we do not deal with situations from a purely human standpoint any longer.  If we allow God to grow us and transform us from grace to grace and glory to glory, we will be able to live out these commandments.

Once we can live in this manner, the objection many people in the West hear about Christianity–that Christians are all hypocrites–will no longer be valid.  Instead, people will be left wondering at the odd nature of the people of God–and they will be curious about it!

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