When love is seen as nothing more than a fleeting emotion that we can’t control, that we fall in and out of, and that comes and goes in a completely arbitrary way, then it is impossible to obey the command of Jesus to love our enemies. So either something is seriously wrong with our understanding of love, or something is seriously wrong with Jesus. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? So exactly what was it that Jesus said?

 “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 sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

Jesus gives us a command that directs how we are to treat people with whom we have major conflicts. He does this in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount in which he has already told us that when we are sued for one thing, we should willingly give up even more. He also said that when someone forces us to do go a mile in order to serve them that we should volunteer to go an extra mile. It is a series of statements about the need to sacrifice our own comfort, position and avoid emotional knee jerk reactions in order to demonstrate a Christ-like character. The command to love our enemies is one more example in that chain.

Although love certainly has an emotional facet to it, it is also a verb, an action that we are to carry out. When Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church by laying down His life for her” he doesn’t say to do that only when they have warm, fuzzy feelings for their wife. He is saying that we love someone by the way we treat them, no matter how we feel about them. One way of understanding what Jesus is saying when He tells us to love our enemies is that we are to “be loving” by showing them the kindness that we would want shown to us. Jesus is including even our enemies in the definition of who the neighbor is that we are to love. We are to love them as we love ourselves.

He goes on to tell us to pray for those who persecute us. Your first emotional reaction might be to pray that God strikes them down and vindicates you. But when Jesus tells us to pray for those enemies who persecute us, He is telling us to pray that God blesses them. He is telling us to pray that God pours His grace upon them and leads them to a relationship with Him. He is telling us to pray for them in a way that love demands.

In doing this Jesus says we will show that we are children of our heavenly Father. That is what this is all about. How we respond to our enemies should demonstrate who God is. Our own feelings of anger and revenge and hurt are inconsequential compared to the opportunity we have to show people who our Father is and bring Him glory. 

Several years ago I was faced with a person who said and did some things that unjustly caused incredible pain for me and my family. My desire was to strike back but somehow God’s grace kept me from doing that. When his own life started to spin out of control and fall apart I did all I could to show him grace and mercy whenever I ran into him in the community. After two years he got in touch with me to ask forgiveness. He was trying to get his life back in order and get right with God. He told me that the grace I showed him was crucial in causing him to admit his own sin and turn back to Jesus. It was the love of Christ that made the difference. I could have reacted out of my emotion of hurt and anger or I could have acted with the love of Christ. Letting the love of Christ come through saved me from a life of bitterness and him from a life of estrangement from God. 

What motivated me time and again in that situation was the realization that such grace was exactly how God treated me when I was His enemy. The Bible makes it clear that prior to coming to faith in Christ, I was God’s enemy. Yet Jesus prayed for me in John 17 and demonstrated ultimate love by going to the Cross. If that is what Jesus did for me when I was His enemy, how much more should I show His love to fellow human beings who are my enemies? To deny that love to them is to deny the Cross in my own life. To refuse to pray that God bless those who persecute me is to deny that I am a child of my Father, it is to deny God the glory due Him.

Comments
  1. Often when I hear this text quoted it is to back up someone’s claim to Christian pacifism. I was wondering how you would respond to someone that says war is always wrong… because Christ said to “love your enemies” ?

  2. Dan Lacich says:

    Bobby, great question! I must admit that there is a real conflict in me when it comes to Christian pacifism. On the one hand it is very attractive and has a strong biblical base. On the other hand, sometimes I just want to smack someone who deserves it. 🙂

    Part of the issue for me is that the early church faced huge persecution and did so without retaliating. They followed this verse to the letter. But at the same time they served in the Roman legions and did not seem to have a conflict with that. When John the Baptist was asked by soldiers what they should do to repent, he did NOT tell them to leave the army. Instead he told them to be content with their wages and not use the power of their position to abuse people. I find that fascinating.

    So I think we need to make a distinction between how we respond to personal attacks against us, especially those that are motivated by a desire to persecute us for our faith, and the responsibility of governments to keep order. For instance, a purely pacifist position would mean that you should not be a police officer because you might have to kill someone to save someone else.

