I’m kidding, of course. I don’t think Jesus was being sarcastic when He commanded us to love our enemies. I used that title to point out two things:
- It is easy for people to play games with scripture if they don’t follow some basic rules. Most scripture-twisting isn’t as transparent as above, but it is just as error-filled and destructive.
- The Bible passage in question is so challenging that our minds can work overtime trying to ignore it.
First, I’m reminded of Dalmatian Theologians who think that the Bible is only inspired in spots, and that they are inspired to spot the spots. I also think of Advanced Dalmatian Theologians, who add the myth that God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives. They use phrases such as “God is still speaking,” but they don’t mean that God still speaks through his Word (that would be a true statement). They think He is still revealing new truths to the church and changing doctrines taught in the Bible.
So if they can play that game, why not use it to avoid the hard lessons Jesus taught, such as loving our enemies? Why not pick that as one of the verses that you don’t think Jesus really said? That would sure make life easier!
Second, this passage has to be one of the most challenging in the Bible.
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Love your enemies? Pray for your persecutors? Those seem impossible! And Jesus really drives the point home by telling us how it takes almost no effort to love those who are loving us. Non-believers can do that, so we haven’t really accomplished anything until we go beyond it.
Then He tops it off by saying we must be as perfect as God! If anyone reads that as a checklist, such as Note to self: Be perfect like God, then I think he’s missed the point. We should aim at perfection in obedience, of course, but unless one is delusional that command should take you to the foot of the cross. I can’t be perfect for 10 minutes, even when I’m sleeping.
Another challenge is using the word love in the proper context. The love Jesus referred to is not a pampering, indulgent love, but the agape love where you have someone’s long term best interests at heart.
It doesn’t mean you roll over and give your enemies whatever they want. Loving your enemies doesn’t mean you stop loving your friends and neighbors as well. For example, you still need a justice system to protect people from criminals. There is nothing un-loving about that.
And if you really love your enemies you’ll want them to know some eternal truths, such as how they are sinners in need of a Savior and that if they die without faith in Jesus then they’ll spend eternity in Hell. I think it is safe to say that the people who had Jesus severely beaten and nailed to a cross could be described as his enemies. So was He all huggy-kissy with them? Hardly.
John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.
If you love people enough to tell them the truth they may think you are the enemy. When Paul scolded the Galatians for false teachings they didn’t appreciate it. Did that stop him?
Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Galatians 4:16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
A close friend’s career was damaged by a non-believing co-worker, yet he found a way to pray for him. It made an amazing difference in his life, as it liberated him from hatred.
How do you manage to love your enemies?
0 thoughts on ““Love your enemies?” Oh, Jesus was probably just being sarcastic.”
Thank you so much Neil for taking the time to teach as well as all you do to be the hands and feet of Christ. I am blessed by your God focused service. This is one of the hardest things for me. I struggle with it and a good reminder of what my Lord says on it, brings me to my knees.
In Christ, Jackie
Thanks, Jackie! You are such an encouragement and a blessed sister in Christ.
We are studying this passage in Bible study. I struggle with loving family and enemies. My children are quick to remind about this verse when I want to get stuck on un-forgiveness with people. Thank you for this post.
You are welcome, Ly Syin. I’m glad you enjoyed it and the other post!
I think it is fair to say that most of us struggle with loving family and enemies (who are sometimes one and the same 😉 ). That is great that your kids remind you of this verse. That’ll teach you to raise them with Biblical principles!
Neil, I really liked this post and it deeply resonated with me.
This is one of my favorite “Red Letter” passages for a few reasons.
Firstly I really enjoy the section that it appears in overall.
Secondly, so much of this passage is tied into the concepts of “Christian simplicity” that Jesus repeatedly discusses. When we consider very often that our materialism, pride, and jealousy (in today’s world) create many of our enemies, it really drives home the total transformation that Jesus expects from us.
Simply following the directions “Love your enemies” isn’t enough, because the steps required to authentically loving your enemies really and truly bring about deep and abiding encounters with the Resurrected Christ who invites us to walk on “The Way” to Jerusalem with him.
In doing that we “decrease ourselves” so that “He may increase”, and others start to see Christ in us instead of seeing us, making Christ present to them in a new way. This results in the ultimate form of loving our enemies, we make Christ present to them and potentially convert them to Christ.
