Last week we looked at how to love like Jesus. There was one aspect of His love that I have been keenly convicted of, and I want to dive deep into what it means. Jesus tells us that we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 (NIV). But how do you love your enemies?
What Is An Enemy?
An enemy is someone who wants to hurt you and is harmful to you. Whether the pain is emotional, physical, or both, it’s hard to imagine loving them in response.
Maybe the hurt was a betrayal from a friend, or someone spread lies about you. Whose cruel words or actions hurt you? Was it your friend or family member? A coworker or fellow church member? Were you emotionally or physically abused?
Why Should We Love Our Enemies?
The “why” is simple to answer.
First of all, Jesus asks us to do it.
He taught extensively on the subject starting with Luke 6:27-28 and he was crystal clear: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “
He is telling us to love our enemies and treat them with kindness,blessings, and prayer.
Why? Because we show who Jesus is when we love our enemies.
We are his ambassadors to show them his love. That differs completely from feeling love for them. The love of Jesus is not dependent on feelings but loving in the way Jesus did despite our feelings and regardless of people’s actions.
It’s the “how” that can be difficult.
How Do You Love Your Enemies?
We talked last week about how hard it can be to love like Jesus. We need:
•God’s grace (His undeserved favor to us)
•The power of the Holy Spirit
•A deep trust in God
Our Human Nature
But loving our enemies? That goes against our human nature. Sometimes our human nature wants to hold a grudge or get revenge. But the Bible makes it clear: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God.” Romans 12:19 (NLT).
To take revenge is to repay evil with evil. It’s easy to strike back or to strike out at our enemies. And when we feel attacked or hurt, it’s hard to love. But God says to let Him deal with our enemies. Only He can judge, and he doesn’t need our input on how it should look. We are to leave our enemy in his hands.
“Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
As Christians, we have a new purpose and a new way of life. Instead of “getting even” as our old self wants, we respond with a blessing, a prayer, or a positive response.
Jesus Models How To Love Your Enemy
Jesus faced incredible opposition in his life. His enemies were out to discredit, harass, and eventually kill him. But he did not allow himself to let his enemies sidetrack him from his purpose. He responded to his enemies with truth, healing, kindness, and love. He was out to change hearts.
And He wants us in this battle with Him.
He also asks us to love as he does because blessing others with kindness and love is a protection for us. It keeps us from falling into a trap of bitterness, hatred, and seeking revenge.
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What If I Don’t Love My Enemy?
Let’s talk for a moment about what happens when we don’t love our enemies. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it causes great anxiety, sleepless nights, a bitter and angry spirit, and affects those who we love and care about.
I believe Paul says it best: “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. “Hebrews 12:15b.
A Root of Bitterness
I suffered sexual abuse as a child over a period of years. My anger, shame, and confusion simmered deep below the surface.
The concept of forgiveness ate at me for years. Had I truly forgiven? I forgave him (I thought), but forget? Impossible. And “loving” my abuser? No way. That was the last thing on my mind.
Approximately 10 years ago, my abuser (whom I rarely saw) hit again with a cruel public humiliation (in church, of all places.) A wave of bitter, furious anger immediately boiled up inside me. My reaction was an immediate strong physical and emotional one.
I admit, with all honesty, that after that incident, I absolutely wanted him to burn in hell for all the torment he had caused in my life.
I know how horrible that sounds, but it is the absolute truth. My deep underlying disgust and bitterness converted to hate. Not only did I never receive an apology or admission of guilt, but after all these years, I realized he was still out to hurt me. I wanted him to pay for his actions.
The only reason I can admit to this, and feel compelled to, is because it was Jesus alone who changed my heart in this situation.
As impossible as it sounds, at long last, it was Jesus who helped me to love my enemy. He alone changed my response to this person.
To God be all the glory in this situation. It certainly did not come from me.
Healing From Bitterness
It was a process (and continues to be) for sure. How gentle Jesus was with me! While I expected my hatred to turn his face away from me, I only felt his love.
