Love your enemies. In life and ministry, I have found no more challenging, yet no more liberating command.
The challenge is obvious. Enemies are enemies for a reason, and whatever such reason is usually not unmerited. It is worth observing that Jesus does not necessarily command us to make our enemies friends. He does, however, command us to love even those who remain enemies. Because here, in our love for our enemies, the gospel of grace shines most brightly.
Perhaps at the cost of sacrificial love we settle for a sort of pseudo-love – a love that never lives up to its confession. If I say I love my enemy but grow bitter with every thought of them, have no charitable feeling toward them, and no sincere desire for their well-being, I simply do not love them. I have qualified the term love beyond recognition. I have sanctified my bitterness and developed a pseudo-love theology to justify it.
Sacrificial love, on the other hand, counts the cost of obedience and obeys anyway. Sacrificial love frees us from the malaise of a sin-sick heart. It deepens our experience of God’s love and shapes us in godliness as we walk our pilgrim way. It acknowledges the beautiful Christian truth that God’s commands are for our good and his glory. Jesus knows our proclivity for hatred – a burden too great for us to bear. Our gracious Shepherd-King, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, simply forbids us from trying to bear it.
Perhaps disobedience here causes problems everywhere. How much of my spiritual dysfunction rises from an unwillingness to embrace sacrificial love of my enemies? How different might this cultural moment look if the people of the living God obeyed his command to love their enemies? If love covers a multitude of sins, then surely lovelessness is the root of many more.
This sort of sacrificial love of enemies is good, yes, but we must also remember that it’s possible. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and graciously supplies us with the grace and strength to do it. He has not left us without a Helper who graciously supplies us with other-worldly grace and strength.
As a pastor of a local church, I am often asked: What can I do for the church? Given our needs at that particular moment I may say any number of things. I have learned, however, to always make one foundational request:
Think of that person in church who bothers you the most – the one whose Facebook posts drive you crazy, the one you try to avoid in the foyer, the one who is least like you and least compatible with you. Okay. Now that you have them in mind – commit to loving them. That is what the church needs from you. That is how our church can most effectively demonstrate the gospel that forms us.