What does it really mean to Love Your Enemies?
Even though I have been a Christian for almost thirty years, I often struggle with loving my enemies. I often find that neglecting to follow this Christian principle causes me great guilt, but despite feeling guilty, there are certain people that simply bring out the worst in me. There are certain people that if I had the ability to make them disappear, I would do so in a heartbeat. There are others that when they call I just want to disconnect the phone. I am also sure, I am not the only one that has felt this way. Yet, despite our human tendencies, we are commanded in the Bible to love our enemies.
We must remember that we all need to be merciful and we all need the mercy of others. The same way some people rub me the wrong way, I am sure I must come across like sandpaper to others that have touched my life. I have found in my own experience that when others have treated me with disdain it often leaves me feeling hurt, therefore it is very important that I remember to act in a way as to not hurt others, in order to do this I must learn to love my enemies.
Loving ones' enemies seems to be one of the most enigmatic commandments and yet, one of the hardest Biblical principals to follow. Jesus spoke of loving your enemies in the Sermon on the Mount. In Mathew 43-48 the commandment is stated as follows: 43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[b] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons 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. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
When one reads this commandment coming from Jesus, we can’t help but wonder exactly what do these words imply. At first it seems like Jesus is asking for something that goes against the grain of human nature and even what is deemed to be logical for most. Yet, these words make us stop and ask ourselves, what was Jesus saying? What did He mean?
First of all, we must ask the question: who is our enemy? We tend to think of an enemy as someone who wants to cause us bodily harm or a nation that is at war with us. We rarely put people we don’t get along with in the enemy category. By this, I am referring to those who we don’t really agree with or appeal to us personally. I would describe these people as the ones who make us cringe when we see their number on our caller ID, the ones we avoid saying hello to when we pass by them, those family members we rarely talk to, except to ask for a favor, the people we sit as far from as possible at social functions, or perhaps that person, who is least likely to get invited anywhere that we are going to; get the picture.
The truth is there will be people, who rub us the wrong way, people whose personality will never really be in harmony with ours. It’s not that there is anything really wrong with these people, but their way of looking at life is in contradiction with our own, because in a world with a vast variety of people, conflict of ideas is inevitable. Yet, we are commanded by Jesus to love these people.
The Bible teaches conformity in almost all aspects of life, after all, no one really gets everything they want, most things we have are the product of compromise. Let us look at the word conformity, what does it mean? According to the dictionary conformity means the following:
- action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc
- correspondence in form, nature, or character; agreement, congruity, or accordance.
- compliance or acquiescence; obedience.
If you carefully examine the meaning of the word conformity, you will realize that conformity has nothing to do with liking, or enjoying a situation, place or person, and has everything to do with acceptance, a mature acceptance of life on its own terms. Therefore, in order to be able to conform, one must also realize that conformity has nothing to do with personal preferences; yet it has everything to do with maturity and tolerance. People, who know how to truly conform do not always like the terms they are offered, but do so for the good of others. By this, I am not referring to some blind allegiance to some mindless ideology or simply following the crowd because of the need for acceptance. What it does imply is the ability to give of one’s self, when one would be inclined to complain or simply act rebellious because things are simply not to ones’ liking.
Conformity also includes the area of human relationships, this means knowing how to treat everyone with kindness and respects. It is easy to get along with someone when we really like that person and they share many of our own ideas. In life, there will be people you will be inclined to like and there will be those you will simply find hard to understand, therefore we will not be the friends with everyone. It is a simple fact of life that we will naturally be closer to some people and not very approving of others.
Biblical love means we must learn to accept others as who they are, not how we would like them to be. This means submitting to one another, not insisting on ones’ rights or point of view. Conformity in relationships also means being patient, kind, and unselfish with everyone, not just those who bring out the best in us. I personally find this principle very hard to follow, when I really don’t like someone they often bring out the worst in me, yet I am to do the very opposite of what would be my natural inclination, in order to truly practice Biblical love.
Therefore, conformity in relationships means not going along with ones’ natural and selfish tendencies. I don’t mean to be critical, but if one is honest with oneself, one has to admit this is true of everyone, even the best of people. Loving people, who you don’t really like does not come naturally.
The question is how does one do this task that goes against the very grain of ones’ humanity? First of all, it is essential that we accept others as face value, in other words, as they are, flaws and all. Of course, if the person in question is violent or abusive that would call for protective action and separating from such a person would be best, although trying to get that person the help they need in the process would also be considered loving your enemies. With that exception, there are many people we don’t like that don’t really mean to cause us bodily harm, but may cause friction in other ways.
Friction can come in many different forms, an example of this would be someone who got your promotion at work, loving them would mean having to support them at their job; even if that was the job you wanted. Another example would be someone with an annoying habit; instead of ridiculing them we could try correcting them with gentleness and tact. Then there are those family members, who make you want to spend as little time with them as possible, yet you must try to make time for them because they are lonely. These are all ways in which one can overcome friction and love their enemies in the process.
In this great commandment we see that God, Himself is impartial and gives good things to everyone. The commandment also states that we are no better than the average, uncaring individual if we love only those people that appeal to us personally, there is really no merit in loving those who serve our own purposes, even the most selfish of people are capable of loving at that level.
Perfect love demands a deeper level of giving in human relationships. Sacrificing ones’ will in all areas of human interchange, whether that be friendship, family, or marriage, there will be times when people in each of these realms may one day be your enemy, yet you are called to love them. This also include your attitude, you must not love them grudgingly. It is important to always remember the phrase “service with a smile.”
We may never agree with them or have warm affections for these people, but we must make an effort to look out for their well being, and give of ourselves, even if this means going against our own feelings and tendencies; that in a nutshell is loving ones enemies, and thus obtaining the ability to love as God would command us to.
This ability does not come naturally; it requires that we pray for the strength to see this person, as God sees them. It requires an active choice to practice this kind of love. It is a heart attitude, not just some act or superficial response. This is choice that requires knowing God’s word and wanting to conform to what it says, not what we would like it to say. Loving ones’ enemy is always a choice; it is my hope that we can all choose to love this way, as God empowers each of us to do so through prayer.