Do You Have the Courage You Need to Love Your Enemies?
This Hub discusses how if we--as Christians, will seek it, courage will always guide us to finding a way to see challenging times and difficult choices as opportunities to grow, and how taking advantage of any opportunity for personal growth only strengthens us, spiritually. Spiritual maturity is something we need in order to learn to have genuine love for people who demonstrate hatred toward us. Spiritual maturity is something that comes with spiritual growth, and it takes courage to grow spiritually.
Whenever any of us accepts, courageously, one of God’s difficult challenges, there’s a spiritual “payoff” in it for us. Every time we choose God’s way over our own way, we are choosing to grow spiritually. But when we choose to go our way instead of His, we can obstruct or impede our spiritual growth. Why? Because it takes no courage to take the easy way. And whenever we choose “easy” over “difficult,” especially when it comes to things of a, spiritual nature, we’re choosing to stay the same, to not grow, personally or spiritually. I place into evidence this passage of scripture from Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5:43-48:
“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Love your enemies? "Come on," you might be saying, "You mean we’re really expected to do that?"
Growth Comes with Challenge
Think about this. Isn’t it easy to be kind to people who are kind to you? And isn’t it just about effortless to love people who show love for you? But how can we expect to learn and grow spiritually if we only do those things we already know how to do; those things that come as easily as breathing?
Here’s a good exercise: Think back to when you were in elementary school. Let’s go all the way back to the first grade. Remember your first grade teacher’s classroom? Okay, now put yourself back there, in the seat you loved the most, and then let’s pretend it’s the third week of school. You’ve learned your alphabets and now you’re being introduced to words beginning with each letter of the alphabet in preparation for learning how to read. The main lesson of the day focused on words beginning with the letter “A.” It was a good day, but now the day is over, and you’re happy because you’ve learned a lot about words that begin with the letter “A.” The next day you come back to your classroom after spending the last evening and night anxiously waiting for daylight, so that you can begin learning words that begin with the letter “B.” You’re in class, all eager and excited, ready to learn some great “B” words. You’re really pumped about learning, and the teacher is so good at teaching, you just know you’re going to enjoy this day, maybe even more than the day before. But, instead of moving on to “B” words, your teacher goes back over each and every “A” word, and you spend another day focusing on "A." Not on new “A” words, but the very same words you learned the day before.
Okay, you think. Fine. Maybe you needed that for the sake of retention. Maybe it helped to go through the repetitions one more time. Then the next day comes and you’re excited all over again because you know you’ll be learning something new that day. But halt. Instead of moving on to “B” words, your teacher continues to go over the very same “A” words. Next day, same thing. The day after that, the same. Get the picture? Even as a little child, if that happened to you, you’d soon realize that you’re not going to be learning anything new. You would know your development as a student has been stunted because your teacher is stuck on “A.”
Well God is not stuck on “A.“ He is the world’s best teacher, and he has a lot of exciting and nourishing messages already prepared for us to learn. But we must be willing and eager to learn the lessons, or else the learning process would be more like labor than enjoyment. There’s a good reason God doesn’t ask of us only that which is easy to accomplish. Because God wants us to grow in our spirituality. In order to grow at anything, we must be challenged. As we grow, even our tests of strength must get tougher and tougher, because even though none of us will ever be perfect, God is still working at perfecting us.
Difficulty Precedes Growth
Whenever I have said something to someone in anger, whether provoked or not, the words “I’m sorry” require much more courage of me than any words I spoke in anger. If you really think about it, gauging whether or not you show love to those who hate or persecute you is a good way to examine your own commitment to walking the walk of Christ. Because Jesus was the epitome of humility. He didn’t engage in fist fights and raging outbursts of anger against people who wronged him.
The only time Jesus showed physical outrage in terms of anger was when he turned over a table when people were boldly using the church as their own personal flea market. Even on the cross at Calvary while slowly dying and enduring the worst kind of punishment, He uttered “father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Well if Jesus is our role model, then we have to at least be trying to learn how to face or to endure, with courage and humility, difficult or challenging situations or circumstances that provoke anger, while standing firm and strong in our faith.
It’s hard to do the right thing, the unpopular thing; the different from “everybody’s doing it” thing. What does it take, then, to love an enemy? I’m going to borrow from the cadence of the Cowardly Lion’s diatribe in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz, to make my point about what I believe it takes. Here goes.
What is that we have to find that can help us make better choices every day as we live our lives? Courage. What is the one thing that, if we summon it, will be there to give us the strength we need to do what we know is right? Courage. What is it we know is always there, waiting inside on the wings of a prayer, but for most is forgotten without even a care? Courage.
When someone puts you down, pray for them and ask God to gift you with self-respect and self-confidence so that you don't have a need to put someone else down in order to feel empowered. When someone mistreats you or harms you or someone you love, pray for them, and ask God to give you a kind heart that won't mistreat or cause harm to others. Make a commitment, today, to live your life in a way that respects every person's humanity, even those who don't respect yours.
Choosing to love our enemies is a hard, difficult, courageous choice. Only a person of great strength and courage can ever love an enemy. Only those who believe in and who demonstrate a sound commitment to God's word, and who obeys God's word even when no one else is looking, can ever love an enemy.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD