43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
One of the most difficult commands God gives us in Scripture is to love your enemies. How do we love people who not only get on our nerves but who have seriously wronged us? God says that there is no reward in loving those who love you. What reward do we have in loving our enemies and how does God expect us to accomplish this impossible feat?
Lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been going about loving my enemies all wrong. It feels easier to love the people I get along with and that love me in return. I often look to these relationships to help me learn to love my enemies. When I look at the way I love my friends and family I see affection, generosity, patience, and understanding and try to apply these to my relationships with enemies. At best, this strategy makes me look like a better person. Someone who is nice in the face of adversity. But I don’t love them. I wouldn’t lay my life down for them.
Loving people who love you back does not teach us about the biblical way we are called to love. Loving people who hate us and who have wronged us reveals that love is not based on condition nor emotion.
Jesus showed us what true love was by laying his life down for us ( John 15:13-15). Yes, he considered his followers friends but we forget that he died for us when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). In one single act Christ taught us how to love our friends and our enemies. What did his love look like? Agony, sacrifice, and death on our behalf. True love is not easy, it is painful.
When we are called to love our enemies we must not be mistaken to think that because God commanded it, it will be easy. It seems like an impossible thing to do because it is impossible. He gives us the command with an expectation to rely on him to do it, just as Jesus did.
Jesus loved his friends and enemies (us) in the same way. In the garden of Gethsemane he asked God to take the task from him but God still called him to it. He agonized in the garden in prayer and ultimately relied on the Spirit to bring himself to accomplish his task. Our proof of his love is in the cross and the power for us to receive that love is in his resurrection.
That power is for us today. And we must remember that love is always hard. God does not give us the command to love our enemies lightly and he doesn’t give us the command to love our brothers lightly either. But loving our enemies show us that truly loving someone means that you will suffer. It requires you to die to yourself. To die to your pride, your selfishness, your fear. It means offering all of these to Christ as he leads you to humble yourself before those who hate you and who have hurt you. Just as he did for us.