Extraordinary Love for Enemies
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." Luke 6:27
This call of Jesus for his disciples is in keeping with God's call of his people Israel to love their neighbors. He says in Leviticus 19:18, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." Loving one's neighbor is the second part of the sum of the Law. And God's people were to love their neighbor even when their neighbor was not good to them. However, all of Israel understood neighbor to be those in the covenant community who believed and lived like they did. Here Jesus extends the borders of that out to all enemies. This means those who are not only hostile to them but hostile to them because they do not share the same beliefs and practices because of those beliefs. But how far does that love go?
We often are asking questions in the difficult circumstances and relationships of this life. The questions are usually concerning how far does the activity of love extend to those who are causing harm or trouble in our lives. These are questions regarding the limits of our love. In the kingdom of God the limits of love are limitless. This is so because the boundaries of God's love know no end. Therefore, the boundaries of his love through the subjects of his kingdom know no end. But does this love that has no bounds fail in goal? Is it possible that this love ends up encouraging evil and wickedness?
Just as our God does not practice a weak and sentimental attitude toward evil doers, neither should his children. However, this does not make might right, or a justified attitude of anger and vengeance the way of the righteous. As Peter tells the scattered church living amongst haters, "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." (1Pe.3:9). Hatred, evil, enmity is always to be repaid with the most careful and selfless love. This love aims to glorify God and do good to the creature. It may require firm words and deeds, but always in love for the enemy, evildoer or hater. The extraordinary love is always held in tension by mercy and justice. It is a love that looks at what is best for the one we are called to love. Extraordinary and demanding love does not condone sin and sinners, confirming others in their wickedness and evil doing.
Jesus exemplifies this when on trial before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest. When being questioned he answered justly that others be given opportunity to bear witness concerning the things he had taught, whether they were true or false. At this answer to the High Priest, a soldier standing nearby struck him, and accused him of answering with disrespect toward the high priest. Jesus responded in John 18:23 with these words,“If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” In love Jesus, doing what was best for the soldier rebuked him for his misuse of power and injustice toward an innocent victim. There is in that rebuke of love a sincere desire to bring the guilty to repentance and bring evil under the rule of good. But the motives of Jesus, who is the Holy God, is a holy love. Even here Jesus' interest are placed in the background and he is doing what is best for the soldier.
We don't know the effect of this love upon the soldier. However, we do see it as an example that helps us know how to love fully our enemies in an extraordinary way. So many times we think after the situation, 'Oh, I should have done that or said this...'. Or we are afraid to get involved with those who may be our enemies because we don't know how to love, what to say and not say, etc. But we must live in Christ by the Spirit with boldness loving our enemies in the extraordinary ways that are called for here with words and deeds. Our aim is to be living out of love. Because we are loved and filled with the fullness of God in that love in Christ then we can love. But what if a relationship or situation requires more than words?
However, this does not mean we are called up to love by keeping ourselves in a place of physical abuse in the home, at church, in school or the workplace. If we have a bully in our lives that gets their pleasure in abusing you, you are not called to love by submitting to their abuse. This is evil and this kind of evil should not be endured. Physical violence should be dealt with through the proper authorities in the home, church, in school or the workplace. As Christians there are times we should seek or trust the church to assist us (Mt.18:17) when we are subject to sinful abuse within the church or home. There may also be times that we love our enemies by seeking the civil realm for protection. God has provided the civil realm to protect the citizens in God's nations (Rom.13:4). Therefore, Christians may be called upon to love their enemies by subjecting their abusers to the those who serve them in the civil realm. Some Christians may be called to serve in that civil realm for the protection of her citizens and should not resist using force, deadly even, where necessary for the protection of others. This also is a form of love to enemies.
As we love our enemies in these difficult situations we must remember the apostle's words, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:14, 17, 19-21). Our aim is that our lives are used to show our enemies how God shows them mercy and love everyday. We can show our love by bringing justice to bear against their evil in love, while we at the same time may visit them in prison or sit and drink a cup of coffee with them, knowing that the Lord of mercy is our Shepherd.
Extraordinary love for enemies is not an easily understood way of life, but God gives wisdom to all who ask (Jas.1:8) and a body of Christ to his own to assist us in knowing how to love extraordinarily. Let us love our enemies with an extraordinary love.