“I love my enemies!” my little granddaughter piped up during their family devotions. “What enemies do you have?” her parents asked, certain she had none, and hadn’t even the faintest idea what it meant!
“My nonni!” the 4-year old replied with satisfaction – convinced that enemies was the English word for nonni, the Italian word for grandparents. (Oh the difficulites of Third Culture Kids!)
It certainly would be odd for a 4-year old to already have enemies. And actually, it’s sad that anyone should have them, or that others want to behave as one. But the troubled family situations, broken friendships, war and conflict all around us, prove that many prefer discord to peace.
We must strive for peace.
As Christ followers we are called to always strive for and work toward peace.
How to love our enemies with Christ’s love…
But the problem is that not everyone lives with this intention, and we end up with unwanted enemies. So it’s important to know what God says we should do about them. Especially what to do if the other person doesn’t want peace. And Christ provided the key by giving us a NEW commandment.
It probably seemed strange to the disciples that he called it new. They had already heard this teaching, both from Christ and in the Old Testment.
So why new?
Because the Jewish leaders had changed the command. “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” is what they taught.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you”.Matthew 5:43-44 WEB
So Christ was teaching them a new way. “Love one another as I have loved you.” And we think, “That’s just what I want to do, but I always seem to fail.” And that’s because we love in our own human way.
But Christ’s love was concrete.
And he wants us to reach out with this same kind of concrete love. As shown through the following simple story.
A lady brought a little ragged orphan girl to her house for a playmate for her three daughters. But the little thing would venture no further than the lobby, where she sat crying as if her heart would break.
The lady said to her daughters there was one secret of four letters which she thought would win the little one. The eldest girl tried her d-o-l-l, the second her new m-u-f-f, but still the little stranger kept on weeping. At length the youngest sister ran into the lobby, sat down beside her, began to weep with her, and then put her arms about her neck and kissed her, till at last she easily got her into the room.
And that was how they learned that the secret was L-O-V-E.
(Based on a story from The Biblical Illustrator; in the Public Domain. )
God loved us, even when we were enemies.
And he actively demonstrated it. He came down to our level and embraced us – dirt, rags, and all. He wept with us, and bestowed his kiss of grace and forgiveness. (Romans 5:8-10)
With his perfect love Christ love came down to our level and embraced us – dirt, rags, and all. He wept with us, bestowing his kiss of grace and forgiveness. And this is what he wants us to do for others.Tweet
And this is just the love our enemies need. Their hateful actions have made them dirty and ragged just like that little girl. Perhaps they’re not even sorry for what they’ve done and don’t deserve our forgiveness. But loving like Christ means forgiving them anyway.
4 steps toward really loving your enemies
1. Make things right.
Obviously the place to start is by trying to clear things up. If we’ve wronged them, we must apologize and try to make it right. It’s part of following Christ.
2. Forgive the wrong.
But when another has wronged us and they don’t own up to it? Forgive them anyway. They need our forgiveness (even if they don’t realize it). And we need to extend it (even when we don’t realize it). So forgive them as Christ commands.
3. Show them love.
Show them love and pray for them, even if you don’t feel like it. Greet them and wish them a good day. Offer them help or even a cup of coffee. Don’t treat them as they deserve – but as Christ would.
4. Pray for reconciliation and restoration.
This is the step we often overlook. We have forgiven them in our hearts (or at least are striving to.) But they haven’t received it – either outright rejecting it or allowing no occasion for extending it.
Forgiveness is a transaction.
Christ offers forgiveness to all, but only some receive it. Those who don’t continue in a broken relationship, separated from God – even though complete restoration is available. It is only by receiving forgiveness that they become sons and daughters.
And human forgiveness works the same way. We may extend it, but the other person needs to receive it. Otherwise it remains an incomplete transaction.
Forgiveness needs reconciliation.
Without reconciliation and restoration forgiveness remains an unfulfilled transaction. Enemies choose to remain enemies until they receive our forgiveness. Sadly creating a situation where both parties are forced to continue dealing with the pain of a broken relationship.
Forgiveness needs reconciliation. Without it, it remains an unfulfilled transaction, leaving the pain of broken relationship.Tweet
And that’s what makes loving our enemies so hard. We want and need reconciliation. We’re even willing to take our enemy in our arms, rags, filth and all – because we want the relationship restored. Yet we’re forced to live with the pain and anguish of separation.
Christ calls us to let him conquer all our hate and unforgiveness by doing all we can toward restoration. Then it’s up to the other person.
But whether or not they choose reconciliation, in Christ we continue with forgiveness in our heart. In Christ we keep showing l-o-v-e. And in him we hope and pray for the day when we can take that former enemy in our arms. And we long for that day of restored friendship.