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.
Matt 5:43-44 NIV
Loving people is hard. Loving unlovable people is particularly difficult. But loving your enemy? The command seems insane! But this is the love of Christ: “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). And this is why God calls us to love our enemies. He doesn’t call us to do something that he hasn’t already done.
T.D. Miles once said that Christianity is like one beggar showing other beggars where to find bread. Since we were enemies when God loved us, he calls us to turn around and love our fellow enemies. As beggars who have found undeserved bread, we can only show other beggars, even if they’re enemies, where to find bread. Anything less would be hypocrisy.
As much as I would like to draw boundaries around enemy-love, Jesus doesn’t. The Greek word for enemy (echthroi) is often used in the broadest sense to include religious, political, and personal enemies. In fact, the word echthroi is often used in the Old Testament of military enemies. This is why Jesus told his followers to carry the pack of a Roman solider—a military enemy—in the same context (Matt 5:41). Such ridiculousness would be a scandalous act of love. And in the same context, Jesus compares loving our enemies to the Father’s love for all people: the “just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). There is nothing in Jesus’s words that restricts the meaning of “enemy” to certain types of people. Jesus’s call to love our enemy is indistinguishable; it extends to every last person on the planet.
Jesus’s command to “love your enemies” was the most popular verse in the early church. It was quoted in 26 places by 10 different writers in the first 300 years of Christianity, which makes it the most celebrated command among the first Christians. Matthew 5:44 was the so-called John 3:16 of the early church. And enemy-love was the hallmark of the Christian faith. Other religions taught that people should love their neighbors. They even taught forgiveness for those who wronged them. But actually loving your enemy? Only Jesus and his followers took love this far. Because this is how far the love of God extends to us—“while we were God’s enemies” Christ loved us.
Christians no longer distinguish between neighbors and enemies. Through the death of Jesus, we are swept up into God’s love for all people—even enemies like us. The one who loves his enemies can no longer have any enemies. He is left only with neighbors.
Father, loving your neighbors is not always easy, and loving your enemies is impossible. It is impossible without you! Lord, we need you rip away our pride, our self-righteousness, our ‘rights’. We pray today, that you would radically shake up our lives, and help us to love our enemies in a way that could never be explained.