    Most people go to a miss-translation of the Ten Commandments to support a pacifist position. The King James translated the verse to say, “Thou Shall Not Kill”. But that is not the Hebrew. There is a word for murder and a word for kill. We have that distinction in English. I might kill someone accidently by hitting them with my car. I can also murder them by hitting them with my car if I intend to do so. The Hebrew in this case is the word for murder in a premeditated evil sense. If a police officer kills a person who is stabbing someone, then it is not murder.

    I fully understand Christians who take a compete pacifist position but I think the Bible only requires it as it relates to personal attacks on us and not in the defense of others or under proper civil authorities that are supposed to keep order. I think Romans 13 especially deals with the later point.

    Any thoughts?
    Dan

  3. I would completely agree with your response. In my own life I have determined that if I am being persecuted because of my faith in Christ I will certainly not retaliate. However, I do think there is a huge difference between killing and murdering… like you point out. Thanks for your quick response… I really appreciate your work through this blog. Talk to you later.

  4. […] all, it was Jesus who commanded that we not even hate our enemies but instead love them. (See  https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/provocative-bible-verses-love-your-enemies/) It was also Jesus who said the two most important things you could do were to love God with all […]

  5. Lynn says:

    I am needing some advice on forgiveness. I came across this blog, and am glad that I did. it is eloquently written. I recently flew a friend from Louisiana to NY for a visit. We had decided that since we were both struggling we would each pay for half the total cost of the trip since we both wanted the visit to take place. I was supposed to get my half when he arrived, since I made the purchases due to the fact that I was the only one with a credit card. Well… 2 weeks after his return to Louisiana, he has decided to blow me off. No explanation… no answer regarding the money… nothing. At first I was hurt… but now I am angry. I am a single mother, and could not afford this. I guess it was my mistake looking back, but I didn’t expect this from him. How could one Christian do this to another. How do I handle this properly? Make peace with the loss, and move on. I have been praying for peace, but I am going back and forth between crying, and being extremely angry.

  6. Dan Lacich says:

    Lynn, I have your email address and will send you a reply there. I completely understand the painful nature of this because it feels like betrayal from a friend. Sadly it is not uncommon. You will hear from me soon.
    Dan

  7. jemima says:

    Please forgive me for begging to differ again Dan, but I have just read this post and I am prompted to add some relevant information if I may, regarding the First Christians and the military…
    In your reply to Bobby you mentioned that John the Baptist did not recommend that Jewish soldiers leave the Roman army.
    Some research will uncover an interesting fact about the first Christians. Unlike their Jewish predecessors, Christians were to live under the “Law of Love”. It was a completely different arrangement. When Jesus’ disciples were persecuted and flogged for their preaching activity, they were ordered by the religious leaders “not to preach on the basis of Jesus’ name.” Their response is an example for all of us,….”In answer Peter and the [other] apostles said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
    Early Christians took that directive seriously and refused to serve in the Roman army, considering such service as wholly incompatible with the teachings of Christianity. Justin Martyr, of the second century C.E. says “A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [121-180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.” (The Rise of Christianity, by E. W. Barnes, p. 333)
    “The behavior of the Christians was very different from that of the Romans. . . . Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers.” (Our World Through the Ages, by N. Platt and M. J. Drummond, 1961, p. 125)
    “While they [the Christians] inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire. . . . It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, Vol. I, p. 416.
    So it appears that military service and even political office was not for Christians.
    When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he was shown “all the kingdoms of the world in an instant of time” and then he offered them all to Jesus in exchange for “one act of worship”. What he said in Luke 4:6 is significant…”the Devil said to him: “I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it.” The devil has authority over all the kingdoms of the world (Jesus never disputed this) and can give this authority to “whomever he wishes”. It is no accident that, in a world ruled by the devil, a Christian would have no part in its conflicts and bloodshed. God does not sanction wars in a world ruled by his adversary. The Christian arrangement was the end of bloodshed. There is no directive of any description for a Christian to take up arms or to take a life under any circumstances.
    If this had been made plain to the soldiers fighting in two World Wars, then maybe we would have seen a totally different outcome.

