Loving Our Enemies

Love is the distinctively Christian virtue.

Such an assertion requires explanation, for we live in days in which love is universally lauded. Indeed, the greatest black mark on person’s character today is to be, in the vernacular, a hater. So to say that love, genuine love, belongs exclusively to Christians is an audacious claim.

In Matthew 5, Jesus preaches a sermon on the Law. In each section, he reveals that the commandment is not kept by mere external obedience, but by an obedience of the heart.

The culmination of his argument is found in verses 43–48. There, he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Don’t misunderstand: Jesus isn’t teaching that we become God’s children by loving our enemies. Rather, he’s working on the principle of “like father, like son.” If God gives good gifts (like sunshine and rain, both needed in an agricultural setting) to the evil and the good alike, we show our family resemblance to our Father if we too love both friends and enemies.

And then he makes this point: if you don’t love your enemies, you’re just like those who aren’t God’s people. Even the Gentiles love people who love them back. That is to say: loving your enemies is a defining mark of whether you’re a child of God.

But how in the world are we supposed to love our enemies? How can we ever desire good for people who desire our hurt? How can we forgive those who have wounded us? How can be for the very people who stand against us?

From the perspective of this world, this kind of love can only be counted foolishness. How often are we told that we must love ourselves before anyone else will love us? The relentless message of this world is that you have to protect yourself. If you want justice, you have to go get it yourself.

Do you see that this is precisely the opposite of what Jesus demands of his disciples? And do you see why this opens a deep chasm, then, between genuine Christianity and all else? Christians are commanded to love their enemies, and this makes no sense to those of this world.

We are to love those who desire to harm us. But note: we do not give up justice here. Jesus’s own words indicate this: we love our enemies. We are not simply pretending their evil away. We love them, even while recognizing the evil as evil.

But we love them, because we are to have perfect confidence that, in the end of all things, Jesus Christ will judge in the world in perfect justice. I can love my enemies, I can seek good for those who seek my evil, not because I’ve gone squishy on justice. I can do this because I know the one before whom all people will one day give account. They do not answer to me.

Such love is the true test of whether we trust the goodness and justice of Jesus. I trust him to do right, and then I love—even my enemies—as he has commanded.