Nothing reveals my character more clearly than how I respond to insults, threats, or attacks. Most people return insults for insults, threats for threats, attacks for attacks. Jesus commands a radically counterintuitive response: “Love your enemies.”
It sounds impossible: “I can’t imagine even liking that person, much less loving him.” But Jesus then shows us exactly how to do it (Luke 6:27-28 ESV).
- “Do good to those who hate you.” When someone hates me, I can respond with acts of kindness.
- “Bless those who curse you.” When someone says unkind things about me or wishes me ill, I can say kind things about her and wish the best for her.
- “Pray for those who abuse you.” When someone abuses me, I can pray for him.
Nothing here about warm, fuzzy feelings (phileo or brotherly affection). But a lot about about actions, seeking the best for the other (agape, divine love). People who are led and empowered by the Spirit can do each of these as an act of obedience, even—especially—if we dislike or fear the person.
This teaching is so hard that it is tempting to look for loopholes. During the Cold War, I watched a TV debate about U.S. relations with Russia. One debater, a pastor, was expressing hostility toward Russia. The moderator challenged him, “But as a Christian aren’t you supposed to love your enemies?” The pastor jumped to his feet waving his arms and shouted, “I’ll love them so long as they stay over there!” How many professing Christians—could it even be most of us?—live in fear and talk about our enemies with disrespect or even hostility?
Jesus would not have been amused. Speaking to Jews who were living every day under the oppression of the despised occupying Roman army, he said: “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles” (Matthew 5:41 NIV). His followers encountered this enemy daily. There was nothing hypothetical about the love he commanded. No loopholes.
An irony is that when we love our enemies, we sometimes earn more enemies. To speak of a wartime enemy with compassion may bring accusations of being unpatriotic. A U.S. senator who is considered a presidential contender has declared that though he vigorously disagrees with the president who is a member of a different party, as a Christian he also loves the president and refuses to insult him. Some members of his own party think this disqualifies him from being his party’s nominee.
People who use hatred and fear to gain or maintain power will rightfully experience our loving enemies as a threat to their power. Let’s love our enemies anyway. This way lies freedom from hatred and fear.
- Who is one person who mistreats you, speaks badly of you, or threatens your interests?
- How will you pray for this person? How can you bless her? What practical act of kindness can you do for him?