The older I get, the more I value what might be termed “practical divinity” over “spooky spirituality.” The Christian life, in other words, is a whole lot more everyday-ish than we give it credit for, culturally wired as we are to treasure personal spiritual highs over the inglorious grind of growing to be like Christ while we wait in supermarket checkout lines and toil away in our work cubicles.
(I think Wesley had this in mind when he said that the only holiness worth having was social holiness. I don’t think he was reaching here only for vaunted concepts like “social justice” and “human rights.” I think he was primarily indicating that if your religion didn’t show out from under your outer garments when you were just sitting in a room with somebody–anybody–it probably wasn’t a religion that was worth much, anyway.)
To the end of growing in practical divinity, give a few minutes’ consideration this week to Puritan Richard Baxter’s fourteen “directions” for loving and doing good to enemies. The whole list is actually less than a page long, but there’s more than enough here to permanently transform both your supermarket checkout and office cubicle experiences with enemies. You may even end up with a personal spiritual high, to boot.
Consider Baxter’s Direction V:
Study, and search, and hearken after all the good which is in your enemies. For nothing will be the object of your love, but some discerned good. Hearken not to them that would extenuate and hide the good that is in them.
Rev. Michael Phillips convicts not only himself but me with his comment on Baxter here:
It is possible, in other words, to hate someone without becoming a devil. Your enemies may have many good qualities. You’re obliged to recognize these good traits and to admire them. This is the opposite of what I do. If someone does me wrong, I tend to magnify his every fault and minimize his every good trait. If he’s a loving husband or hard worker or honest man–that’s nothing to me! If he did me wrong, he’s a two-fold child of hell!
Equally convicting is Baxter’s Direction VIII:
Be not unnecessarily strange to your enemies; but be as familiar with them as well as you can. For distance and strangeness cherish suspicious and false reports, and enmity; and converse in kind familiarity, hath a wonderful power to reconcile.
Much easier to fire off an indignant email than to pick up the phone; much easier to rehearse harms to sympathetic listeners than to call one’s enemy and begin to try to work things out over lunch.
Yet while you are working through problems with your enemy over a spinach salad don’t neglect Baxter’s Direction XIII:
But stop not in your enemy’s corporal good, and in his reconciliation to yourself; for then it will appear to be all but a selfish design which you are about. But labour to reconcile him to God , and save his soul, and then it will appear to be the love of God, and him that moved you.