But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:27-28
What does it mean to love your enemies? Did Jesus command us to conjure strong feelings and affections for those who hate us and that we also hate? Is it even possible to have good feelings toward someone we despise? If we are totally honest with ourselves we must admit that we harbor strong negative emotions to those we call our enemies. Isn’t it a contradiction to say we love whom we hate? How could God make such a contradictory demand upon us? Is the command to love our enemies some kind of divine prank?
The answer lies in Christ’s words – we love by doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who abuse us.
These principles seem straight forward enough but confusion can arise. What does it mean to bless someone? Isn’t doing good and praying for someone in fact, blessing them? Is there a difference in the meaning of these seemingly synonymous terms? Bless here in the Greek means ‘speak well of, praise’. Instead of indulging human nature’s propensity to gossip and slander our enemies (no matter how justified we feel in doing so) we should build them up and find what is praise-worthy and proclaim it. The all-encompassing love to our enemies we are commanded to fulfill is simply doing good to them, speaking well of them and asking God to care for them, despite the way we may feel.
Do we need to have strong affections toward someone to accomplish these three things? Every single person on the planet has the natural ability to do good things for others, bless their lives and pray on their behalf. It all comes down to our willingness. In our sinful state of hardheartedness that natural ability to do these things is bound up. We are slaves to self and all earthly desires. These desires don’t include benevolently blessing the people we wish would drop off the face of the planet.
Just like all the commandments in the Old Testament, it is impossible for us to love our enemies apart from having a new heart. This new heart is a gift of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. Only in light of this sublime grace can we hope to offer kindness to those who seek our ill. The Lord’s mercy toward us is the fount by which we share kindness with bitter rivals.
The next time you clench your fist in anger and grit your teeth in angst over the injustice committed against you by another, take a moment to consider all the evil you’ve offended God with over the span of your life. Then give thanks that it has all been forgiven even though you did nothing to deserve his free pardon. Go and treat others the way God has treated you: with mercy and grace. The Christian life is one of gratitude. We not only show our thankfulness to God but to all those created in his likeness. Remember this as well: Humanity all fell in Adam. We all have the same sin nature that drives us headlong toward death and hell. We are all helpless without grace. Endeavor to show people God’s grace at every opportunity.
Can we love someone we don’t like? Only if we abide in Christ’s love. We can respect human dignity and honor people who are made in the image of God just like us. This is what’s truly asked of us. We aren’t required to gush with emotion for people in order to love them.
We must remember that even while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us and reconciled us to the Father. We aren’t asked to go to these extremes for our enemies so how can we refuse to obey this commandment? Is it too much to ask to say a kind word, to offer a helping hand or place our enemy’s need on our heart when we bring our petitions before God? Was it too much for the Father to ask Christ to die for people who hated him? Accomplishing these three things will help us to better empathize with our enemies. We will see that they really aren’t any different than we are: lost and helpless sinners. Our affections may indeed change toward them in the process. We may never get along with them the way we do with our friends and we may never truly like them, but we can love them in the grace of God.