  8. terrie says:

    dear jemima, you sound like a jw or one who is leaning towards it? am i right? because only a jw would think or talk in the way you do….i also do not believe your name is jemima or that you are a female…..

  9. Jemima says:

    It doesn’t matter what label we wear Dan, only those who “do the will of the Father” will be saved.
    The fact that you cannot defend a Christian’s involvement in warfare, nor really address any of the issues I have raised on this site, I hope will help people to at least think twice about what they read here.
    True Christianity can’t be ‘mainstream’ because only “few” find ‘the road to life’. The many churches of Christendom all believe basically the same things, their core beliefs all come from an apostasy foretold in the Bible; (Acts 20: 29, 30) “The Christ exists divided” in all those many churches. Sectarianism killed the Jewish religion. It’s what made Jesus reject the hypocritical religious leaders back in his day. They had deviated so much from the original form of worship prescribed by God on Mt Sinai that God cast them off after fulfilling his covenant promise to Abraham. (Providing the seed of promise.) The same thing has happened again. Christianity is polluted with pagan teachings. Christendom bears little resemblance to first century Christianity, in its activity, presentation and beliefs.
    Eph 4:3-6 says, “earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace. One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all [persons], who is over all and through all and in all.”
    Can the splintered churches of Christendom claim to fulfill that requirement? (1 Corinthians 1:10, 13)
    You can play with the Scriptures all you like but you can’t deny the central truth. It is God who reveals his truth to those whose minds have not been blinded. (2 Cor 4:3, 4)
    And for the record Dan, I AM female (not the ditzy variety,) and my name IS Jemima. The fact that you assume I am male is a little condescending. Are serious Bible students only male?
    I am a Christian,….I am not just a label wearer, nor am I posting on this website just to be contrary. When I see people promoting their ideas about Christianity in a public forum, then I feel it is my obligation to speak up and correct any unscriptural ideas that I see. I owe it to those less educated to help them appreciate that there is more than one way to read a Scripture. They also need to know that just because you call yourself a Christian, doesn’t mean you are. It doesn’t mean that you are not sincere,…..simply misled. (By experts) (2 Cor. 11:14, 15)

  10. Dan Lacich says:

    Jemima, I am not the one who asked if you were a JW or if you really are female and named Jemima. You need to read more carefully. I also think you need to recognize how gracious I have been with you in allowing you to share on this site. As the author of the blog I allow what comments get posted. Even though I disagree with your understanding if the Bible and think it wrong, I have engaged in the discussion and allowed others to do so as well.
    You have very definite ideas about the soul, eternal life, what happens after death and a couple of other issues. This thread got started from a posting about Jesus being the only way to heaven. You focused in on the immortal soul part of that and asked what biblical justification I had for the idea of a soul and how that squared with a resurrection of the body. I answered that question with appropriate scripture. You just disagree with what I said those scriptures teach. I see no reason to state that again. You have a different take on them. It is clear that we have talked out this one as far as it will go without repeating the same things again. I don’t have a party line that I spout. I have studied in numerous universities that are very different from one another and have come to the conclusion I have based on my understanding of God’s Word and not a party line.
    I am fully aware of my responsibility as a teacher of God’s Word and that I will be judge more severely because of that. I am also very aware of the God of grace whom I serve and trust that through Jesus Christ, I will spend eternity with Him in whatever physical/spiritual state that looks like.

    I think it is time to move on from this topic.
    Dan

  11. Jemima says:

    Fair enough. I stand corrected. It was Terrie who was condescending. (The print is very small though) I am grateful for your patience and your graciousness. You have allowed me to have my say and I respect that. I shall trouble you no further on this issue.

