When we read what Jesus says about loving our enemies, it can be tempting to soften his words. Can we take this another way? Maybe he didn’t mean it! Unfortunately, he’s pretty clear.
In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus does this himself. He doesn’t pray for his enemies to be destroyed; he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).
In the Luke account, we’re told that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (6:35, ESV). We’re meant to be merciful, just like God.
In the above passages, we’re instructed that we should treat our enemies with love, goodness, blessings, prayers; that we should treat them as we wish we were treated; that they should receive kindness and mercy.
If you want to see Christians failing to obey Jesus’ instructions on this topic, go online and share a political opinion.
Or a theological opinion. I’ve seen pastors directly oppose the teachings of Christ in the way they engage on social media with “enemies.” A few months ago, I saw someone whose header image on Facebook was about the “Beauty of God’s Love,” but they were ranting about a politician and using words I couldn’t repeat in church. Because they saw this politician as their enemy.
I’ve seen Christians say they won’t pray for their president—whether Obama or Trump or Biden—because they see him as an enemy. But what did Jesus say we should do? Jesus said to love our enemies. We will have them; we do have them. And not just in politics.
Who opposes us because of what we believe?
Who is hostile because of our theology? Too often we sharpen our knives and go after those folks instead of following Jesus’ clear instruction in the Scriptures: Love them. Bless them. Pray for them. Be kind to them. Show mercy to them.
Here are a few things I’m doing to try to love my enemies better:
- Being aware of my own emotions. If I’m watching the news and it makes me angry or hateful toward someone—yes, even toward my enemy—I need to recognize that this news source is moving me away from Jesus and pushing me away from Christlike living.
- Asking myself after interactions with my enemies, “Was I loving? Was I kind? Was I merciful?”
- Making a prayer list of those who oppose me, then praying for their good, not their destruction.
Scripture tells us that enmity, hatred, arguments and strife, fits of anger, rivalry, dissension, division . . . these are all evidence of an ungodly life. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The journey to love requires us to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and to learn how to love those who oppose us . . . inside and outside the church.
Matt Mikalatos is the author of Journey to Love, and lives in the Portland, Oregon, area with his wife and three daughters.