Jesus told His disciples to “love your enemies” and to “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). As a Christian, I’ve often wrestled with the command to love my enemies. It does not come naturally or easily. Biblical love and worldly love are different. Worldly love is often couched in terms of affection or how I feel about someone. For many years I used to think I was supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings for my enemies. I now realize that’s wrong. Biblical love is a commitment to seek the best interest of others according to God’s values. I don’t have to like a person to be committed to them and to seek their best interest according to God’s values. I can apply biblical love to everyone, whether it’s my spouse, my child, my brother, my coworker, or even my enemies.
The word love in Luke 6:27 is a translation of the Greek verb agapao. The verb agapao is in the imperative mood, which means Jesus is commanding believers to love their enemies. It’s important to understand that God commands our mind and will, but never our emotions. It’s impossible to command an emotion. Feelings simply respond to thought and action. I can have an imaginary thought and experience a real emotion. For example, I could sit in a room by myself and imagine an evil woman killing a helpless infant by strangling him to death. I could then imagine this woman disposing of the baby’s body and then going on with her life and being successful and prosperous and never being caught or punished for the murder she committed. Though fictional, this image evokes emotion within me. Anger is the emotion that comes as a response to a perceived injustice, real or imagined. My emotions cannot differentiate reality from fiction. They only respond to the thoughts in my mind, and when I have thoughts of injustice—whether real or imagined—I get angry. Emotion always follows thought. As I think, so I feel.
Loving our enemies has little to do with how we feel. If anything, we must love them by faith in spite of how we feel. We don’t have to like our enemies to love them. We don’t have to approve of their false beliefs, sinful lifestyle, or cultural values, but we are commanded to love them. Loving our enemies means that we identify those who hate us, and perhaps mean to harm us, and commit ourselves to their best interest by seeking God’s will for their lives. We love them by praying for them, acting in a Christian manner and speaking God’s truth to them when given the opportunity.
There is no greater example of love than Jesus Christ. All that Jesus said and did was done in love towards others, as He was seeking their best interests. Certainly the love and goodness He displayed to His enemies was never based on their worthiness. Jesus displayed love and goodness when:
- Healing the sick (Matt. 8:1-4).
- Casting out demons (Matt. 8:16).
- Feeding the multitudes (Matt. 14:19-20).
- Speaking divine Truth (John 1:14; 14:6).
- Rebuking the arrogant (Matt. 23:1-39).
- Dying for sinners (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
- Providing eternal life (John 10:28).
These are but a few of the loving and good acts of Christ. We are all naturally drawn to the pleasant things that Christ did such as healing the sick and feeding the hungry. Yet, in love He also spoke perfect truth and rebuked the arrogant, even if they hated Him because of it. Sometimes it is an act of love to point others to God by sharing the truth they need to hear, even if it exposes their sin and makes them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people respond positively, but often they respond negatively. At one time, Jesus told the Pharisees, “you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth” (John 8:41). Later, after another discussion with the Pharisees, some of Jesus disciples came to Him and said, “do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matt. 15:12). Apparently, Jesus offended some of the Pharisees with His words, and I suspect the omniscient Son of God knew exactly what He said and the impact it had on those to whom He said it. Jesus still offends people today, though His written words and deeds could not provide a greater display of love than what is recorded in Scripture.
Being a Christian means being like Christ. It means learning His Word and acting as He would act. Unbelievers are sometimes positive to Christian love and goodness, but sometimes they are negative to it, even hating the Christian for being like Christ. In fact, Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated for following Him and said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). This is a difficult saying and certainly one that should make every believer count the cost of discipleship. However, though there are times we will face opposition for our Christianity, there is much about the Christian life that is beautiful. There is a love and kindness in Christianity that the world does not know and never will, because it does not know Christ. Though we cannot say and do all that Jesus did, nor can we be as perfect as He was; yet we are to strive to love others and do good to others as Christ commands. Sometimes loving our enemies and doing good means being gentle and kind and tender, meeting physical and spiritual needs as they arise, but others times it means speaking strongly, rebuking, and even giving offense. How we behave in love depends on what they need to bring them to God. Love can be both gentle and strong. Grace means we’re doing it sacrificially for their best interest. Remember, Biblical love is a commitment to seek the best interest of others according to God’s values.
Steven R. Cook, M.Div.