  12. terrie says:

    wow, jemima, i apologize if i insulted your name or femininity, not my intention….and i am not condescending, just appalled! so many christians will see this and i feel it is my responsibility in my christian ministry to warn them of the words and views of jw’s. just the way you refer to christianity as christendom is a term used by jw’s. this is a key word they use to brainwash people against christians, evangelists, churches and even Christ Himself! even church buildings are considered evil! that is why a jw will not attend a wedding if it is in a church building other than their kingdom hall, nor will they attend a funeral if it is inside a church building or any familial event if it is in a church building. just a little not understood fact that christians are not really aware of. the brainwashing is very serious. but, anyway…Dan, i do agree with your original explanation and would like to carry it with me in my bible for future use if that is ok with you? it is very eloquent and straight to the point, i really appreciate the way you posted it! the way i see it, and this here is my opinion, paccifists and jw’s alike cannot see that without armed forces, our border and everyone inside it will not be protected and that would mean no more U.S.A.! i have no doubt Jesus was not against the armed forces, then or now. Dan, i know you suggested we move on from this topic, i just had to say my piece, ok? but from now, unless i am directly asked about this subject, i will back down now! sorry Dan, i apologize if i have upset you in anyway. so in saying that, i end this by saying God Bless you Dan and thank you for this forum! signed, so there is no mistake, Terrie <

  13. Dan Lacich says:

    Terrie
    We’re good. I have no problem with what you have said or how you have said it. The issue I am moving on from is the whole question of an immortal soul. Jemima and I have very different views of what scripture teaches and that is not going to change. Thanks so much for being a part of the discussions here and please feel free to comment on any and every topic that God puts on your heart. Also, make use of what you find here in whatever way helps you get people closer to Jesus.
    Dan

  14. terrie says:

    thank you Dan! i appreciate that! i have to tell you i stumbled into here looking for a scripture that was key to jackie robinson’s carrying on in the baseball league…i found out quite by accident, that although everyone believes it was ‘the turn the other cheek’ scripture, but i found out yesterday he resented it cuz he misunderstood it, and it was a completely different scripture that rickey gave him that helped his thinking evolve to understand the true meaning of turning the other cheek…..it was quoted so fast, i could not remember the scripture, and i know i have read it before, perhaps you can help me find it? the only part i can vaguely remember, and i blame this on old timer’s memory loss 😉 ….ok, this is what i remember….something about if we return evil for evil then what good are we cuz then we are on the same level as those whose deeds are low….ok, something like that and i am completely paraphrasing it! i honestly believe it is in the old testament, but for all i know it is in the new? if you can help me with that, i would truly appreciate it! thanks, Terrie <

  15. Dan Lacich says:

    Terrie,

    I think you might be thinking about this section from Romans. Let me know if that is it.
    Dan
    17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d]says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e] 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

  16. terrie says:

    Dan, i know that ‘sounds’ like it, but i specifically remember the words, ‘being on the same level’. paraphrasing it, it went something like this, “do not act like them, cuz then you are on the same level as them and how are you better than them? or how can you show the Goodness of God in those actions?” i did look up that scripture yesterday in romans, and i thought that was it too, but it lacked those words ‘being on the same level as them’…so i am going crazy looking for it ! you know? if you can help me find it, that is why i think it is in the old testament….ok, thanks, Terrie <

  17. Jemima says:

    If I may, I would like to reply to Terrie. My dictionary defines “Christendom” as…”Christians worldwide, regarded as a collective body” Do you have a problem with my dictionary? And as for your take on JW’s, where on earth do you get your information from? Whether a person attends a wedding or funeral in a church, regardless of the denomination is up to the individual. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a building as far as I am aware.
    I assume that in times past a Protestant would not be caught dead in a Catholic church and vice versa. To say that someone is ‘brainwashed’ simply for disagreeing on the interpretation of Scripture is a little harsh, don’t you think?
    How do you know it’s not you who is brainwashed? What on earth do JW”s do that is so dreadful? They are peace loving, law-abiding Christians who take the command to preach the ‘good news’ to their neighbors very seriously. Do we expect real Christians to be well spoken of? Acts 28:22 tells us the attitude of people in the first century toward Jesus’ disciples,…”for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” They called the first Christians “a sect”. It didn’t mean they were. They were not well regarded by people in general. Why? Because they were different. And they dared to take a different message to the people, “house to house” (Acts 20:20). The religious leaders hated them and incited people against them! What’s new?
    I personally find JW’s to be the nicest people I have ever met. I also find their explanation of Scripture to be at least logical…..which is more than I can say for “Christendom”.
    Disagreement should never foster hatred. You are very scathing in your attack and I feel it is unwarranted. When the best form of defense is attack it is usually because there is no defense. Surely we can keep the personal attacks out of the discussions here because we are all entitled to our opinion, right or wrong. Agreed?
    And on the issue of Christians participating in war….what happened to ‘beating our swords into ploughshares’? (Isa 2:4)

