Love Your Enemy
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28).
The world says and rightly so to Love your friends… Be loyal to your friends… Look out for your friends. Why? Because, friends will look out for you! Loving your friends is just smart. This also goes to loving your wife or your husband. As the Apostle Paul states, "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:28). Loving your wife is a no-brainer unless you're self-destructive behavior.
But it's altogether another thing to love an enemy, someone who has your disgrace or destruction as a goal. Who are your enemies? I'm not asking who you hate? I'm asking who hates you, or despises you! Often they are the people close to us who have been hurt. A spouse or former spouse… a parent… a son or daughter… a co-worker at the job… an enemy of God who takes it out on you…or someone whose evil action you have exposed and is now out to get you.
Here are some key Bible verses on loving your enemies:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14).
We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it (1 Corinthians 4:12).
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble (1 John 2:9-10).
Jesus uses four very strong Greek action words in these verses:
* agapao -- love your enemies
* poimeo kalos -- do good to those who hate you.
* eulogoeo -- to speak well of
* proseuchomai -- to pray for, to intercede for.
Jesus is not saying that we are to just force a smile and mind our own business when we are hated and mistreated. We are to actively try to do good towards our attackers. Agapao is a rare word in Koiné Greek. It was developed almost exclusively in Christian literature to refer to the kind of love that doesn't serve itself, but extends itself for the sake of another. The other Greek words for love are eros, erotic love, philos, love for family, brotherly love, and stergos, natural affection. Agape love is really a different category of love that the world hadn't seen in action until Jesus came along and infected his followers with it.
Stephen is a classical example of Agape love as his attackers stoned him, and just right before his last breath… “Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."And he fell to his knees, shouting, "Lord, don't charge them with this sin!" And with that, he died.” (Acts 7:59-60) This same action was displayed by Jesus while he hung on the cross on Calvary, and by all the Christian Martyrs throughout Church History.
The question of how do I love my enemy one might ask with all seriousness. This isn't a matter of just thinking nice thoughts or being very polite. We need Jesus to do a heart change within us, to put the kind of heart within us toward our enemies that was in God who sent Jesus to redeem and forgive a world full of despicable people God-haters… vulgar… foul-mouthed… unfaithful to spouses… lying… cheating… stealing… selfish. The list goes on, and on describes us at our worst.
Somehow God loves the people of Israel who thumb their noses at him again and again. He doesn't quit. They are unfaithful and are punished, but then God is at it again seeking to bless them. He doesn't give up. He has a heart of love toward the loveless. That is what we need to love our own enemies.
The ability to love our enemies comes from God’s Holy Spirit empowering the believer to accomplish what would be naturally impossible for one to do. We are more inclined to follow the Law of Moses… an eye for an eye instead of turning the other cheek as Jesus taught his disciples to do.
Many Christians today are like those believers in Corinth when the Apostle Paul asked them about the involvement of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives... “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Acts 19:1-2
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an experience for all Christians, for without the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, we cannot truly love our enemies as Stephen demonstrated. There are 3 Greek prepositions when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life as seen in Scripture.
Jesus prayed… “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) “para” is the first Greek preposition which means “with” or “alongside” the Holy Spirit is with us or alongside of us before we came to the Lord.
Jesus continues… “the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17-18) “en” is the second Greek preposition which means to indwell, this takes place when we accept Christ into our heart.
The third Greek preposition is seen as Jesus commands his disciples to wait for the power that was promised… “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) “epi” which means “upon” overflowing of the Spirit in the life of the believer, a filling or baptism as it is known in some Christian circles today.
This experience was crucial at Stephen’s death… “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God…” (Acts 7:55) and was able to love his enemies as they… “all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:57-60)
Being empowered by God’s Holy Spirit we’ll be able to do what Jesus taught right here:
* Do Good. When you find a way you can do something good for one of your worst enemies, do it. Not to shame him, but because you are trying to find it in your own evil heart to love him for Jesus' sake.
* Bless. When you think of the person who is slandering you, and saying untrue and nasty things about you, find ways to work blessing into your thoughts. Speak a blessing out loud. When you are with friends, instead of complaining about your unjust treatment, go out of your way (actively) to speak well of your enemies. Why? To shame them? No -- though it will. But to find it in your own heart to love them.
* Pray. To intercede. When you're praying, you probably pray for your family and your pastor, and your friends and family. Why don't you begin to pray and intercede for your enemies. Actively. Start to ask God to help them. Ask God to heal the hurts in their lives that are some of the motivators of their evil actions. Ask God to bless them and show mercy to them. Why? To shame them? No, in order to find it in your heart to love them.
It should not be construed by any means that I am teaching Christian Pacifism. "Loving One's Enemy" does not mean accepting what he has done and allowing him to avoid responsibility for it. Love sometimes calls upon Christians to restrain an enemy that seeks to harm the innocent. Seeking justice is not inconsistent with loving and forgiving the perpetrators. An enemy can be challenged in love. We can forgive him, but he still has to live with the consequences of his actions and sometimes die because of them.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was saying that Christians should not lash out in revenge, returning evil for evil. Vengeance and vindictiveness have no place in the Christian life. But it is not inconsistent with biblical teaching to defend oneself and one's loved ones. Love requires action to protect human life. Self-defense is not revenge, but the restraining of further evil.
Hatred and vengeance must not shape our actions. But there is a difference between vengeance taken with a hateful heart and appropriate self defense. Retributive justice is not the same thing as revenge. There is an appropriate use of force that is neither vengeful nor vicious, and is aimed at seeking peace and justice.
Physical warfare exists because spiritual warfare exists. There is an underlying spiritual conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The apostle Paul acknowledged this spiritual warfare when he wrote that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil" (Ephesians 6:12).
The ultimate act of love should be our prayer, that evil will be restrained and that the innocent will be protected. Our prayer will combat the evil forces ultimately responsible for violence and wars. This victory can be won only with spiritual weapons which are made available by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
I will close with the words of the great Francis A. Schaeffer in his book, A Christian Manifesto: "I am not a pacifist because pacifism in this fallen world in which we live means that we desert the people who need our greatest help."