VISION DAY 7 – LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile
Our world loves to talk about love. Love is a cheap word nowadays. Because love is so little understood, it is almost impossible to find. But “love” remains the justification for just about anything people wish to do. So people tell us that any two people who “love each other” should be able to marry—even if the two people are of the same sex. Their professed “love” for each other provides moral justification for their acts. “Love,” we are told, “conquers all,” and “love wins.”
But here comes the Great Moral Teacher. And if Jesus taught anything, he taught us the truth about love. He showed us in his teaching and in his death on the cross the nature and scope of divine love. And the Lord calls his disciples to live out that love in two surprising ways.
WHOM ARE WE TO LOVE?
The first surprise concerns whom we are to love. Verse 27: “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies.”
Hatred for your enemies feels like the most natural thing in the world. It almost seems as if enemies were made for our hatred. They harm us, and we at least harden our hearts toward them. At most, we do them worse than they do us. We tell ourselves and others, “Retaliation is only right.” An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, we say. Is that not the way the world works? Is that not a morally acceptable way of thinking in our day? But heaven’s morality differs radically. Our Lord says, “Love your enemies.”
Then he goes a step further. The Lord points out in verses 32-34 that our love for people like us is in one sense worthless in God’s sight. Love for people like us does nothing to distinguish us from people who do not know God. There exists a kind of love completely natural to a fallen world. “Even sinners” (v. 32) love their friends and families, and they lend money to people they like. If we love those who love us, do good to those who do good to us, lend to those who can repay, then we really act out of self-interest rather than love. Jesus says, “Even sinners do that.” In other words, people who do not know God and do not live for God demonstrate this kind of love all the time. There is nothing supernatural about it.
If we find that our love is limited to people like us—say, our skin color, our education level, our political party—and if we find ourselves doing good only for those who have done us some favor, then that may only be self-love spread over a slightly wider area. However, the love of God is not self-interested but selfless. It is sacrificial. Genuinely supernatural, God-like love includes our enemies who wrong and abuse us. This is how Christian love surpasses the sinner’s love. Christian love extends to enemies.
HOW FAR ARE WE TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES?
That brings us to the second surprising thing Jesus teaches about love. Notice how far love goes.
“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back.” (Luke 6:27-30;)
Love makes demands. Love cannot be shown with words only. We must love in word and in deed. Divine love returns good for evil. People hate us; we do them good. People curse us; we bless them. People abuse us; we pray for them.
Divine love calls us to lay down our lives for more abuse if necessary. They strike us on the cheek; we offer the other cheek also. They take away our coats; we give them the shirts off our backs too. They beg from us; we give to everyone who asks without requiring payback. When we walk down streets populated with beggars, we should reach the end of the street penniless. When we love our enemies, we give ourselves up for them.
The world’s morality says, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.” The Great Moral Teacher says, “Love your enemies and give them even more.”
WHY LOVE THIS WAY?
Why love this way? What’s the rationale?
First, we should love this way because it’s how we would want to be treated. “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them” (v. 31). Love puts us in the place of the mistreated, the oppressed, and the marginalized. It calls us to imagine that state for ourselves and then behave accordingly.
Second, we should love this way to earn a great reward and prove we are God’s children. Jesus teaches this in verses 35-36. As Christians, we want the world to know that we serve the Most High God. We want the world to know that we know him. The main way God intends the world to know this is by our love for one another (John 13:34-35) and our love for all others—including our enemies. When we love this way, we live out the family resemblance. When we act like our Father, it pleases him and he rewards us.
Loving our enemies seems utterly unnatural and impossible until we consider examples of it. Every January we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. No social movement of recent history has embodied this sacrificial, redemptive view of love like the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement. People sometimes forget the Civil Rights Movement was a religious movement, a Christian movement. It was built on this very call to love. Ordinary men and women willingly suffered at the hands of their enemies—at lunch counters, in jail cells, from dogs and water hoses, lynchings and beatings—all without retaliating, all returning love for brutality. Whatever else we may think of Dr. King, he surely understood and practiced love in a way that looks a lot like Jesus’s teaching here. Dr. King and the ordinary persons who marched with him put most of us to shame when it comes to loving as Jesus commanded. We see the effect today. We could not imagine how different U.S. society would be right now if so many had not embraced the radical call to love. This kind of love transforms society. It changes the hearts of both the oppressed and the oppressor, the victim and the victimizer.
There remains an example of sacrificial love greater—much greater—than Dr. King’s. That is the example of Jesus Christ himself. For whom did Jesus die? For whom did he suffer? The Lord was crucified at the hands of his enemies. The very people who put him to death were the people he came to save. They mocked and abused him. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know not what they are doing” (23:34). They whipped and beat him. Jesus never said a mumbling word but gave his body to be broken for them and for us. They took his tunic and his robe, stripped him naked. He willingly allowed it. He did not demand his rights, repayment, or even an apology. The Son of God gave his life for sinners so that even though we were enemies of God, we might be made sons of God through faith in him.
When we were his enemies, Christ loved us. By so loving us, the Lord enables us to love him and love our enemies. We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Never underestimate the redemptive power of love.
The application for “love your enemies and do good to them” is pretty simple: Love your enemies and do good to them. Bless them. Pray for them. Endure their mistreatment. Give to your enemies and expect nothing back. So make a mental or an actual list of people you think of as enemies. Then do these things.