You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, (holy) therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (holy). Matthew 5:43-48 NIV parentheses mine.
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing, because you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. I Peter 3:8-9 NIV
Let’s picture Jesus on a hillside, teaching to the crowds, talking about what we now call his Sermon on the Mount. Men and women, people of all ages, of various religious beliefs, of different economic backgrounds, and possibly different races were gathered to hear Jesus teach. Early in this talk he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” Matthew 5:9. Later, he speaks of loving our neighbors, and our enemies. In our relationships with others he calls us to be holy, as God is holy, just as Leviticus 19:2 calls us to be holy.
Jesus’ rules for living were radically different from anything his listeners had heard before. In Colossians 3:1-17, and in Romans 12:9-21 Paul gives believers in Christ practical lists of rules for holy living and examples of how we are to love one another. I Peter 3:8-16 gives us Peter’s perspective on how we as Christians should treat each other. Both Paul and Peter were writing to believers, but the principles given in these passages can be applied to all of our relationships, with all sorts of people we may encounter in our daily lives. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus advocated for us to be peacemakers and to love both our enemies and our neighbors.
How does this apply to someone with different religious beliefs than we may have? First, I believe it requires we treat all people with respect, remembering all people are made in the image of God. Be willing to listen, be willing to learn. Then we can engage in a conversation about those beliefs, asking questions, listening to the answers and being willing to learn. If we use Romans 12:15-16 as a guide to our interactions, many opportunities to share with others will naturally occur. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do to be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited,” Romans 12:15-16.
Do you have someone in your circle of family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors who have different religious beliefs from you? Perhaps you could have a conversation with that person, or you could send him or her a card, or an email. Ask if they have needs you could pray for, or offer to help with a need they have.
By Grace Hunter