This is the third and probably final installment of the current series: Unsexy Biblical Principles. This week we’ll look at a principle the Bible speaks clearly on, but that often goes unpracticed and untaught in Christian circles. Listen to what Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) says:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you“
Those are the words of Jesus and they are not merely an encouragement: they are a command. As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love our enemies. It’s popular to talk about love these days, but Jesus is right: loving your family and friends isn’t that hard. In fact, it’s natural. Even worldly people do it.
What Jesus is calling us to is to not merely have mercy on our enemy or merely to ignore our enemy and practice pacifism. Christ calls us to an active love of our enemies, even commanding that we pray for them. And I don’t think Jesus had in mind here the kind of prayer that goes “God, cause that person to change so he’s not such a pain in the neck.”
Now, I know what many of you are already saying to yourselves, because I say it to myself nearly every time I read this passage. You think, “But I don’t have any enemies.” And you know, I bet you’re right in saying that there is no one you’re actively trying to destroy or undermine. But I suspect many of us hold ill wishes in our hearts for those we are less connected to. We that are in the evangelical church tend to have very strong opinions about politics and social happenings. I know I used to hold evil thoughts in my heart towards certain politicians whose policies I didn’t agree with. Many Christians here in the South hold evil in their hearts for Democrats, especially when they’re in the oval office. Now I’m not defending these people’s actions or character: many of them are greedy, corrupt, ignorant or incompetent. But these things are not the discussion: our hearts are the discussion. They may rightfully be enemies of yours, but you are commanded to love them. You are commanded to pray for them. To love and pray for someone, you must want what’s best for them.
I’ll go a step further. What are your feelings toward Muslims? I admit that I struggle with feelings of animosity toward Muslims at times and especially toward terrorists. I know that these are common feelings for any American Christian. Once again, I’m not defending Islam or its adherents. But I am asking you to search your heart and expose any ill-will you have toward people that you may consider your enemy. To be honest, I believe everyone does have real enemies. And when you think about it, Jesus’s words presuppose that you do have enemies. Having enemies is not wrong. Treating your enemies with hatred or contempt or vengeance is wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite of what being a Christ-follower is. So identify your enemies, search your feelings and thoughts toward them. Confess and repent of any malevolent feelings you find toward anyone and ask the Holy Spirit to cause love to grow in your heart for them. And finally, include them in your prayers. Pray that God would have mercy on them and change their hearts. Pray that God would open their eyes to His beauty and majesty and bring them into reconciliation with Him so that you can be brothers and sisters with them and both come to God as the broken, needy people we are.
Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Pray for both. Desire what’s best for them, not what’s best for you.