Love Thine Enemy

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

— Matthew 5:43-48

Why should we love our enemies? “Are our enemies men like ourselves?” let me begin by asking. Yes. “Upon what ground? The ground of their enmity?” No. “In virtue of cruelty, heartlessness, injustice?” Certainly not. We do not call the offering of human sacrifices, the torturing of captives, and cannibalism, ‘humanity.’ The humanity of men who do such deeds lies in something deeper. It is in virtue of the divine essence which is in them that that we call our enemies men and women. It is this humanity that we are to love—something deeper altogether than, and independent of, the region of hate. “Is this humanity in every one of our enemies?” Yes, else there were nothing to love. Then we must love it, come between us and it what may.

But how can we love a man or a woman who is cruel and unjust to us? Who sears with contempt, who is self-righteous, self-seeking, self-admiring? Who can even sneer, the most inhuman of human faults, far worse in its essence than mere murder? These things cannot be loved. But are these the man? Lies there not within him a divine element of brotherhood, something which, once awakened to be its own holy self in the man, will loathe these unlovely things tenfold more than we loathe them now? Shall this divine thing have no recognition from us? Say rather, “My love shall come as near thee as it may; and when thine comes forth to meet mine, we shall be one in the indwelling God.”

Commentary

by Earle Canty

This is one of the great challenges of the Christian life.  How does one love what could easily be considered unlovable?  If one can muster love for the enemy, what is the manifestation of that love?  For the first question, we simply need to accept that sin is the only absolute yardstick for measuring lovability, which means that all humanity is unlovable.  While our sins are forgiven because of the reconciliation provided through faith in Christ, we still sin, so we remain unlovable.  What our enemies do is, at its core, sin.  Any attempt to prioritize which sins are greatest is a human endeavor.  Christ told us in Mark 3:29 that the only unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and refused to otherwise identify a prioritization of sin.  Therefore, there are no legitimate grounds for a Christian to refuse to love enemies.

The harder issue to grapple with is the manifestation of that love.  Loving one’s enemies does not mean acquiescing to them or allowing them to wreak havoc on people or property.  We are to love someone whose ideology instructs them to kill us, but we don’t have to let them kill us. 

Loving our enemies has two key behaviors.  The first is praying for them.  As I was discussing this topic with My Beloved (who I must confess is far more spiritual than I), she told me that when she first prays for an enemy, she always has to grit her teeth.  Gradually, as she continues to uphold that enemy in prayer, the need to grit her teeth dissipates.  Her prayer is that the enemy will turn to Christ and forego the behavior that has made them an enemy.  The second key behavior is to view and treat the enemy as a fellow human being, no better or worse than any other human being.  Though there may be circumstances that trigger in us the desire to mistreat them, we must step back and be mindful of the admonition that we should treat them as we would wish to be treated {Matt 22:39}.  This doesn’t mean that we should not punish them for crimes against humanity; it means that we must treat them respectfully and adhere to established practices for inflicting that punishment.