Love your enemies

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36 NLT)

This has got to be one of the most radical things Jesus ever said. He is challenging people to do something which is completely unnatural, to love their enemies. It raises some questions.

Who is my enemy? Jesus spells it out. My enemy is the one, or the group, who hates me, excludes me, mocks me, curses me. The one who mistreats me, takes advantage of me, abuses me. There seems to be an increasing number of groups in society that “hate” Christians, or that treat them with contempt. But for us as individuals our enemies could just as easily be someone at work, at school, at home. It could be our husband or wife, our parents, our children: anyone who hurts us. Who is your enemy?

These are the people Jesus says to love. But, such a love is unnatural. It is natural to love our friends, the ones who like us, the ones who affirm us, the one we like. There is a big difference between these different loves. “Natural” love changes nothing. Jesus’s challenge could be, “If you love those who love you… what difference does that make to anything.” Such love just preserves the status quo. But unnatural love can change the world, from an individual level to a national level.

What is this “unnatural” love? What does it look like? Jesus spells that out too. “Do good… bless… pray for… turn the other cheek… give your shirt… lend without expecting repayment… let them take advantage of you…” And ultimately, “do to others as you would have them do to you.”

We see from this that the love Jesus speaks of is not about feelings, it is about action. We are used to thinking of love as a feeling, an emotion. But Jesus says nothing about how we should feel toward our enemies. Only how we should act. Loving our enemies is about what we do, not the emotions that well up in our heart, which are likely to be, if we are honest, fairly negative.

In effect, Jesus says do not act out of what you feel, but out of what is right. Do good things, kind things, for your enemies, no matter how they make you feel. This is indeed a radical message for a world obsessed by doing “what feels right.”

But that raises another question. How can we do this? What enables us? Where do we find the strength, the will, to react in such a way? How do we react with our will rather than our emotions? How do we respond out of our convictions rather than our feelings? Jesus does not answer that question, at least not here. Perhaps Luke will address it later in his book, but here it is just a challenge, thrown out to his listeners by Jesus.

Even if he says nothing of where the strength to do all this will come from, Jesus does speak of a reward if we succeed. “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.” This implies a reward in heaven, but I believe that the rewards on earth are also great, in terms of changed relationships, restored families, and the establishment and extension of the “kingdom of heaven.” Heaven on earth!

Not only that, but when we act this way we become “his children,” just like our dad, for loving like that is what he does. What reward could be greater than feeling the Father’s delight, his pride and his joy?

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