Note: The bulk of this post and the ideas in it were drafted a couple months back, but some life events happened that caused me to put it aside. Yesterday morning I was drawn back to it, and finished editing it this m0rning.
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.”
“… you nullify the word of God for the sake of your traditions.”
Just now it’s 1:18 AM, and I was ready to fall asleep when I started thinking about loving, blessing and praying for my enemies. This has been a common theme for me for some years. Some time back, during a time I was struggling with forgiveness, I began to find that obeying Jesus’ command to speak blessings over my “enemies” was the quickest way to walk through forgiveness.
Tonight as I was meditating on that again, and praying for someone who has been less than gracious and nice to me, I realized that often we can miss gems like this because, like the Pharisees, we “nullify” the word. How do we accomplish this? We do it by either magnifying a word beyond all application to our daily lives, or by minimizing a word to the same end. What do I mean? In this case with “Love your enemies” we often do both.
One way to nullify Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies” is to minimize the meaning of “love.” In English the word is used in a wide variety of ways, however the Greek word that was used was one that had the connotation of unconditional and complete love. Our undivine nature rebels against such a counter-intuitive thought of loving our enemies. Faced with a prospect that feels quite impossible we can easily find ourselves “minimizing” the biblical meaning of “love.” We convince ourselves we “love” everyone, or at least we don’t hate everyone, even when we know anger rises in our hearts at the thought of that certain person. We hold imaginary conversations with them, where we put them in their place. We imagine them “getting theirs,” but we tell ourselves “we love them because Jesus commands me to.”
Here is the litmus test: When we think of that person do we feel patient, kind, gracious, forgiving, calm, generous, longsuffering and merciful? If not, we have not loved (1 Cor 13).
Magnifying “an enemy”
The other trick of our mind is to maximize the word “enemy.” Enemy becomes something huge and monstrous, like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. Or, at the very least, someone who did something really blatantly “enemy-like,” such as punch us in the face. Forget the fact that we would have just as much or more difficulty loving these capital-E Enemies. But they are convenient scapegoats because they are much less frequently encountered face-to-face than the small-e enemies. They allow us to define enemy as such an evil and bad person that (a) we seldom encounter them face-to-face, and (b) the person in front of us is not an “enemy,” rather they are only”someone who is annoying me.”
Here are several definitions that will help us better apply this scripture to real life:
enemy – one who is unkind to me; one who makes my life difficult or undermines me; one who distorts the truth about me; one who is rude to me; one doesn’t seem to like me; one who misunderstands me; one who I strongly disagree with.
Here is a litmus test that that perhaps someone is my enemy: do I find myself lumping that person in a “them” group that is different from “me” and “us.”
How to Love Your Enemy
It has been said that Love is not a feeling, but an action. I say it is both. Love acts, but it is also full of emotion. Not that the emotion is always pleasant. To love your enemy is almost without exception painful, for when we love as God loves we desire to know and be known by the one we love, but we cannot count on love being reciprocated by our enemies. Indeed, often the initial response to love from an enemy is not love in return, but anger. My husband often reminds me that Jesus loved perfectly and they wanted to kill Him. Thus the result of loving your enemies will likely be to feel the pain and anguish of love.
But besides pain, when we truly love we also do feel tenderness towards the one loved and are moved with compassion towards them. Because we love them we are able to see clearly that they are hurt and afraid, and unable to admit it. If compassion is real, we don’t just act compassionately, but we are “moved with compassion,” that is, we feel a sense of longing for them. Jesus expressed this longing when He wept over Jerusalem (the Greek word for weep in this instance means to “wail aloud,”, so he was expressing strong emotions) and expressed His longing to gather them together with him, using a beautiful metaphor of a mother hen gathering her many chicks under her wings. Loving your enemies is not for the faint of heart.
Why is it important to emphasize not only the actions of love, but the feelings of love? Because both are necessary to love genuinely, to love as John the apostle stated, “not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” Holding ourselves to the standard of both feeling love and acting out of love, also makes us aware of our need for the grace and power of God to love. There have been times when I have experienced the grace of God to love my enemies, but I must admit that most, if not all, of these times were preceded by genuinely not wanting to have my heart softened toward the Other.
So, how do I love my enemy? The key which opens the door to the grace of God is humility, and our first step is found right beside the initial command:
“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 mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
I have learned many lessons as I have prayed about what it means to “bless my enemies,” but those are for another post, and probably many more posts for I am still learning. But suffice it to say, in the process of learning to bless, I have often learned to love as well.
How do you learn to love your enemy? Do good to them. Bless them. Pray for them. Don’t know what that means in practice? Ask the Spirit of God to show you and you will learn.