Four foundational ways Jesus loved His enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt. 5:43–44)
This concept of loving our enemy is more than a great thought by a Leader respected in every culture. It’s a calling on the Christian life. A calling given to us from God himself. If we are honest, we walk away from Matthew 5:43-48 both nodding our head in agreement and hanging our head in defeat. We know the Sermon On The Mount is the skeletal outline of our God’s heart for humanity and that we as Christians are called to model that heart. Yet we also know how hard it is to love well those closest to us, let alone our enemy.
Our Leader led the charge on this for us. How can we be equipped to follow?
We live in a day and age where we can “unfriend” those who simply bug us. Maybe they have differing parenting techniques, homeopath preferences, leadership styles, or denominational affiliations. We can easily be drawn into internet trolling of trolls who troll us or our spouses and, once we find the offender, we can block every avenue of their contact with us.
I recently encountered a group of white supremacists who said hateful comments on Twitter about my mixed race family. I’m afraid I did not apply the message of Matthew 5:43-48. I wish I had. Instead, I followed the law of Twitter. I responded in what I thought was a clever comeback, drove my enemy to frustration, and then blocked them. “Touché!” I thought. But I had led no one closer to the heart of God.
It’s the temptation of every human to love ourselves first and others fifth. Those who offend, cause trouble, intimidate, or set themselves up against us, we “Block” virtually, emotionally, or physically. Yet if we are consistently only ever exposed to those who are exactly like us, then it follows that we are still only loving ourselves. Loving our enemy hasn’t even entered into the equation yet.
What must transpire in our hearts to get us to the point where we manage to not just hold back our finger from the “Unfriend” button, but where we actually love our enemy? What equipment has Christ left us with to follow Him in this calling?
Matthew 5:43-48 has four key actions we are to take toward our enemy.
Love: Jesus didn’t seek to protect Himself. His calling was to seek and to save the lost.
Even those he knew were betraying him. There are those Judas characters in every leadership team. How do I know this? Because we each have the power to become the Judas, once we get focused on self preservation, rather than seeking to save the lost. Jesus kissed Judas long before Judas betrayed Him with a kiss. Judas was able to get so close to Jesus because Jesus kept drawing him in. Christ didn't allow the actions of those who were weak in their sin to define His own behavior toward them. Rather, His behavior remained the same regardless. He was going to seek the lost, even if it killed Him.
Bless: Jesus embraced those He could have been tempted to 'other.'
People who were not accepted by anyone were embraced and blessed by Christ. The Samaritan woman was seen by the Jews as a half-breed at best. By men, she was seen as a woman with no rights and no worth. By women, she was seen as a woman who couldn't manage to stay married. This was a day and age where women could be disposed of for simply not pleasing their husband. She had no power to divorce, but had been divorced five times. Five men had found her unpleasing to them and so rejected her. At the well, Jesus teaches us to Identify and embrace those we are “othering” in our lives. Those who haven’t even made it to our Facebook page. Those who we’d easily find ourselves walking over to the other side of the road to avoid. We all have those people in our lives. What would happen if we sat down and got to know those we are “othering” and found out ways we could bless them?
Do good: Jesus didn’t allow the fear of Satan’s power to dictate who He’d love.
His love for the lost was greater than His love of His own reputation, His own safety, and His own comfort. Consider the Gerasene demoniac. There could be no greater spiritual outcast than a crazy naked man, living among the graves and feeding off the decaying flesh of the dead. We have social/spiritual outcasts in our day too. They are the ones hiding outside the walls of social and spiritual acceptability because they are so dominated by Satan’s plan. We know them in our lives as the ones being the most hostile toward us. The ones causing pain to themselves and anyone near them. Jesus didn’t focus on the evil coming out of the man. He focused on the healing He wanted to see in the soul, and He responded to the soul, not the situation.
Pray: Christ prayed forgiveness for those who had it out for Him.
He didn’t waste His time defending himself. Rather, Christ saw those who hurt Him as needing healing and He prayed into their lives. In Matthew 27:44, the thief began his time on the cross blaspheming and mocking Jesus. But at some point, he changed his tune and began defending Christ. Christ never defended Himself. The first recorded words of Christ on the cross are “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Perhaps it was hearing this that changed this enemy of God into a disciple. Perhaps simply hearing Christ pray forgiveness for His enemies got the thief thinking about the concept of being forgiven. Perhaps that prayer was wisely spoken aloud by Christ for that very reason.
We can never underestimate our prayers for those who are hostile toward us. They transform us and, as we’re transformed, we see our enemy with new eyes. God’s eyes. As C.S. Lewis wisely wrote, “I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”
I love the way The Message translates Matthew 5:43-48 for us to apply:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, 'Grow up.' You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Let’s keep growing!