We all know that Jesus said to love your enemies. Today, I want to try to unpack some of what I think He was telling us.
In a sermon called Loving Your Enemies, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who knew a thing or two about having enemies) said, “We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command.”
Just because “love your enemies” seems difficult does not mean we should ignore it. In fact, it is probably all the more reason we should study what Jesus was trying to tell us.
Understanding Love Your Enemies
Look again at what Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45 NIV
There has been a lot of attention given to the “love your enemies” portion of what Jesus says here, but I haven’t seen nearly as much said about the rest of His statement.
Notice that right after He says to “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you”, He tells us why, “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
The Amplified Bible says it this way, “To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven;” (emphasis mine)
Children resemble their parents. God gives everyone, regardless of their behavior, sun and rain. Likewise we, as His children, are to LOVE everyone as He loves us.
The Greek word that Jesus uses here is not philia (brotherly or friendly love) and it is not eros (romantic love). He tells us to agape our enemies. Agape is generally thought to be the highest form of love. It is selfless, voluntary and committed to the well-being of the other. It is used in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 NLT
Jesus loved us enough to die for us BEFORE we were behaving as He wanted. In the same way, we are to love everyone, even our enemies, even sinners (which we all are), with selfless, sacrificial, action-oriented love. In this way, we demonstrate that we are His children.
How to Love Your Enemies
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 NIV
The only way we can truly love others, even our enemies, in a God-like way is by submitting ourselves to the transformation He has ready for us.
We have to be “born again”. We have to allow the power of His grace to literally change our minds.
Alone this is impossible. But with God, we can copy Jesus and show we are His children.