Love My Enemies? Really?

I am working through Scot McKnight’s The Story of God Bible Commentary: Sermon on the Mount. It has been intriguing and inspiring, yet rather intrusive into my life.  Today I was in Matthew 5:43-48—and Jesus’ words about loving your enemies were just plain intimidating.


Key questions came out in this study:  Whom are we to love?  What does that love look like?  Who is my neighbor?  Who is my enemy?

Whom are we to love?  Jesus summarized the greatest commandments by affirming what the Torah taught:  Love God.  Love your neighbor.

Then Jesus astounds all his listeners—and you and me—with this impossible command:  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…” (Matthew 5:44)

Dr. McKnight takes pages to explore this passage and the questions I mentioned above.  My main question here is “how do I love my enemy?”

A summary of what it means to love:  To love as God loves—to be with and for them, sacrificially seeking their good, praying for them.

That kind of love usually comes most easily with family (unless they have become the enemy).  It is more challenging when applied to “neighbor” when we think of neighbor as the person next door or a friend at work or school or church.But we know that Jesus later defines neighbor as anyone with a need we can help meet—even when that person might be considered our enemy.

So who is my enemy, your enemy?  And how do we love them? It’s easy to look at the broad strokes of enemy—those who seek to harm us, especially at a geo-political level.  As individuals we can at least follow Jesus’ instructions to pray for them.  Even when their actions are cruel and despicable, we can remember that God has expressed His love for them and ask Him how we can choose to love, not hate.Often “enemy” applies to those we differ with:  Different political views, or cultural standards, or ethnic background, or skin color, or religious beliefs.  Occasionally these differences lead to hatred, but more often they stimulate negative feelings, critical words, antagonistic attitudes.

Because I strongly believe that God made women in His image and desires to use them fully in His Kingdom building, I am an advocate for full stewardship of God’s daughters and their gifts.  I sometimes find I can have rather negative thoughts about those who would oppose and limit the possibilities for women in ministry.  I can be critical and oppositional.  And not very loving.

So how do I love those I disagree with or in other ways find I am in an adversarial place with?  I pray for them.  I make sure all my words to them and about them are filled with grace.  I look for ways we agree or can affirm each other.  I seek to be a friend, a neighbor, to be with and for those who might even be considered enemies.

Sometimes the most difficult “enemies” are in our own families.  Perhaps they have put us down or “not been there for us” or shamed us. Maybe that have abused or misused or abandoned us or another we love. Possibly we have had to separate or flee for safety or sanity for ourselves, our children, others we love.

Does Jesus mean we are to love those who have betrayed us and hurt us and not loved us?  As hard as that might seem, I believe He asks us to do just that.

Some years ago a family member hurt us in many ways.  He disrespected us, used and abused our home, stole from us and our children.  He invited his friends in and they did the same.  Yes, boundaries had to be set.  Expectations clarified.  Respect requested.  Removal required.

But most important, love extended.  Prayer, mercy, forgiveness, help, attention and affection were not withheld, but were freely given.

Change took time, but love won.  Relationship was restored, estrangement reconciled. Is everything perfect?  No.  But hope grows out of love.

This requirement from Jesus—to love our enemies—is radical, impossible for us who “are dust.” (Psalm 103:14)  So Jesus showed us how it is done.  For we were His enemies, yet He loved us, sought us, died for us, reconciled us, adopted us, called us friends and invited us to join Him in a labor of love to the world—and to our “neighbors.”

And gratefully He sent His Spirit to live in us and fill us with that love of Jesus—even for our enemies.

What about you?  Do you have an enemy to love?

C 2014 Judy Douglass

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Sermon on the Mount  Zondervan, by Scot McKnight