To love people who hate you seems impossible.
Of the commands that Jesus issued in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), loving one's enemies is one of the most difficult to follow (5:43-48).
For Jesus, it isn't enough that we simply stop hating, lusting, divorcing and lying (5:21-42). To stop isn't enough because we must replace disobedience with obedience, namely love.
Love should displace hate, lust, divorce and dishonesty. However, even the most loving people think it is acceptable to hate your enemies.
For instance, I grew up during the last years of the Cold War, and I still don't like Russia. Not many Americans do. But is it possible for a Christian to truly love his or her enemies? Can we love those who not only pose a potential threat (like the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War) but even those who have harmed us the most?
To be sure, the answer is not found within the strength of the flesh, or a niche of human wisdom, but it is within God himself. And God is leading his followers to love everyone, thus we must begin doing it.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul sought to guide the church the same way Jesus did. He commands them to do things that are impossible. Notice how Paul instructs:
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)
Now, each one of us has lost it at one point or another with another person who did us wrong. Let us remember that evil expressed toward someone can be ever so slight, it may be in a look, or a tone of voice. But no matter what it is, or who it is, we do not possess the right to retaliate. That is to say, we must esteem other people higher than we do ourselves. We treat them as good or better than we would want to be treated. This promotes peace, even among enemies.
This is rare, other worldly, and seemingly impossible, but is it? When someone understands the love of God given in Jesus Christ and is changed by it, should not their life be full of his goodness and love? John Stott, in his comments on Romans 12 puts it this way.
"When we are moved by the mercies of God, and when our minds have been renewed to grasp his will, all our relationships become transformed. Not only do we offer our bodies to God (verses 1-2), and develop a sober self-image (verses 3-8), and love one another in the Christian community (9-16), but now also we serve our enemies." (verses 17-21)
Back to Jesus' sermon. There he states that his followers are the light of the world (Matt 5:14). The world is dark, sinful and filled with hatred. But Christians are light. And because they abide in he who is love, they do good to others. They love everyone. Love and hate are like light and darkness. The one displaces the other.
Also, to love an enemy is to do something that only God himself can do. Doing good, even to our enemies, is what happens when we "are moved by the mercies of God, and when our minds have been renewed to grasp his will." (Stott)
To be sure, evil does not overcome evil, and it never overcomes good. But good always overcomes evil; God is good. Thus Christians must allow God's good love to flow through them, even to the most difficult people.
As a follower of Christ, we will learn to love enemies through opportunities. And we love others by the amazing truth of the gospel, God loved us when we were unlovable.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Chris Cookston is the pastor of Prineville Community Church. He can be reached at 541-447-6315.
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