In an earlier post, I discussed how people hated Jesus — and still hate His followers — even though He did nothing that should have warranted that. The normal reaction would have been for Him to hate them in return. But Jesus isn’t normal; He is God. His reaction was to love them.
One of the many shocking, world-reversing things that Jesus said in His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5 through 7) was for His followers to love even their enemies (Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:35). Then He gave His reason: Because that’s what God does, and we are to copy Him in our own lives.
God’s Kind of Love
According to this article, the Greek language has eight different words for different kinds of love.
- Eros: Physical/sexual love (or desire)
- Philia: Friendship
- Agape: Sacrificial, unconditional love
- Storge: Familial love, as in siblings
- Mania: Obsessive love
- Ludus: Playful, noncommittal love (flirting, casual sex)
- Pragma: Practical love (obligation or duty)
- Philautia: Self-love, self-esteem
Of these eight, the one used by the Bible to describe God’s love is “agape“. The classic definition of that kind of love comes from Paul writing to the church at Corinth:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Demonstrated by Jesus
Jesus fully demonstrated that love on the cross. First, of course, because He was there at all — because He was even here on earth at all — He was showing God’s immense love for mankind by taking on our sin and providing a way for us to be reconciled with God. But even more directly, He prayed specifically for His enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Can you imagine being one of those enemies, a pharisee or a Roman soldier, and hearing the Man you are torturing to death pray for you? I suspect that shocked them far more than a lightning bolt would have!
Demonstrated by Christians, Past and Present
It is startling enough that Jesus showed that kind of love. But then He said for me to show that love also. Gulp! 😲 But Christians have been doing so throughout the centuries.
The first Christians — while being shunned, driven out of town, killed in the arenas, and burned at the stake — were the ones who shared all their possessions with one another (Acts 2:44-45). They rescued abandoned babies 1; they cared for plague victims at risk to their own lives 2; they took up collections for the relief of their fellow Christians during a famine (Acts 11:27-30, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Later Christians ran rescue missions, started colleges and hospitals, and worked to abolish slavery. Today’s Christians run food kitchens, drug rehabilitation programs, crisis pregnancy centers, domestic violence shelters, disaster relief agencies, medical missions, and so much else…all as ways of sharing God’s love.
Must Continue to be Demonstrated by Christians in the Future
Lately, we watch with alarm as our culture degrades. Christians are accused of being intolerant, whatever-phobic and hateful for sounding a warning and standing for God’s truth. We can debate, vote, and argue for better laws. We can highlight the harm done by abortion, or redefinition of marriage and sexuality 3, or unrestrained violence. But we cannot hate, and we cannot de-humanize and demean our opponents — not if we intend to represent Christ to them accurately.
People may say or do horrible things. But the point to remember is that our real enemy is Satan (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8), not the deceived and lost human beings who unknowingly do his work. Whatever that person is saying or doing, no matter how ungodly and wrong it is, they are still made in God’s image. He still loves them, and Jesus still died for them 4.
Love Your Enemies, As God does
As Christians, that means that we must not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:8-9). We must continue to show God’s love. Then we must pray that God turns enemies into fellow redeemed souls. We don’t want them to continue on the road to the Hell that, as sinners, we all deserve. Instead, we want them to be reconciled with God and destined for Heaven along with us — thanks to the love, grace, forgiveness, and new life that Jesus provides.