Love Your Enemies
“You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them who curse you, do good to them who hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” —Matthew 5:43-44
About 25 or 30 years ago, I was in a department store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, looking at some clothes. I was shocked when a little boy, who was about 4 or 5 years old, walked up to me and said, “I hate you.”
About 35 or 40 years ago, when I was the associate pastor of the First Assembly of God church in Columbia, Missouri, one of my responsibilities was weekly ministering in the Boone County jail. I was allowed to sing a song, preach a sermon, distribute literature, and visit with the inmates in the cellblocks. I was shocked when one of the inmates told me through the bars, “You are the Devil.”
I did not know either of these people and, to my knowledge, had never met them before, and yet, there was an inherent hate and animosity toward me.
The verses from Matthew give a description of what happens when a person hates someone. To hate means “to detest, despise, and abhor a person because of a real or imagined hurt or offense.” It includes holding a grudge, bitterness, and desiring revenge. The other person is called an enemy, which is “someone who is hostile, antagonistic, at war with, has enmity, and opposes the other person.” He curses, or desires harm, injury, evil, or misfortune to the person he hates. He also despitefully uses or falsely accuses, insults, treats abusively, reviles, and threatens him. Finally, he persecutes or drives away by harassing, troubling, and mistreating. Hate is also murder (I Jn. 3:15), which is “premeditated destruction of another physically (Ex. 20:13) or otherwise.” This could include socially or legally, and includes discrediting character and reputation.
However, instead of hating back and returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), reviling when reviled, or threatening with judgment when caused to suffer (I Pet. 2:23), Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Mat. 5:44). This is a godly, supernatural love that man cannot produce, but it can only be produced in a Christian as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is giving and expecting nothing in return, regardless of the response. It does not depend on feelings, but is an unselfish, sacrificial giving of self (Jn. 15:13). It is not given only after conditions are met (Rom. 5:8), or in order to get something in return. It is a love that is more concerned about the benefit of the other person.
Specifically, Jesus tells believers three ways this love should be manifested by Christians to enemies:
- First, to bless means to ask God to bring them to where He can give them increase, prosperity, and fulfillment spiritually and materially.
- Secondly, it is doing them good by feeding them if they are hungry, giving them drink if they are thirsty, showing them the same mercy God has given, and overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:20-21).
- Finally, praying that God would meet every need in their hearts, families, finances, health, and work.
These kinds of changes in reactions and attitudes can only come by allowing the Lord to heal the hurts, help to forgive, and change hearts from hate to love. This happened between the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, in their self-righteous legalism, despised the Gentiles to the extent that they believed Gentiles were incapable of being right with God. However, because of their faith in who Christ is and what He did on the Cross, the separation between them was abolished. He made one new man from both of them by reconciling them to God into one body (Eph. 2:13-16). So, they received His love and were brought together in the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and the faith (Eph. 4:13). This was then, and still is now, the only answer to hate, racism, and prejudice.