Do you have enemies?
Some people live in places where their enemies threaten them with physical harm or death. But for most of us, “enemy” means something a little different—our enemy might be a hostile coworker; a bully at school; an angry neighbor; an opponent in sports, politics, or another arena who doesn’t play fair.
Do you consider those people your enemies? And if so, could you say that you love them?
One of Jesus’ most memorable sermons challenges us to rethink everything about how we treat and think about people who hate us.
“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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
That command is as challenging to us today as it was to Jesus’ original audience. Christians have long struggled to understand what it means to love somebody who hates you, persecutes you, or even wishes you dead. One modern pastor who had a lot of enemies, yet who felt challenged by this Scripture passage, was the civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s what he had to say about this Scripture passage:
…it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy.” This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Questions to Consider
- Do you have people you would consider enemies? What, in your opinion, makes someone an enemy?
- What is your instinctive reaction when people badmouth, belittle, or purposely thwart you?
- Is what Jesus commands in this passage really possible? Have you ever seen somebody put this command into practice? If this command runs counter to our natural inclinations, how can we reach a point of loving our enemies?
- Are there people in your life who might consider you an enemy? Have you ever been on the receiving end of “love your enemy”?