The Power of Loving My Enemy

This teaching of Jesus sounds naive, but it isn't.

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Battle Lines Have Been Drawn

Everywhere I look, battle lines have been drawn.

There are the old and familiar political lines between Democrats and Republicans, who have been firing heavy artillery for generations. Battlefronts exist along racial lines and religious lines. Trench warfare exists between those with different stances on all kinds of issues, from abortion to economics to the environment. New lines have been carved across the nation that have cut through churches, school administrations, businesses, and families. It is an unexpectedly deep and contentious rift between those who are willing to wear masks and those who aren’t. Between those who are eager to be vaccinated and those who refuse.

COVID-19 is a disease that launched a war. 

The Question for Every Disciple

The question I’m asking is this: “How does Jesus want me to fight with those on the other side of the battle lines?” As his ambassador to the world, what weapon has he given me to engage in the battle, regardless of the enemy? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48.

43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Did you catch the weapon Jesus calls us to wield against our enemies? If you missed it, read the passage again. 

The weapon is love. 

You may be thinking that is a naive response to persecution or as a tool for engagement on social media with those who ridicule, revile, and curse you, or just differ with you on any manner of topics.

Love my enemy? I don’t even like my enemy? 

But love has nothing to do with liking someone. 

What is Love?

Part of the problem is that we think love is primarily an emotion. But love, true, biblical, agape love, is not primarily an emotion. It is an action. Love is something we do to or for someone else that blesses them. It is often costly, requiring great personal sacrifice. 

As a costly sacrifice, love is a gift. This means that to love someone not only has nothing to do with liking them, it is not a gift for the deserving. As grace, love is a gift to the undeserving! 

The Apostle John puts it like this in 1 John 4:9-10,

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus loved me when an enemy. Utterly undeserving of blessing.

Nevertheless, he aimed his love at me, demonstrating in the most practical way what loving an enemy looks like by suffering for me upon a cross, receiving in himself the condemnation I deserved. By his wounds, I am healed of my sinful condition and counted righteous as the beloved of God. 

Being the object of love rewires my affections, which becomes a powerful element of agape love. The act of love leads to the affection of love.

Using the classic “since/then” syllogism, John goes on in verse 11 to say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, [then] we also ought to love one another.”

Becoming More Like Jesus

In view of the cross, we now understand why Jesus would say something as outlandish as “love your enemies.”  He is saying, “Do something practical to bless your enemy.” Just like I did for you.

Whoever is across the battle line as an enemy—whatever the line might be, whether politics, religion, race, or wearing masks—the place to begin your posture of engagement is to pray for them, clothe them, feed them, ask for the blessing of God to rain upon them. 

What we find is that loving our enemies will have a huge impact on them. But it also will have a huge impact on me as the one doing the blessing. In return, I am blessed. Something takes place in me that softens my self-righteousness and draws me nearer to Jesus. 

I find that I am becoming more like Jesus.

As I consciously live as a recipient of such mercy, I am filled with the Spirit and have a new desire and ability to love as I have been loved. In so doing, I will begin to reflect the heart of God to the world and become a visible expression of the Father on earth.

Yes, even on social media.

Getting Practical

A number of years ago, it became popular to wear bracelets with the letters WWJD inscribed upon them— “What Would Jesus Do?” I know that some resist asking that question because of concerns that WWJD will turn the gospel into moralistic behaviorism. 

Some say a better question is to ask, “WDJD,” or “What Did Jesus Do?” 

If WWJD is the question sanctification asks, WDJD is the question justification asks. I appreciate that distinction. We are not saved by what we do but by what Jesus has done in our place. No question and amen!

But there is plenty of biblical evidence to justify using WWJD when it comes to loving our enemies. This is especially true when we realize that sanctification, at its root, is learning to love like Jesus. Therefore, John can write, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Even when “one another” is standing across enemy lines, whether political lines, religious lines, racial lines, or COVID lines. In fact, anyone with whom I differ can be a type of “enemy”. It may be someone on TV, a spouse, a child, a parent, someone on Facebook or Twitter, a boss, a friend in the church, in a homeschool group, or on a soccer team.

It may be helpful to identity those in your life RIGHT NOW you would consider an enemy? Name them. Write them out on a 3x5 index card if that helps.

Now, pray for that person or people by name. Ask God the Father to bless them and do good to them. Maybe they are not a believer and need the kindness of God to lead them to repentance. Maybe they are a believer. The same kindness is what changes us into people who, having been loved as enemies, learn to love our enemies in return.

I had a friend tell me the more he exercised the challenge to pray for his enemies the more he actually began to feel an affection for them. He felt a camaraderie with them as a fellow sinner in need of God’s mercy. It tenderized his heart in the best way possible.

If you want a more tender, Jesus-like heart, pray—really pray—for those whom you consider enemies.

And consider what their needs are. What do they lack? How can your gifts bless them? Don’t ask. Just look. Then, go and meet that need as a simple act of kindness—as an act of grace, or what we call practical love.

Not Natural but Possible

Loving an enemy is not natural. My flesh wants to win the argument and defeat my enemies, not listen to them for understanding and love them with costly sacrifice—or even simple kindness and respect. My sinful nature is built to maim, kill, and destroy. Rather than use the weapon of love, I use the weapons of the world: intimidation and cancellation.

So, loving an enemy is not natural, but it is possible… in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we abide in Jesus as our Justifier, he empowers us as our Sanctifier by filling us with his Spirit, who then enables us to manifest the fruit of the spirit, the chief of which is love. Not the sappy, sentimental love of a Hallmark Card or country song (and I enjoy country music, by the way), but the costly, sacrificial, dying to self kind of love displayed in the cross by Jesus, who gave himself for an enemy like me.

An Enemy Becomes a Son

Maybe you are not ready to admit to being an enemy of God. If you are a disciple of Jesus now, it is hard to feel like an enemy of the Savior. However, sin is by definition defiance to the authority, ways, wisdom, and will of God as King. 

Every sin is a shaking of my fist in his face. And yet Jesus loved me unto death, turning an enemy into a son. 

That is the power of the gospel. 

This is the power of love. 

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