“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
We cannot know what it means to love our enemies until we have to do it. We must be hated in order to know what it means to love those who hate us. We must be wronged in order to pray for those who wrong us. Only when we are hated, only when we have enemies, only when we have people who actively seek to harm us can we learn what it means to obey Jesus’ command here and point warm affection, sacrificial devotion, and genuine desire for well-being toward those who are against us.
This much is clear from Jesus’ words.
But the surprising lesson that every Christian has to learn is that sometimes our enemies are our friends. Loving our enemies certainly includes those who are fundamentally opposed to us in every way. But it also includes the personal barbs, pains, and betrayals that take place among those closest to us.
My greatest heartaches in my Christian life have been personal hurts. Careless words. Friendships that have soured. Backhanded criticisms that cut deep. Perceived lack of loyalty. Disappointed expectations.
And it is easy in these times to say things like, “Never again!” A natural response to hurt in personal relationships is to build walls. Maybe we don’t outright shut the person out but our affection for them cools. We may walk a different route to the bathroom because we see our original one would force us to interact with them. The smile fades from our lips when we hear their name mentioned in conversation. We rehearse the hurt over and over until they become synonymous with the pain.
But Jesus speaks life into these hurts. “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He does not say tolerate, endure, or put up with your enemies. He says to love them.
That means to be patient with them and kind to them. It means refusing to be rude or harsh with them. It means to avoid keeping that secret list of wrongs they have done against you. It means not being irritable when their name comes up or resentful when you think of them. It means to believe the best about them, hope for restoration with them, and endure any wrong suffered in order to maintain the bonds of friendship with them. It means caring enough about your relationship that you address the wrong with them personally and in private. It means you refuse to rehearse the wrong to anyone else. It means to remain warm in your affection for them, to consider it a joy to do something that would benefit them, to rejoice when something good comes to them.
Before I became a pastor, I served as a volunteer Bible study leader for our church’s college ministry. I learned one evening that one of my roommates, someone I considered a close friend, had gone behind my back to try to get me removed from leading the college Bible study, a removal his actions accomplished. For months I seethed. I was not outwardly hostile but inwardly I was full of accusations, guardedness, and a secret disdain.
Some time after that, I was offered my first full-time ministry position. Before taking the job, I took two weeks to spend an hour in prayer each night, seeking God’s face in preparation for the role. Around the middle of the second week, God made one thing very clear to me: “You cannot serve people with the gospel if you cannot love people who hate you. You cannot say that you love me if you don’t love the way I love. The one who hurts you is the very one you must love if you are to show the world what I am like.”
We are children of God when our hearts work like his.
So one final question: Who came to your mind when reading this? Who comes to mind when you hear that you must love your enemies?
And what are you going to do now?