Jesus says that we should love our enemies. In Matthew 5:43-46, we are told to not only love our enemy, but also to bless and pray for them. It’s extremely hard to adhere to these words. Let the ramification of these words sink in. If someone rapes your daughter, God says you should love them. If terrorists blow up thousands of innocent bystanders, you should love them. This seems to go against our every instinct.
The Bible tells us in numerous places that what seems fair to us is not always just in the eyes of God. God says that we will never understand His ways while we are on this Earth, but we should trust that He knows what’s best. Following God’s Word, even when it doesn’t seem rational or easy, is the very essence of faith.
What Is Love?
Maybe part of the difficulty in loving our enemies is that many of us don’t understand that there are different types of love. Most of us think love is that warm fuzzy feeling we get when we long for our spouse or children. That’s only one small aspect of only one type of love.
There are at least two distinct types of love mentioned in the Scripture. There is brotherly or romantic love, called philos. This is the love most of us understand. It is based on affection and emotion. It can be impulsive and wavering.
The second kind is agape love. This type is based on a constant commitment to uphold our regard for another human being. This is what many call Christian love. Agape love is a love that God Himself imparts. 1John 4:16 says … God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Another translation for “God is Love” is “Love flows out of God.” This agape love must be received before it can be given.
The kind of love one has for a spouse or a child is philos, deeply rooted in emotion. However, every time the Scripture tells us to love our fellow man, it denotes agape love. This is also the type of love Christ has for us. As a side note, it is possible to have both types of love for someone. In fact, I would hope that one has both philos and agape love for their family members.
Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He wouldn’t do. He had more than His fair share of persecution. Studying how He treated His enemies models the proper behavior for us. At times He was patient and tender. At other times He showed wrath, chastising His enemies for their wrongdoings.
Does this mean that Jesus had a hard time loving his enemies? Of course not. He reprimanded His enemies when they needed it in order to correct their path toward God. It’s no different than when we chastise our children for misbehaving. It’s because we love them and constantly want the best for them that we do this.
This also means that we still have every right to seek retribution for those that harm us. We don’t have to apologize for being angry and wanting justice. Loving someone does not mean we love their behavior. In fact, God commands us to hold people accountable for their offenses. We are not to let love blind us to someone’s true nature or their potential to harm us in the future.
Love Is Not an Emotion
Agape love is a commitment. It’s a conscious, constant decision to treat someone a certain way. It’s action – not emotion. There may be emotions involved when we demonstrate love, but the action and commitment is the root of agape love.
Let’s consider something to which we can all relate. We know we are loved by certain other people, but we still need to hear the words. We still want the phone calls, visits, and occasional birthday card. We long for the actions that demonstrate love.
Do you still need convincing that agape love is action, not emotion? Someone reminded me of a very apt example. We have all heard of cases where a stranger risks their life to save a drowning child. That stranger can’t possibly love that child as they do their own offspring. They don’t even know the child.
The decision to jump in the water is an act of love, not an emotion for that child. It is a commitment to help another human being. Since we see that agape love is not based on emotion, it is possible to love our enemies despite how we feel about them. We love them not based on our feelings toward them, but based on our feelings toward God and our hope for their salvation. He says that “if you love me keep my commandments – do those things I ask of you because you love me.”
Even Pray for Your Enemies
To love our enemies is not enough, though. We must also pray for them. God commands us to be just as concerned for their spiritual well-being as we would be for those closest to us. How we treat our adversary can be a powerful message to others, demonstrating God’s love through our actions. Throughout history there have been multitudes of people brought to salvation in this way.
Prayer is yet another call to action. It is part of that constant, conscious decision of commitment to another person’s well-being. God uses prayer as a way to try to soften the heart of those that turn from Him. In other words, prayer is another tool used to try to win over our enemies. With prayer, we “overcome his evil with good.”
Jesus loved a world that despised Him. He commands us to do the same, regardless of whether or not the world loves us back.
We are to show agape love – demonstrating love by our actions separate from how we feel about our adversaries. This is what it means to “bless those who curse you”. It doesn’t mean we can’t feel anger or seek punishment for our enemies. It simply means we want them to have the same relationship with Jesus Christ that we have, and that we will work and pray to help them obtain it.
~ Written by Aundrea Richardson