“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
I wrote a post a while back about my experience with learning God’s will in loving my enemies. You can read that post here.
Jesus was really very clear about how we are supposed to love our enemies. Besides the verse above and the one in Luke, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which demonstrates loving one’s enemies. In addition to that, Christ put his money where his mouth was by loving people who many others found completely unloveable. For example: his disciple, Matthew, was a tax collector.
In Jesus’s time, Jerusalem was occupied by Rome – that is “occupied” in the military sense – Rome defeated Israel and stationed its troops within the holy city. The Romans collected taxes from the locals to fund the occupation. To do so, they employed Jews to collect the taxes. So let’s break this down – Rome invaded Israel, installed military bases to enforce Roman law, and charged their subjects to continue occupying their lands. So tax collectors were viewed as collaborators and traitors. Suffice it to say they were not very popular. In fact, they were pretty much despised.
Jesus also showed love to the Roman soldiers, like when he healed the Centurion’s servant (you can read that story here).
Jesus also showed love to the Pharisees (who were part of the driving force behind his execution) such as when he brought Jairus’s daughter back to life.
So we know that we are supposed to love our enemies, and we know that Jesus loved the people widely considered to be the enemy in his time, and even people who were enemies specifically to him. But why? Why does God want me to love my enemies?
I believe parenting has helped me answer this question.
As a parent, so often I am greatly grieved by my children’s fighting. They can be so cruel to one another, both with their words and actions. I love all my kids, and it breaks my heart when they show hatred for each other. I think it’s the same with God.
Our father God loves each of his children, not just the ones we deem worthy of love. He knows each and every one of us down to the number of hairs on our head. He knows exactly why we are the way we are. He knows all our traumas and abuses and sins and flaws and he still loves us. We love because he first loved us. I believe, if we knew one another the way God knows each of us, it would be much easier to love each other. God wants us to love our enemies because even our enemies are his children.
So when you find yourself despising a person or group of people, ask yourself if they’re your enemy. It might be someone who annoyed you, cut you off in traffic, a whole political party, or even a person who did you real, measurable harm like an abusive parent* or an unfaithful partner*. It might seem impossible to love someone like that, but you can rest in the knowledge that God is love, and you can ask him to give you love for someone for whom you have no love of your own. That’s a prayer he will grant, because not only does God love that person or group of people, but he wants you to love them too.
*To be perfectly clear, loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to allow yourself to continue to be abused. Scripture requires love and forgiveness, which are not always the same as reconciliation. If you are in a bad situation, please contact protective services or abuse shelters in your area to get help.