Loving Your Enemies

How should we treat our enemies? Well, maybe we first need to know: “Who are our enemies?” In English the simple dictionary definition is: “from the Latin … [someone unfriendly, hostile … a person who hates another.”] The Latin is literally un+friendly. The range of the word stretches from someone who is just unfriendly to you to someone who wishes to kill you. [1 John 3:10, 11]

Let us take the example of a religious organization who has shunned, excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or unchurched a person merely for not believing certain doctrines. We are not discussing someone who deceitfully worked “underground” to undermine the sect, but just someone who could no longer believe certain fundamental dogma. Such an organization has clearly treated the former member in an “unfriendly” manner at the very least. This would indicate a degree of hate, particularly if the sect drew upon a verse like Psalm 139:21, “Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, O Jehovah.” [New World Translation] In other words, the members of the sect who disfellowshipped the person claim the unchurched ‘hates God’ and therefore they are justified in actually hating the person.

This happened to Jesus the Nazarene as the prophecy foretold the attitude of the Jewish people, “They hated me without cause.” [Psalm 69:4; John 15:25] Jesus also foretold that his disciples would also be hated. [John 15:18, 19] Some would be expelled because of this hatred. [John 16:2]

How to Love Our Enemies

Now, our question is, “How do we show love for such enemies?” We are not left in the dark about this, for Jesus explains:

“Now I tell all of you listening to me - continue to show loving concern for your enemies. Continue to do good to those who keep hating you. Continue to bless those who keep cursing you.” [Luke 6:27, 28 Christian Scriptures 2001]

Jesus’ statement is within the context of the Golden Rule,

“Now just as you want people to do to you, you continue to do the same.” [Luke 6:31 Christian Scriptures 2001]

So, Jesus taught what we must continue to love those who are unfriendly or hate us. This is a positive matter, for Jesus says “continue to do good.”

We could divide this subject into two parts: the negative and the positive. In other words, there are some things we would NOT DO to our enemy; and, there are some things that WE DO to our enemies. This is not difficult to understand: First, what is it that you do not want others doing to you? For example, do you like it when someone speaks ill of you, using derogatory terms? Well, then, DO NOT do these to others. Second, what is it you wish people would DO to you? Treat you respectfully when you disagree with their beliefs? Then, DO that to them.

It is true one may have endured deeply bitter experiences when cast out of a religious organization. The whole matter may have been unfair and unloving. However, if one is still a “Christian” - one who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ - then how should you respond to those who are now unfriendly? Certainly using language that is derogatory, untrue, without foundation, extremely exaggerated, or even slanderous does not conform to our Lord’s instructions above.

It is true that one may be moved to “expose” religious or Biblical falsehood. But, can this be done without attacking individuals either directly or by innuendo? Or, by classing a group of people in blanket unkind words?

Paul counseled,

“Always speak graciously, seasoned with salt, aware of how you are obligated to answer each person.” [Colossians 4:6 Christian Scriptures 2001]

And Peter writes in a similar manner:

“Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, ever ready to face toward everyone asking you for a defense of your hope - but [doing so] with mildness and deep respect -- holding a good conscience so that they may become ashamed when they speak abusively against your good conduct in Christ.” [1 Peter 3:15, 16 Christian Scriptures 2001]

To observe our Lord’s words to love our enemies may be observed by refusing to speak in a derogatory manner about others, and instead dealing directly with the issue of church order and doctrine. We may in all honesty relate true experiences of how we were treated - whether cruel or unloving or unfair - without striking back at individuals.

In the end, even those unfriendly to us will see that Christ has truly taken up residence in our hearts. This may work to move their conscience to change their attitude. Paul writes something to the Romans:

“Do not repay harm with harm. ‘Think good in advance regarding all persons.’ [Proverbs 3:4] If possible with you be peaceable with all persons. Beloved, do not seek revenge for yourselves. Rather, yield to wrath. For, it has been written: "‘Revenge is mine and I will repay,’ says the LORD." [Proverbs 20:20] Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If [your enemy] is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head." [Proverbs 25:21, 22] Do not let the bad conquer you. Rather, conquer the bad with the good.” [Romans 12:17-21 Christian Scriptures 2001]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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