One of the most revolutionary teachings of Jesus was: Love your enemies. It is still a revolutionary thought. And, even more, in practice, loving your enemies has the potential to change everything, even your heart.
Here’s Jesus, just to jog your memory:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven.
So, first. Notice that Jesus assumes we all have enemies. He’s not at all concerned (as we are sometimes) about keeping up appearances that we all just like everyone all the time. Instead, he says, “You know those people you don’t like in your heart? You know those people who don’t like you? Yeah: those are enemies. Let’s face them. Let’s talk about them.”
Jesus knew that denying you have enemies can only lead to more hate growing in your heart. And the worst part about denying your hate is that then hate grows in your heart subconsciously. And if you’re not conscious of it, you can’t pray, confess, and forgive it. It only festers and multiplies. Therefore, Jesus makes it a non-option to deny that you have enemies.
Next. How do you define “enemy?” I mean what characteristics come to mind when you think about a person you might naturally consider to be your enemy? I know it’s not pleasant, but just go there with me for a moment. (And, remember, you can’t pretend you don’t have any. Jesus already took away that option.)
I’ll go first:
- someone I hate (or when that’s too strong to admit to myself, someone I “strongly dislike”)
- someone who hates me
- someone I hope I never run into
- someone that hurt me in the past
- someone who seems to stand for the exact opposite of what I stand for
Does that sound about right? Did I pretty much cover all of the categories?
Now, Jesus says, the only thing to do is to start Loving and praying for those people. That’s it.
And the practice begins to change everything.
If I let Love grow in my heart for my enemies (through prayer, confession, forgiveness, etc.), those people will categorically stop being my enemies. If I let Love grow in my heart toward my enemies, I’ll have to scratch them off of my enemy list. If I let Love grow in my heart toward my enemies, it will become impossible for me to feel that they’re still my enemies – even if they still dislike me or consider me to be their enemy. Jesus is basically saying, “Love your enemies… into non-enemies.”
Bam. Revolutionary, right? Totally freeing, right? You don’t have to keep enemies any more. Let’s break it down further:
Your enemy is a person you hate. But if you let Love grow in your heart for them, you will no longer hate them and so they will no longer qualify as your enemy.
Your enemy is someone you hope you never run into around town. But if you let Love grow in your heart for them, it will no longer be so unbearable to run into them and so they will no longer qualify as your enemy.
Your enemy is someone that hurt you in the past. But if you let Love grow in your heart for them, your hurt will be released and so they will no longer qualify as your enemy.
If we let Love grow in our hearts toward every single human – even the people most unlikely to receive or deserve or reciprocate our love (our enemies) – we might actually expunge the entire notion of enemy from our hearts!
I’m not saying that all of your enemies will turn into your best friends. I don’t think Jesus expects this, either. I just think this is a powerful,
new old way of creating peace, unity, freedom, and Love in our lives by eradicating the very concept of enemy.
In a lot of cases, it just might be this simple. But just because it is simple does not mean it is easy. In fact, the practices that I mentioned (prayer, confession, and forgiveness) for letting Love grow are among the most difficult things I do on a weekly basis. And those three practices deserve a separate conversation all their own.
But, I’ll say it. Jesus invites us to Love our enemies into non-existence. Jesus invites us to live enemy free.