Right now, at least on the surface, I don’t feel like I have any enemies. Nobody owes me anything. I am not upset with another human being. It really feels good. God makes that possible. It is a given that people will compete with you, hurt you, offend you, and maybe even aggressively come after you at some point in your life. Forgiving others because God forgave you is a start at being enemy free; but there may be periods where you will legitimately have an enemy or enemies. Look beyond personal relationships and there are people who hate Christians, hate your country, hate your race, and threaten to upset the world. They may not know you, but they could be considered enemies as well.
Jesus has some “aggressive” instructions for His disciples. We are to love our enemies. This is so counter-cultural and frankly counter-intuitive that you may not grasp what “loving your enemy” even looks like. I would like to flesh out some scenarios.
Let’s start with when we were children and had a bully in our life. How do you love your bully? It starts with prayer. Jesus instructs us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This is not praying that they have a fatal accident. Pray about the factors that you think might be making them a bully. Pray about their family life. Pray about their self-image. Pray about their schoolwork. In praying, you might be given an answer as how to actively love them. To an immature bully simply refusing to respond with force might be seen as weakness. Love is strength. How to love is very situation specific. How do you show love in strength? Perhaps a well-timed compliment or word of encouragement? Obviously not being crushed by words that people say. Don’t let cyber-bullying inside your head. Doing what Jesus said will not always change a bully. It will change you.
Another potential enemy, an ex-spouse or estranged family member. Understanding how to respond in love is to understand how you contributed to the conflict and what has shaped this person to be what they are. Remember, that they do not have to respond in kind, nor do they have to “deserve” it. You are doing the right thing because you are following Jesus. So love might be an unsolicited confession or unnecessary concession. Love is not responding to anger or deceit with more of the same. You can gently call out bad action, but not respond in kind. Express your desire for a restored relationship. Dump all your bad emotion on God. Let God take care of any punishment or revenge.
How about a business or work “enemy”? Business is naturally competitive, so it is not personal, it is business. Yet the level of aggression or under-handedness is enemy-like. Stick to the laws. Do not respond in kind. Think of things that you can do will address any malice but not add to it. Perhaps a letter or a face-to-face over coffee. Call out bad behavior and explain why you won’t respond in kind. This may cost money or even your job, but you are following Jesus. There is often a cost to discipleship.
What about enemies you do not personally know? The leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-Il, holds his country together by villainizing the United States. He launches missiles to get our attention. He violently oppresses Christianity. Would I celebrate the collapse of his rule? Absolutely. He is a monster. Do I wish him harm or damnation? No. I pray for him on a regular basis.
Loving your enemy is responding in an asymmetrical way to evil. You don’t want your expression of love to be something enabling, so it has to be both genuine and clever. It will definitely cost you in the short run. It will not guarantee positive changes in the enemy. It will be doing what God does, and obeying what Jesus taught. Loving your enemy does not increase the animosity that already exists in the world or sow the seeds of evil. It sows the seeds of love and possibly even saving faith.
The motivations for loving your enemy are many. I love good and I love God. Jesus desires me to do it. It has potential to change things for good. Finally, Jesus hints at reward:
But love your enemies, do good to them; and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.Luke 6:35-36
May God open your eyes to the opportunity you have.