Five Lessons on Loving Your Enemies
By Jason Hines — Because of situations in my own life I have been repeatedly returning to the concept of loving your enemies. I have wrestled with this issue publicly (I have preached a sermon on this subject twice) and at times in this space, but I have yet to share here my spiritual thoughts on the issue. The best place to begin is with the words of Christ. In Matthew 5:43–48 (NASB) Jesus says,
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.
1. Your enemies are always close to you –
We talk about “haters” so much these days, 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 have a mentor and a mentee, as well as a father-in-law and a son-in– law at odds with each other in Saul and David. 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 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 topic that fascinates me. Scholars have posited the theory that Judas’s betrayal of Christ had good intentions. According to some scholars, 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, Jesus would finally tap into His power as the son of God and the revolution would begin. Judas was wrong. But how can we be so heartless and unforgiving in not realizing that some people really are looking 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 it first appears.
5. The hurt helps –
Here’s the odd thing about the pain that our enemies cause us – God always uses that pain to benefit us. Judas does something that’s harmful to Jesus, but we are all saved because of 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/‘Cause it all brought me here.” And while I am not always able to look back fondly on all 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 can 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 thought was odd until I thought about it for a while. 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 therighteous and the unrighteous.” I wondered what this had to do with what He just said. It wasn’t until I preached this sermon that 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 you 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.