“Love your enemies”

These amazing words were spoken by Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee some 2000 years ago.

What is an enemy?

An enemy is hostile: he hates you, wants to harm you, and actively seeks ways of damaging you and your interests.

In open warfare an enemy tries to kill you, or failing that, to destroy your livelihood.

In mutual warfare, both sides are enemies of each other and try to kill each other and to destroy each other’s infrastructure. Both sides use the hostile acts of the other to justify their own hostilities.

Most of us can thank God that we have never lived in a war zone. We cannot even understand how thankful we should be that we were not in Nanking in December of 1937 when foreign solders murdered 200,000 civilians, or in London during the blitz of 1940 and 1941, or in Dresden in February of 1945, or in Hiroshima or Nagasaki in August of 1945.

Yet, everyone must deal with enemies.

It might be hostility at work or at school. It might be hostility from neighbors or from people of a different race, tribe, social group or religion. It might be hostility among relatives.

Enemies are not easy to love!

Yet Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Did Jesus have enemies?

The Messiah would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him” (John 7:1). Jesus told His followers that enemies would “mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him” (Mark 10:34). “Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him” (Matthew 26:3, 4).

While dying on the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Yes, Jesus loved His enemies.

Actually, He loved us while we were His enemies: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:6-10).

Who was victorious at the cross, Jesus or His enemies?

Followers of Christ “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Being a Christian is not for cowards. To follow Christ, we must be willing to fight to the death. But “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4).

In carnal warfare generals are appointed who know how to win battles. Soldiers must obey orders. They hope their general knows what he is doing. A worldly soldier tries to stay alive by killing.

We have a General who really does know what He is doing. His strategy is simple, but it requires tremendous bravery: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). A soldier of Christ loves his enemies and “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

There is one enemy we may not love!

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8, 9).

“Love your enemies” is a command to attack, to conquer evil with good!

When the devil throws hatred at us, it is a trick. He wants us to pick it up and throw it back.

Jesus issues His soldiers good weapons.

First, we protect ourselves with the shield of faith, which enables us “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16). Hatred bounces off the shield of faith.

Then we attack! We wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

We use the ‘stun gun’ of love. Jesus loved His enemies. And the words of the Roman centurion who crucified Him, reverberate through the centuries, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Our Commander knows how to be victorious!

“Love your enemies!” Overcome evil with good! “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).

“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16).

Our King is victorious over evil.

How are we to treat enemies according to the Word of God?

Even the old covenant commands kindness to enemies.

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it” (Exodus 23:4, 5). It is acknowledged that you may not want to help him, but that you must anyway.

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21, 22).

Paul quotes this passage when he tells us how to treat enemies. After saying: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2), he lists ways to do this, including: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

What does the King of kings say about treatment of enemies?

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:27-29).

Jesus says this to those ‘who hear’. Many refuse to listen.

A Jewish rabbi, who was quite familiar with the New Testament, said to a Christian: “Jesus taught many good things, but I can never accept that I must offer the other cheek when someone hits me. That’s not human!” The Christian replied: “I agree. That’s not human, that’s divine!”

“Love is of God” (1 John 4:7). Christians are empowered to love the humanly unlovable because “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back” (Luke 6:32-34).

Jesus wants our love to be altruistic. The genuineness of love is proven when it is undeserved. Its power is stunning when it is unexpected. Repeatedly showing God’s love to an enemy may undermine his hatred and draw him to the light. Even if it does not, good vanquishes evil in the end.

“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:35, 36).

Jesus wants us to be like the Father who sent His Son to rescue His enemies. Jesus loved us when we were His enemies. Following His example, we love our enemies, and with His help, triumph over evil by doing good. Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive