iStockPhotoBy 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,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 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; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on theright­eous and the unright­eous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax col­lec­tors do the same? If you greet only your broth­ers, what more are you doing than oth­ers? Do not even the Gen­tiles do the same? 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 some of the lessons of the Bible on 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” 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.


Jason Hines is Asso­ciate Edi­tor for Reli​gious​Lib​erty​.TV. A Har­vard Law grad­u­ate, Jason prac­ticed com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion in Philadel­phia for five years and con­ducted sem­i­nars on reli­gious lib­erty in his spare time. This gave him the oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss issues of reli­gious free­dom with Adven­tists in churches all over the United States. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his life to work in reli­gious lib­erty. To that end, he enrolled at the Sem­i­nary at Andrews Uni­ver­sity, where he is pur­su­ing a Master’s Degree in Reli­gion. He is also a PhD can­di­date in the Reli­gion, Pol­i­tics, and Soci­ety at the J.M. Daw­son Insti­tute for Church-State Stud­ies at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity. He orig­i­nally pub­lished this arti­cle on his blog, Hine­sight