Loving Our Enemies
One of the most radical commands Jesus impresses upon us is to love our enemies. Today we find ourselves in a time particularly rife with conflict on every level of society. Though navigating these conflicts can feel like treading through a minefield, it also provides us with opportunities to fulfill our calling as ministers of peace and representatives of Jesus.
Let’s look at Jesus teaching in Luke 6:27-32:
“But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are cruel to you. If anyone slaps you on one cheek, offer him the other cheek, too. If someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and when someone takes something that is yours, don’t ask for it back. Do to others what you would want them to do to you. If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get? Even sinners love the people who love them.
1. When you read that command, what runs through your mind?
2. Who are our enemies? How are we defining who an enemy is?
3. What does it mean to love those who hate you? (This implies more than just withholding retribution. This suggests proactive efforts to do that person good.)
4. Are enemies exclusively people who have acted against us personally?
I would argue that we sometimes turn people into enemies without their necessarily transgressing against us. If you listen to any sort of political rhetoric, you’ll hear plenty of blanket statements demonizing everyone associated with certain parties or ideologies despite the fact that there are differing ideas within those groups. On a smaller scale, we can think of our neighbors as enemies for doing things we don’t like – even if they aren’t necessarily wrong.
It’s all too easy justifying what author Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins,” meaning sins we reason away and tolerate such as pettiness and complaining, for example. We justify sharing that cruel joke about a public figure by arguing it’s what they signed up for when they rose to fame. Besides, it’s all in good fun, right? Have a sense of humor! We justify rudeness when we’ve been inconvenienced or rubbed the wrong way whether it was intentional or not. It’s these “respectable sins” that grow into self-righteousness and eventually mature into hatred.
5. What are some other examples of “respectable sins?”
I’d like to read an excerpt from Dr. Helen Roseveare’s book Enough. If you’re not familiar with her, I highly recommend looking into her work. Dr. Roseveare was a medical missionary to the Congo from the 1950s into the 70s, and was taken captive by rebels during the 1964 uprising. For five months she was brutalized in a number of ways before being extracted back to England. Despite the trauma of that experience, she returned to the Congo and rebuilt the hospitals and ministries destroyed in the conflict. This is a little bit of what she wrote in response to Respectable Sins:
“We can feel deeply distressed at the way our societies are going. We can even feel disgust at some of the horrific items we hear on the news, where other members of our society act in ways that are truly abhorrent to us. But is our initial reaction, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’? Does what I have just heard lead me into prayer – for the individuals involved, for our degenerate society? Or am I content to be correct myself and critical of others? Instead of rejoicing in God’s goodness to me that has defended me from that particular sin, I take pride in my own ability to avoid the wrong (oh, the subtlety of pride, spiritual pride, pride in myself) rather than giving thanks to God for his amazing grace and for how he has delivered me from falling into that particular temptation.”
6. What do you make of Dr. Roseveare’s thoughts?
7a. What’s the difference between righteous anger or disgust and prideful anger or disgust?
7b.How can we distinguish between the two within ourselves (Righteous anger rises from our recognizing something offends God; self-righteous anger stems from something offending our own personal sensibilities.)
8. What would you say is the relationship between pride and prejudice, which is just another form of hate? (Prejudice is based on preconceived notions that someone is inferior to us in some way. The more prideful we are, the more people we see as inferior and thus more offensive to our sensibilities. It’s a problem that starts with us, not necessarily the person we see as an enemy.)
It’s one thing to recognize someone’s else’s sin. It’s a very different thing to stand in judgement. How we then respond to our observations makes the difference between compounding sin by taking a self-righteous, prejudiced stance and countering sin with acts of love, compassion, and humility. But, as Dr. Roseveare said, we so often default to prideful thinking.
9. Dr. Roseveare also touched on the importance of praise and thanksgiving. What does expressing gratitude to God have to do with loving our enemies?
Our pride is particularly offended by people who reflect our own flaws back at us. C.S. Lewis wrote this about the respectable sin of pride and how it is affected by our relationship to God in Mere Christianity:
“There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”
“Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or you see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
10. What are your thoughts on Lewis’ words?
Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” It does NOT say “For some have sinned more than others and fall short of the glory of God.” We’re all just as fallible as each other and equally dependent on the mercy and grace and God. That understanding leaves no room for pride.
Ultimately, loving our enemies isn’t so much about our enemies; it’s about our need to be humbled in the presence of God, repent and be sanctified. Loving our enemies flows out of that.
11. What are some steps of active repentance we can take to address our pride? How can we practice dispelling prejudice and developing compassion instead? (Begin by recognizing our own spiritual poverty and need for mercy and grace. We need to get perspective on who and what we are in relationship to God’s perfection. From there we’re better equipped to turn outward in love – to truly LISTEN to those we disagree with or look down on.)
Back to the original question: what does it mean to love our enemies? Let’s look at Matthew 5:41-48:
“And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
12. What do you pull out of that passage? Does anything strike you in the similarities or differences to Luke 6:27-32?
The musician Daryl Davis is a great example of this principle in action. He is an African-American who made it his mission to befriend KKK members. He simply invites them to talk about what they believe and why they believe it. The underlining question he asks is: “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” Davis said in an interview: “The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself,” “Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”
Through these conversations, Davis became close friends with some of the most senior Klan members. He even became godfather to one’s Klansman’s daughter and gave the bride away at another’s wedding. It’s estimated between 40 and 60 members left the clan as a direct result of these conversations, and 200 more left as an indirect result. There’s a documentary you can see if you’re interested in more details about his story, but it just goes to show how powerful a humble, love-based approach can be. That is our mission. That is the calling behind Jesus’ command to love our enemies. (Documentary Accidental Courtesy)
Here’s the challenge for this week:
Meditate on Romans 12:14-21 and ask yourself who you hold an enemy attitude toward. (Politicians or political parties? A neighbor? A family member? Addicts? Corporations? People of different lifestyles?) What respectable sins are you justifying and tolerating your own life? Then take a step of repentance and reconciliation.