For me this passage really unlocks so much of the deeper meaning found in the New Testament. Through this sort of love (which is Love of the Cross) we sacrifice our very selves to make Christ more present to others, and that can bring true and eternal life to our enemies.
Thanks, LCB. Excellent points. I’ve thought about this a lot today. It started off as not much more than a quip but evolved to really give me something to think about.
When I read this post, I had so many thoughts in my mind and I wanted to type so much. But since I couldn’t make myself sound coherent, I resisted from replying. But I guess LCB nailed it. That was exactly what was going on in my mind, and He has expressed it much better than I could ever have.
“In doing that we “decrease ourselves” so that “He may increase”, and others start to see Christ in us instead of seeing us, making Christ present to them in a new way. This results in the ultimate form of loving our enemies, we make Christ present to them and potentially convert them to Christ.”
Exactly!! I mean when we become believers and followers of Christ, we should try to become reflections of Christ. Not so much so we can be saved, ’cause our faith has already brought us salvation, but so that we could draw people to Christ and in that process let our Saviour win more souls! We can only draw people to Christ. It is He who could change anyone’s heart. But by loving people the way He showed us we act as His instruments.
I mean, when I read Luke 23:24, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.”, I used to wonder that Jesus being the physical manifestation of love it must have been easy for Him. But can humans do that? But then, Stephen said that when he was being persecuted too! What he was doing was just being a reflection of Christ (or rather is imitation a better word?), who he believed was His Saviour. God knows how many hearts were transformed that moment, there!
Perfection is something unimaginable to humans. But it is definitely not as impossible as it seems simply because Christ wouldn’t ask of us to do something which is impossible for us to do. But that IS really difficult. I don’t even understand human perfection at times and God surely loves us as imperfect as we are. But since He wants us to try, why not? For the love of God!
As for truth making enemies, I’ve experienced it time and again in my life. Who really are our enemies? People who were friends or family once. We don’t usually make enemies out of strangers. My friends have been upset with me when am truthful with them. My frank assessment of their situation never went well with anyone. Some left. Some were disgruntled. But eventually they all came back because they realized the truth I spoke was out of love for them not out of hatred. And now that they know my truth is only trying make to see things right, I have more friends who appreciate me than ones who don’t.
And about love, Paul (I wanted to talk about this in your previous post, but I guess I’ll post it here), the supposed male chauvinist, probably gave the most beautiful definition of love even the best of romantic novelists couldn’t come up with. My priest once asked us to replace the word ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, with Jesus. You’ll see it’s a perfect match. So in short, to love is simply to reflect Jesus in our lives. It’s hard I know, but what my priest suggested was “Why don’t we keep trying till we can replace the word ‘love’ with our names? It’s difficult, but why not try?”. We need to love family and friends properly before we try loving our enemies.
THAT could only be achieved by destroying self and letting Jesus in. Like Pope Benedict XVI says and I quote loosely , “Prophets of old brought God’s message to His people, but it was Jesus who brought God to people.” I think I’ve quoted him very loosely but the point is, like Jesus brought the Father to us, we should take Jesus to the people around us.
Great points, Shalini! The 1 Corinthians 13 exercise is great.
This is exactly right. Spot on.
First off, loving my enemies is not one of the easiest things to remember. Not so hard to do if I remember, but remembering to do so ain’t the first thing that comes to mind when I’m messed with. As long as there is space between an offense and a bit of reflection, I can generally bring myself to forgive and be cool, even if begrudgingly at first. But, if there is an immediate reaction on my part, it is usually vengeful to some degree. Also, there are times where I seethe for a time until at last, the steaming dissipates, and then I can let it all go. Yet, it doesn’t mean I’m all hugs and kisses with the offender.
So the concept is pretty easy, uh, conceptually, but in application, it can be tricky.
Conversely, I am often accused, or it is often suggested, during a blog debate usually, that I am hateful, or that I could be perceived as hateful, for insisting that offenders be held accountable for their actions. This “love thy enemies” bit is often used as a bludgeon to affect a lighter touch when dealing with a variety of issues. Kinda tough to articulate this concept, but it’s somewhat in the same arena of political correctness and the liberal sense of tolerance.
Yes, some are confused about what hate even means given the (fake) tolerance / PC environment you noted. And some use the hate bit when they are losing the debate.
How do you manage to love your enemies?
I remember John 3:30
and six rounds of hollow points don’t hurt either 🙂
excellent article Neil! God Bless you!