Who has been the most difficult person for you to love? Is it family or your work peers? Most of us struggle to love someone. Many find it difficult to cherish and respect their spouses. Many of us face more than difficult people but enemies every day who slander or abuse us. What can we do about this? How can we continue to do good to them when they disregard us? Do I need faith to love my enemies?
Love Your Enemies?
Consider these observations from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in Luke 6:27–36:
- Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies requiring that their love meet their faith (6:27).
- Christ revealed that your enemies are those who hate, curse, abuse, strike and, or take from you (6:27–31).
- To love an enemy is to respond by doing good to them, blessing them, praying for them, and not resisting them (6:27–31).
- Christ challenges His followers not to love as sinners who love one another but to love by doing good and receiving grace — that is translated “credit” or “benefit” (6:32–35).
- The benefit of loving enemies will result with great reward because those who do so are children of God (6:35).
- The children of God imitate their Father who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (6:35).
- Christians are to be compassionate as their heavenly Father is compassionate upon all (6:36).
The Implications of Loving Enemies
How can someone obey the command to love one’s enemies unless they have faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that God will right every harm and more? Jesus’s command to love one’s enemies relies upon trusting His words, His teaching, and His life. What other philosophy or ideology can support this instruction? Other religions and ideologies may agree with loving one’s neighbor as oneself but none can effectively teach loving one’s enemies unless the One who commanded it, lived it, and proved it.
What would have happened if Jesus’s only message was the command to “love your enemies”? Has that command changed the world through Christ? The apostle Paul observed that Christ loved us while yet sinners and enemies yet He died for us (Romans 5:6–10). Only by the providence of God can good come from doing good to enemies. Only the power of the Creator is enough to overcome evil with good.
Moral reciprocity is not enough to affect the greatest good. Jesus noted that even sinners practice moral reciprocity by doing good for others to do good to them in return. Cooperation with one’s neighbors is not enough according to the teachings of Jesus. Christ calls for His followers to do what changes the world.
The Model for Loving One’s Enemies
Jesus’s disciple, Peter, wrote:
“For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:20–24 NKJV).
God’s people are called to suffer for good just as Christ suffered for all leaving a model to follow in His way. Christ was without sin even when people cursed and abused Him. Jesus did not threaten them back. The example for us is that Christ entrusted Himself to God, the One “who judges righteously.” The followers of Christ can entrust themselves to God and so endure suffering even in the threat of death because they believe God acts so that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
Leaving Justice to God
The apostle Paul applied Christ’s teaching to God’s justice instructing Christians:
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21; cf. Proverb 25:21–22).
The Christian does not need to take justice into one’s own hands. God promises justice. God will bring vengeance. God has instruments in the world now. God uses the government to inflict justice on the wicked even among its own ranks (Romans 13:1–5). No one will escape God’s judgment. Christians must not be weak-kneed by acting out in wrath or justifying their own acts of justice. However, the faithful do rely on God to enact His judgments now and on the final day. For this reason, followers of Christ can live in peace doing good all their life. They overcome evil with good. They do good to those who are in rebellion against God.
Those who entrust themselves to God can love like Christ. The faithful can love one’s enemies and rely on God for grace, justice, and reward. Loving one’s enemies is an act of faith in Jesus that He is the Christ, the Son of God, as He claimed to be. Christ lived a full life of doing amazing deeds and He died a courageous death. He lives now. Jesus endured persecution accomplishing good long before He died and rose again. Christ’s life was not wasted by loving His enemies. Christians must trust God that loving one’s enemies will never be a wasted life. Christ lost nothing from loving His enemies. He has saved the repentant believers from being enemies of God.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22–23).