  18. amy says:

    thank you for this.

    my family and i are often ‘persecuted’ for not being ‘christian enough’ by family that is very… well let’s just say judgmental. especially towards myself.

    it’s very hard. to have the peace of god, but then to be judged by your own brothers and sisters in christ for not being ‘good enough’ (meaning, same convictions, etc

    anyway, thank you, this has been my lenten focus… to pray for them.

  19. Dan Lacich says:

    Amy,
    I pray that God gives you the grace to show them what it means to love Jesus and your neighbor and not have a judgmental spirit about things that are not the most important. Just keep following Jesus and let Him use your witness to make a difference for others.
    Dan

  20. amy says:

    thank you.

    i truly appreciated and needed that.

    this was part of my devotion for today

    one of the hardest things to achieve in life is to not care about what others think of us. we relinquish too much to others when obsessed by what they think. does it really matter what others think of us, how they see us?

    no, it doesn’t matter- in the sense that what matters most for our lives is how god sees us. jesus knew that many did not believe in him. in fact, he knew that people spoke ill of him. instead of trying to please these folks, acquiesce, win them over by changing, by adapting his message and deeds to please them, or to gain their recognition, their praise, their glory, he remained true to god’s judgment of him. perhaps this is the real meaning of the voice he heard in him saying, “in you i am well pleased.”

    (loving our enemies is possible when we are secure in christ.- me)

  21. Dan Lacich says:

    Amy,
    thanks so much for your comment and encouragement. It was wonderful to see you back again and I look forward to more of what you have to share with us.
    Dan

  22. michelle says:

    OK, a few things I want to note….although it has been a long time since the last comment. If there were not any wars the Jewish, God’s chosen people, would have surely perished in the holocaust. If God did not work in the mind of America to do something about the terrible crimes against humanity, I doubt there would even be the remnant to be spoken of. (which God always promised there would be a remnant). God would not have spoken about His protection and provision through out the wars and battles of the Old Testament nor would He had included these verses in Ecclec.3: 1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:…8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. And Jesus never forbid the disciples to carry swords, he never was against defending ones self against physical abuse (except when He knew it was His time to die for mankind). I believe to be in the military during this time, you would have to be 100 percent devoted to the military and your government and King, you cannot serve two masters in that capacity. The practices of the empire, did not line up with Biblical teachings, therefore you could not reasonably do both. Kind of as our government is leading up to these days.

    Matthew 5:39-41

    39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (This verse was clearly define in the other blog)

    40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

    41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

    I also wanted to add that the practices which were common to that day, when these verses where written can give a greater understanding here. In those times it would not be uncommon for the Roman guards to commandeer a Roman citizen to carry their load for up to one mile, after the mile the guard could be charged with abuse of a citizen. So to go with him the extra mile would turn the guard to asking, possibly even begging him to drop his pack or else he could be charged.
    Same with giving them your cloak also. When someone takes you for everything you have it would be unlawful to take the cloak which is the undergarment you are wearing because it would leave you naked which was sinful in the Jewish culture. If you were to give him your undergarment, showing them they now had everything you owned and now you owed them nothing, the crime would be in a sense back on them because their lack of compassion and greed caused you to be in a sinful state of nakedness. These are said in a sense of turning the possibly, unfair, undeserving, uncompassionate behavior back on them for their own demise.

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