I could feel how his heart ached over my injured spirit. He sent me verse after verse of his unending, supernatural and forever love.
Satan was trying to use my abuse to harbor hate and pull me away from His love. But Jesus said no; she’s mine. ♥
“No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39
Jesus exchanged my distorted view of self-worth, safety, and trust with his own. He let me see myself as his beloved.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV.)
God Makes All Things New
•He showed me the truth of his love in a new way through words I had read previously many times:
“Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NLT).
•He reminded me that because he reconciled me to himself, I am a completely new person on the inside. And that makes me a partner with him in the reconciliation process to the world.
•He gave me the insight to see my abuser with his vision. I saw the value he places on each human life he creates. He wants no one to perish.
“God is patient because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” 2 Peter 3:9 (CEV)
•His love put everything in perspective. While he was holding me close and loving me, he also loved my abuser.
Forgiveness and Bitterness
•He reminded me that because he has forgiven me, I, too, must forgive.
•I love Jesus; therefore, I can’t pick and choose whom to forgive or who to love. If I say I love and trust Jesus, then I accept his words as truth. He says to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34.
•Then he lovingly asked me to put my abuser in his hands; to let Him be his judge and jury. It was my choice.
And I did. I handed him over. And then a great peace and rest came over me.
What Happens When You Love Your Enemies?
Jesus’ overwhelming love and care for me soothed my hate like a healing balm. The roiling turbulence inside me receded. It allowed me to trust Him completely to deal with my abuser.
God filled me up with the power of his Holy Spirit (my advocate, my defender!) to bless/love my abuser just enough to pray that he will truly repent and be saved. I can’t adequately explain how freeing it is to no longer be a slave to another person’s behavior through bitterness and hate. I am no longer his victim, and I never will be again. Jesus healed me.
Loving Like Jesus
It helps me as well to understand that the love Jesus is talking about doesn’t mean affection. It doesn’t mean letting others continue to hurt us.
He wants us to put strong, protective boundaries into place. He wants us to find people to help us heal through the hurt. Jesus wants us to feel safe and secure.
He has a much better plan for our lives than to live in hate and bitterness. He created us to do good works, not sink into sin. It’s a poisonous place to dwell. Nipping those feelings off before they can blossom keeps them from growing back.
Jesus watches carefully and He sees how other people treat us. He had seen all my abuse and was heartbroken. But allowing Him to be the judge released me to have his deep peace in my heart.
Ways To Love Your Enemies
Bitterness against our enemies doesn’t always manifest itself in hate, but other actions are just as destructive. We may complain or criticize, or use jabs or sarcasm when speaking of them or to them. (Guilty!)
Since none of these are loving, we have to change the way we see our enemies.
•Change your internal dialogue.
Instead of ruminating on the hurt they caused, pray for them. Bless them by offering up a simple prayer: “Jesus, please bless _______.”
Each time your enemy comes to mind, replace the negative chatter in your head with prayer. Pray that Jesus will work in a mighty way to soften their heart and open their eyes.
Pray that they feel a deep need for Jesus instead of opposing his ways. But just pray.
It’s hard to think revengeful thoughts as you offer up a prayer. It puts our focus on God and His good plan for our healing and spiritual growth.
•Honor your emotions, but don’t let them overtake you.
“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5 Don’t let your emotions overpower what you know to be true about God.
(Need hope and encouragement that comes from knowing the true character and attributes of God? You may like this post: Psalm 23- Discovering the Character of God.)
•Pray for strength and patience for yourself.
“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,but God remains the strength of my heart;he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26 (NLT).
Love Your Enemies
Loving our enemies is a lifelong challenge. We will continue to be hurt, disrespected, betrayed and mistreated in this life. But remind yourself of who the real enemy is in each situation. Satan wants us to be at war with each other and within ourselves. The last thing he wants us to do is to heal, or bless and love our enemies!
Trusting in Jesus and seeking out the wisdom in His word helps us develop a love like His. Then our response can be in His image as we love our enemies.
Photo Credits: Pixabay
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.