OceanSide church of Christ
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HOW TO LOVE YOUR ENEMY
Victor M. Eskew
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus’ teaching caused His audience to marvel. On this occasion, it was the power of His words that amazed them. His authority stood in stark contrast to the sayings of the religious leaders of the day.
Sometimes we also marvel at the teachings of the Savior. What astonishes us at times is what He asks us to do. We shake our heads, and say: “You can’t be serious.” One such teaching is Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies. Matthew records Jesus’ words in the fifth chapter of his gospel narrative. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 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 command really goes against the grain. Love does not seem to be the proper response to one who stands in opposition to us. Love is not what seems appropriate for the person who hates us and seeks to do us harm. Because it does seem difficult to do, many will ask: “How am I to love my enemies?” The answer to this question will be the focus of this article.
The first way to show your love toward your enemy is to do as Jesus said: “Pray for them.” Take the name of your enemy before the throne of grace. Tell the Lord about the conflict that exists between the two of you. Ask the Lord to be involved in the solution. Ask the Lord to give each of you a tender heart and much wisdom. Ask the Lord to forgive the opposition of any misconduct committed against you. This one step alone involves the all-wise, all powerful God in our struggle. No longer are we alone in the hand of our enemy.
The second way to show love toward your enemy is to seek reconciliation. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that they brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). The word “reconcile” means “to make friendly again.” There are situations that can develop even among those who are friends that place them in a hostile situation. Words of anger are spoken. Wrong assumptions are made. Ill motives are attributed to the other. Long periods of time pass before they speak. During these conflicts emotions often run high. Frustration can turn to anger. Anger can turn into bitterness. When bitterness sets in, hope for the relationship often fades. Immediate reconciliation, therefore, is essential. What makes this difficult, however, is that confrontation is involved. Most do not like confrontation. Therefore, they refrain from it. This keeps the relationship strained. It allows evil emotions to overtake us. Such is not love. Real love seeks reconciliation.
The third way to love our enemies is to always do them good. This is one of those actions that stands opposed to our inner desires. Our carnal being exhorts us to get revenge, to get even, to inflict pain, to harm. Usually, we can think of a thousand ways to make our enemy’s life miserable. If anyone suggests doing a good deed toward him, we are repulsed by such a thought. Yet, this is how both Jesus and Paul instructed us to respond to our enemies. Jesus said: “…bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you…” (Matt. 5:44). The apostle of Jesus elaborated with these words: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21). An act of goodness is difficult to refuse. An act of kindness does not promote evil emotions. An act of benevolence causes one to want to be around the one who does the good deed. Our kindness pushes our enemy in a direction he does not want to go. He longs to be estranged, but our kindness calls him to come near.
A fourth way to manifest kindness toward our enemies is by refusing to voice the details of the conflict to others. One of the most common responses to conflict is to take the problem to someone else who is not involved at all. We believe that this makes us feel better because we talk the problem over with someone else. But, such actions usually do more harm than good: 1) It demeans our adversary in the eyes of another, 2) It draws battle lines, seeking to find others who will be on “our” side, 3) It could allow us to feel justified in our actions, even when they are inappropriate, and 4) Our story to another is the beginning of a gossip trail that often perverts, distorts, and hides the real truth. The Bible reminds us often about becoming a talebearer. “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 18:6-8). Love does not seek to wound and destroy. It seeks to heal. Thus, the man who loves his enemy will shut his mouth to others. “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Prov. 26:20).
The four expressions
of love that have been discussed seem difficult to practice. Not many turn in a positive direction
toward their enemies. This means
that not many examples can be found to follow. Thankfully, the NT has persevered the
example of Jesus for us. He really
loved His enemies. We see Him doing
each of these things to demonstrate His love for them. He prayed for His enemies. He
besought the Father for Peter who would deny Him (Luke 22:32), for the city of
Brethren, we exhort
you to love your enemies. Such love
rises high above the world. It is
also a reflection of the love of God toward his enemies (