One of the hardest things Jesus ever told his followers was, “Love Your Enemies.” As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have been challenged by this command ever since I first read it. How do we truly love our enemies?
First, we have to decide who our enemies are. On a personal level, our enemies are those people who go out of their way to make life miserable for us. They deliberately try to do us harm, either mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually or socially. They are pretty easy to identify and I bet if I asked you who your enemies are, you could whip out a list pretty fast.
Next we have to look at who our enemies are on a broader scale. They may be the leaders of a country who are threatening to annihilate us or those who are working against our national interests in the international arena. The people in those countries may not actually be our enemies but are people at the mercy of the those in control of the government of their countries.
Then we have to look at who are not our enemies. Sometimes this takes rethinking the word “enemy.” Our teachers are not our enemy if they do not give us the grade we think we deserve in class. Our boss is not our enemy if he doesn’t give us the raise we think we are entitled to. Our parents are not our enemies if they don’t let us do everything we want to do. The judge is not our enemy if he gives us a fine for speeding. Anyone who holds us accountable for our actions or performance is not our enemy.
People of another political persuasion are not our enemies. They may not agree with our opinions and we may not agree with theirs, but that does not make them our enemy. They are mutual citizens of a country that needs differing political views in order to serve the common good. We need to resist the constant media barrage that seeks to pit those with one political view against another.
People of another religious persuasion are not our enemies. Believing something different than we do does not constitute grounds to classify someone as an enemy. There may be people on the fringe of a religious group that truly seeks to harm us, but the group as a whole are not our enemies.
Once we identify who and who are not our enemies, how do we treat them? How do we actually love them? Jesus continued on and said, “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” That sounds like a pretty tall order to me and it will take a major change in our present mindset in order to accomplish it.
Let’s break it down: “Bless those who curse you.” How do we do that? First, we do not curse them back, i.e. if they are swearing at us, we do not return fire with expletives. It takes practice, but when someone is going on a rant, we walk away. If we can, we say something positive to them or at least something that will help to diffuse the situation. We do not call them names, even under our breath. When these people are not on a rant, we may say something positive or uplifting to them, i.e. blessing them.
He then said: “Do good to those who hate you.” This is not easy stuff to swallow, let alone digest. We have to choose to do good to someone who has not had our best interest at heart. This may entail treating with kindness the shrew in the break room who is always gossiping about us or our friends. It may mean helping out a person who has been unkind to us in their time of need. Nothing speaks louder than when we purposely act kindly towards those who have not treated us well and do not deserve our kindness.
Finally, he said, “Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.” This is actually the key that will open our hearts and help us extend kindness to those who have been unkind to us. If we will spend time in prayer for those who have offended us, we will find our attitudes changing. When we ask for good things for them, the bad feelings we have inside begin to disappear. We begin to see them as the flawed people they are and we quit giving them power over our lives. When we want what is good and best for them, we will behave in a different manner towards them. Perhaps then we can even do what Jesus said. One day we may even be able to love them.