Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5.43–48), Part 2




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Do you have enemies?

If you don’t, consider yourself lucky. If you do, loving them probably isn’t an urgent item in your daily agenda, but it should be. Consider Jesus’ commandment: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5.44–45).

How do we love our enemies? First, tell the truth about them—they exist, they have harmed us, and they are morally responsible for their actions. Loving our enemies does not require denying or rationalizing away the hurt.

Such morally clear-sighted honesty is hard to come by in our ethically fuzzy age. Who are we to judge another’s actions, after all? We are morally competent adults who know the difference between right and wrong, for starters. And we have experienced firsthand the harm caused by others’ wrong actions. As such, we are qualified to name our enemies and evaluate their actions.

Second, choose to love them. What a difficult choice that is! Not long ago, I saw a documentary about a woman who had been sexually abused by her father when she was very young. For years, she simply avoided him, but finally she decided to confront him. The video of that confrontation was painful to watch. Worse, the father denied that what he had done was wrong. Unfortunately, her confrontation did not lead to his repentance; neither did it lead to a resolution of her deep and eminently justifiable anger at her dad.

We cannot hold onto our anger forever, though. If we try, it will destroy us. So, if for no other reason than our own spiritual and psychological wellbeing, we must learn to love our enemies and turn our anger into forgiveness. This is a hard choice and it should not be rushed into. Sometimes, we need to feel the anger first. But then, love.

What does enemy-love consist of? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13.4–8a). When you have been honest about your enemies, use Paul’s description of love as a checklist of the choices you must begin to make.

Ultimately, the strength to love our enemies must come from a power greater than our own. That is why Jesus commanded us to pray for them. What we cannot do, God can. So, how should we pray for our enemies? Pray that they stop hurting us and that God protect us from them. Pray that they acknowledge and repent of their harmful behaviors. Pray that their hearts be open to God’s amazing grace. Pray that reconciliation be achieved. And pray that your love play a role—however small—in the fulfillment of these other prayers.

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