Can I really love my enemies?

love-your-enemiesJesus certainly knew how to be controversial. He taught that love knows no bounds. We are not only to love God, our creator, but to love our neighbours as ourselves. But it doesn’t stop there. We are even to love our enemies, people who treat us badly and certainly do not love us. This is probably one of the hardest things to do and challenges us all.

Love your Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Who are my enemies?

My first thought was, “I don’t have any enemies”. I have in the past had people who seem to take an instant dislike to me. I remember when I was in my twenties, a colleague at work really took a dislike to me. When he had to talk to me, he made no attempt to hide his contempt. It would have been a real challenge to actually love him. I tried to exercise constraint and politeness but my actions fell far short of what Jesus taught.

Some years ago, I joined a political party and was elected to my local council. The “opposition” were often regarded by my group as misguided, just plain stupid or at the worst intrinsically evil. How easy it would have been to be taken up by the general mood and end up hating people with different views. I did learn to respect my opponents, but to love them seemed a bridge too far.

I feel passionate about the needs of the poor and the gross injustices in the world today. Millions are oppressed by their fellow human beings. Does standing up for justice mean that we have to treat those who oppress other people as enemies? Jesus showed us the way, as in the passage in Matthew 5, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

I certainly have to be careful that my strong views does not cause me to think of people with different views as my enemies. Just because a few may think of me as an enemy, does not mean that I have to treat them as enemies.

Praying for our persecutors.

I am aware that throughout the world many face persecution because of their faith. It is not just Christians who are persecuted, Moslems and Jews often face marginalisation and persecution too. Jesus taught us that our persecutors are not to be hated, but to be loved, and that we should pray for them.

The Bible, history and present reality are full of stories where people who are being killed for their faith, pray for God’s forgiveness for those who are out to kill them. Again Jesus is the supreme example. When he was being crucified, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We need to remember that those who persecute may not be doing so maliciously. Probably the greatest reason is fear. Fear that their way of life is threatened. Fear that a source of income will be taken away. Fear of change and fear that the other person may actually be right.

I live in a country where there is little persecution. I pray that if it ever came to facing death for my faith, I would be able to show love, grace and pray for those who have treated me as an enemy.

Potential Enemies

Here are examples of people who could become our enemies, or those who are real enemies:

  • A jealous colleague at work.
  • A boss who exploits his workers.
  • A corrupt politician who does not care for the people he represents.
  • A thief who steals from you.
  • A corrupt business person who does not pay his taxes.
  • Someone of a different racial group who despises our group.
  • People with views that are different from ourself.
  • A person who has no concern for our human rights.
  • Someone who abuses children.
  • A dishonest trader.
  • A noisy neighbour.
  • A husband or wife who strikes their spouse.

What does it mean to love our enemies?

Loving our enemies is not easy. Frankly we need help. It is not enough to believe in God. It is not even enough to follow Jesus. We need His presence, here in our lives to stand a chance of being able to obey His command to love our enemies.

What does it mean to love our enemies? Love can mean so many things – here we are talking about actions and not feelings.

  • Treating them as equal importance to myself.
  • Sticking up for their rights?
  • Acknowledging that they could actually be right on certain things.
  • Respect in spite of differences.
  • Not being contemptuous or regarding them as stupid.
  • Seeking justice on behalf of other victims.

Quotes from Philip Yancey

Cover of "The Jesus I Never Knew"

The quotations below are all from Philip Yancey‘s book, “The Jesus I never knew”. Reading what he said about loving our enemies has greatly inspired me to write this blog article.

I feel convicted by this quality of Jesus every time I get involved in a cause I strongly believe in. How easy it is to join the politics of polarization, to find myself shouting across the picket lines at the “enemy” on the other side. How hard it is to remember that the kingdom of God calls me to love the woman who has just emerged from the abortion clinic (and, yes, even her doctor), the promiscuous person who is dying of AIDS, the wealthy landowner who is exploiting God’s creation. If I cannot show love to such people, then I must question whether I have truly understood Jesus’ gospel.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 245)

From Jesus I learn that, whatever activism I get involved in, it must not drive out love and humility, or otherwise I betray the kingdom of heaven.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 245)

Despite Jesus’ plain example, many of his followers have been unable to resist choosing the way of Herod over that of Jesus.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 246)

Ironically, our respect in the world declines in proportion to how vigorously we attempt to force others to adopt our point of view.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 246)

He said nothing of a triumphant church sharing power with the authorities. The kingdom of God appears to work best as a minority movement, in opposition to the kingdom of this world.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 246)

Indeed, have we any indication that God now judges the U.S. or any other country as a national entity? Jesus told his parables of the kingdom in part to correct such nationalistic notions. God is working not primarily through nations, but through a kingdom that transcends nations.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 249)

And a quote that I wish I had written

A society that welcomes people of all races and social classes, that is characterized by love and not polarization, that cares most for its weakest members, that stands for justice and righteousness in a world enamored with selfishness and decadence, a society in which members compete for the privilege of serving one another—this is what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey, Philip. Page 253)

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

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