Love Your Enemies

 

Luke's gospel, Chapter 6, presents what at first glance appears to be a shortened version of the Sermon on the Mount. However there are a number of differences in content, not merely in the length of the message. The Sermon on the Mount is so familiar to many people it is easy to overlook the truly radical message of the original. * At any rate, one of our recent Sunday morning Forum classes was extra lively when we got to the part of Luke Chapter 6 where our Lord says,

 

"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

 

"But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.

 

"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

 

"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:27-38)

 

"Everyone" knows that Jesus advocated loving one's enemies.  Putting this command into practice is, apparently, widely passed over and quickly forgotten by many of us Christians. At least I am speaking for myself.

 

Perhaps for the first time in decades I realized in studying Luke Chapter 6 that I had never seriously stopped to consider my responsibility to actually do something more than ignore my enemies. 

 

There is more indictment in the words of Jesus in his remarks about our enemies than I had imagined.  In Greek there are several words for love. Storge is affection, which as C.S. Lewis points out in The Four Loves, is something we might feel towards a favorite pair of old slippers. Not very discriminating, not very demanding, just something that is just there.  Eros is romantic love, which shows up with or without the strong sexual element we ordinarily associate with the word.  Philia is friendship (brotherly affection). Philia involves loving and being loved as brothers and sisters usually do, and it is a Biblical word for our "tender love the brethren"--for our fellow believers.

 

But the word Jesus used here in regard to loving one's enemies is agapao. This is a quality of love elevated well above all the natural loves of this world.

 

Studying Luke this time around, I stopped to think through a bit what Jesus is asking of us. My first reaction is that the Lord's requirement of me to love my enemies is ridiculous. I am not in the least interested in loving someone who dislikes or even hates me. So, I'll ignore this part of the Bible altogether, as I have in fact been doing a lot of the time. Perhaps His command will be rescinded in due time? Too demanding, too unrealistic I thought.

 

There is more to this. In meditating further on this passage, I first asked myself if I might be willing to be made willing to love an enemy solely on the basis of God's command that I do so? God often asks us to do things we don't want to do! I decided I could work this out with the Lord in prayer in a specific situation and come to the point where I might--with some hesitancy--be willing to love a not-too-threatening enemy. Experience has taught me that the tough choices of self-denial--dying to self--which Jesus asks of each of us--always leave us in a better place in the long run.

 

Next, I decided the second problem I have to face is that I am not equipped by birth, or upbringing, or education, with a generous reservoir of agape love in my own heart. The love I need with which to love an enemy--let alone a friend or fellow believer, originates with God and is not native to my heart or emotions. If God wants to love one of my enemies through me, that at least appears theoretically possible--as long as the love needed comes from Him.

 

But what I know about God for certain is that He only desires to have my permission so He can love and help people through me. I don't have what it takes--that is not expected of me. Instead, "'we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not from ourselves."  (2 Corinthians 4:7)

 

My third problem is how do I express agape love to this enemy once I am at the point of being willing? Agape is gift-love (again C.S. Lewis, see his excellent book The Four Loves). Agape seeks the best long-term interests of the beloved regardless of the cost to the giver. Agape asks for nothing in return. It is costly, self-sacrificing love which very often requires a dying to self in the one who agrees to be the agent of Agape.

 

Where is the world does one see Agape in today's neo-pagan culture? As far as I can tell Agape is nearly extinct most everywhere I look.

 

Jesus immediately tells us in Luke 6 why we are to love our enemies. God is in the process of making us like himself ("conforming us to the image of His Son"). God loves His enemies! God is kind to everyone. He is full of mercy.

 

"What is the reason for this Christian conduct? The reason is that it makes us like God, for that is the way he acts. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He is kind to the man who brings him joy and equally kind to the man who grieves his heart. God's love embraces saint and sinner alike. It is that love we must copy; if we, too, seek even our enemy's highest good we will in truth be the children of God." (William Barclay)

In reality Jesus is the most hated and most-ignored man who ever lived. He still loves His enemies, He forgave those who beat him to a pulp and nailed him to a cross where He died. "For God so loved (agapao) the world'"

 

God is also Just. When we are wronged our immediate natural tendency is to lash out in retaliation, to fix the wrong done to us, to get even (and then some). Jesus again asks the impossible of us--He said that we are to leave all matters of judgment to Him when we are wrong or right. We will usually wait a lot longer, but God will be far more fair and even-handed than we ever could be.

 

Putting the pieces together, it does make sense for us to dare to love our enemies and to leave matters of interpersonal justice and vindication to Jesus. All of us were once enemies of God! Where would we be if God treated us the way we treat others? 

 

"For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:6-10)

 

There is a popular Sunday school chorus that comes to mind,

 

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yeah they'll know we are Christians by our love

 

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love.
            (
http://my.homewithgod.com/heavenlymidis2/onespirit.html)

 

This chorus doesn't seem to make sense to me anymore. Does it mean non-Christians will be impressed when they see the followers of Jesus showing love for one another? Probably not. If there is any truth to the words of the chorus what matters in our loveless world is more likely to be the obedience of God's people to love those who are on the outside: angry, bitter, cynical, raging against God, losers, drunks and cheats. 

 

Who are the enemies I am supposed to love? I have personal enemies to be sure--they usually don't bother me often. But in the broader sense I am in that tiny minority of followers of Jesus in modern American society. I am surrounded by the enemies of Jesus--by those who quietly or openly oppose and resist Him, who insult His name and reputation, who openly offend all the values He represents.

 

I think we Christians have allowed ourselves to be marginalized almost out of existence in recent decades. What we stand for is considered by the immoral majority to be totally irrelevant. We have been comfortable in our gated-community cultural ghettos quietly allowing our enemies to go to hell--or even helping them on that chosen path. Do I want any of them to be saved? Probably not. In our failure to vigorously engage our culture in radical and confrontational ways--by seriously loving the enemies of God around us on every side--are we not ignoring the commandment of Jesus to love our enemies?

 

Reading a bit further along in Luke 6, Jesus said,

 

"But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?" (6:46)

 

Did Jesus have our generation of Christians in mind I wonder? Probably He did.

 

 

 

* Don't miss the opening verses of this same message by Jesus, Luke 6:20-26. They promise nothing short of a total End of the World's Values as William Barclay brings out in his commentary, (http://ldolphin.org/endvalues.html).

 

 

 

 

Lambert Dolphin

March 8, 2006.

lambert@ldolphin.org