Because of situations in my own life I have been repeatedly returning to the concept of loving your enemies. The best place to begin is with the words of Christ. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I think it’s important to first say a little about why loving your enemies is necessary. Jesus gives us the answer in verse 48. Based on everything that has gone before in this chapter (as well as the concept of loving your enemies), Jesus says you cannot be perfect without it. The word “perfect” in verse 48 comes from the Greek word “teleios”. And while “perfect” is a good translation, I think it distracts from the meaning here. Another way to translate teleios is “complete” or “mature”. So what I think Jesus is trying to say here is if you wanted to be a complete person, or a fully mature human being, loving your enemies is something that you have to do.
As we look at what the Bible says about loving your enemies, I think there are some lessons that we can learn.
1. Your enemies are always close to you. We talk about “haters” a lot, and the picture of haters that always jumps to my mind are these people who you’re not really close to, or acquaintances who see all that you have and are just jealous. But the truth is that your real enemies are always close friends and family. When we look at the example of Jacob and Laban in Gen 31 we see an uncle and a nephew, a father-in-law and a son-in-law at odds with each other. In 1 Sam 24, we see David and Saul – a mentor and mentee, as well as a father-in-law and son-in-law – at odds with each other. The animosity between Jesus and Judas is told to us in Matt 26. Of course this is Jesus with one of the 12 people he shared his ministry with. How quick we are to forsake the love we once had and switch to hate.
2. Sometimes you (or your people) are the problem. In the story of Jacob and Laban, Laban has a legitimate reason to be mad at Jacob, and Jacob doesn’t even know it. Jacob, as the leader of his family, is responsible for each member, and it’s his wife who has stolen Laban’s idols. Sometimes an examination of who our enemies are has to start with an examination of ourselves. How can we withhold love from someone who has a perfectly good reason to be mad at us?
3. Sometimes it’s best to go in peace. Everything does not have to have this happy ending where everyone acts like nothing ever happened. Sometimes the best thing, the most loving thing to do for both parties, is to part company. Jacob and Laban reconcile, but then they never see each other again. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Sometimes situations are so damaging that things cannot be as they were. Sometimes you have to move on. But not in that move-on way where you just never deal with it. Reconciliation is necessary.
4. Sometimes your enemies think they were helping you. This is the one that fascinates me. Some people posit the theory that Judas’s betrayal of Christ had good intentions. According to them, Judas never thought that Jesus would allow Himself to be crucified. So he betrayed Jesus as a way of boxing Christ into a corner so that He would have to take action. If he gave Jesus over to the Pharisaical/Roman coalition, He would finally tap into His power as the son of God and the revolution would begin. Now he was wrong. But how can we be so heartless and unforgiving in not realizing that some people really are trying to look out for us, as wrong as they might be? If we could look beyond our own pain, we would see that there is more love in these relationships than first appears.
5. The hurt can help. Here’s the odd thing about the pain that our enemies cause us – there are times when that pain can be of some benefit to us. Judas does something that’s harmful to Jesus, but we are all saved because of that the hurt that Judas caused Christ. Christ’s mission is not fulfilled without Judas’s misguided action. I find myself in a better place because of the many hurts that I have had in my life. A friend of mine who is a songwriter once penned these words, “I cherish the heartbreak/ Cherish the tears/ Treasure the pain/ Cuz it all brought me here.” And while I am not always able to look back fondly on my trials, I understand the sentiment. Once I’m able to put myself in that frame of mind, I am better able to forgive, love, and accept the actions of those who have hurt me and made themselves my enemies.
By no means do I want to trivialize this subject or make it seem like an easy task. I am struggling with this subject now in my life and there are days when I am not sure that I will be able to do what Christ asks. But then I remember that I want to be mature – I want to be complete in Christ – and it changes my view. In the same passage of Scripture (Matt 5:43-48) Jesus says something else that I once thought was odd. Right after He tells the crowd to love their enemies He says, “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I wondered what this had to do with what He just said. Then it dawned on me. Regardless of the situations that we go through with each other, we all will face sunshine and rain, good days and bad days. We are all the same – struggling human beings who are trying to figure out what life is all about and/or what God wants from us. We would all be a lot better off if we loved everyone while we were here struggling, than to be looking for ways to hurt and harm each other. And it is still more useful for you to live that way, even when everyone else isn’t. Hating your haters will only harm you. We are all in this thing together, and so loving each other just seems to be an easier way of getting through life than the alternative.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines
Image Credit: Unsplash.com
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.