How do you love an enemy?

We may have every intention to forgive and love like Jesus asked us to. But what if the person in question refuses to reconcile and behaves like an enemy?

2 figures shaking hands, enemy

If we have followed Jesus’ instructions for reconciliation and the person refuses to reconcile, what do we do? True to form, Jesus’ advice goes against every instinct we have when someone hurts us. He tells us to love our enemies, to actively seek their good, and to care for the people we can’t stand. Jesus shows us how to love our enemies, taking examples from everyday life:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:38-41) 

Moses was the first to say, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. This was not a prescription for revenge, but for curbing our natural reactions. Instinctively, we take two eyes for one, two teeth for one. We don’t want equal justice, we want to punish, to extract more from them than they took from us. Here Jesus raises the bar of love to extraordinary heights, commanding not only that we love enemies, but also that we actively seek their good. Lest we miss the point, he mentions the legal right of a Roman soldier to force a person to take his pack one mile. Not only are we to take the pack, we are to offer to take it a second mile. Instead of exacting twice the revenge, we are to give twice the love.

We don’t stop loving difficult people, we just love them differently—without words. Switch to deeds, give the person a little Space, and wait for God to work. He can put together what we can’t. To explain this characteristic of love, Jesus points to God, who gives indiscriminately. He says:

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 children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45) 

Jesus practiced what he preached here. He even loved the people who killed him. When the soldiers are nailing him to the cross, Jesus actively seeks the welfare of the Roman soldiers by erasing their debt through forgiveness. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The Greek indicates that Jesus kept on saying, “Father, forgive them.” 

Bitterness dies, peace ensues

Is Jesus a masochist? That kind of love sounds crazy. Won’t we open ourselves up for more hurt? No. Think about it. There are two problems with enemies. What they did hurts, and as we obsess about what they did, bitterness sets in like a claw in the brain. We become so focused on the hurt that we don’t notice the bitterness slowly eating away at us—like cancer of the soul. Bitterness quietly transforms us so we become just like our enemy.

Jesus’ command to love your enemies takes the energy out of bitterness. Instead of plotting revenge, we plan how to do them good. We reflect on their needs and how to help. The Roman soldier is tired, so we offer to take the pack a second mile. We love him where he’s weak. Love like this takes our own heart by surprise and healing begins. Bitterness dies for lack of fuel.

Love also breaks the cycle of evil, keeping us from becoming like the enemy. Instead we become like Jesus—free—no longer controlled by the other person’s evil. What’s more, love unnerves an enemy, throwing him off guard. But best of all, it makes room for God’s justice and mercy. To love an enemy means to trust that God is far more effective than I am. It takes faith to love.

During World War II Gandhi ceased confronting the British, his enemy, and supported their war effort, actively seeking their good. The result? Only a few years later, British opposition to India’s independence collapsed. Love was too powerful.

Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” reflects the ancient Jewish prophecy that the Messiah would be a “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7). It also fleshes out his words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” By loving our enemies, by taking the beam out of our own eye, we become a peacemaker.

Excerpted with permission from Love Like Jesus by Paul E Miller, published by Jaico Publishing House

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