"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust," (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV).
In my last blog—"What if...?"—I discussed loving the least and ended with this question: "What if I was the enemy?"
I have never thought of myself as the enemy. I think I am kind and caring. But, more than likely, to someone, I am the enemy, I was the enemy, or I will be the enemy. What a painful consideration. The last thing I want to be is someone's enemy. May God help me to change.
My question—what if I was the enemy?— has weighed on my mind all day today. It bothers me because of the context in which I asked it. In my post I resolved all of my other "what if" questions by encouraging us to love the least, do to others as we would want them to do to us, and then I measured our love for God against our love for the least. I tagged my last question on at the end. I asked, "What if I was the enemy?" I was clearly suggesting we love our enemies the same as we love the least.
I don't love my enemy. I don't know how to love my enemy. I don't like admitting it, but I hate my enemy. I fear my enemy. If I'm honest, I have to say I don't want to love my enemy. My enemy is evil and unjust.
But Jesus tells me specifically to love my enemy and pray for those who persecute me. And I must do this if I want to be one of His. Now that I know His expectation of me, if I want to please Him, I have to change. I have to learn how to love and pray for the one I hate and fear.
I can't help but consider Paul. Once Saul of Tarsus, He was a well-known persecutor of the early Christians of the book of Acts. He stood by and watched, and most likely encouraged, the stoning of Stephen. He was the enemy of Stephen. But while being stoned to death for being a Christian, Stephen prayed for his persecutors and said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (See Acts 7:54-60.)
Soon after Stephen's stoning, Saul converted to Christianity, and those who once knew him as their enemy embraced him as one of their own. Saul, now Paul, went on to write most of the books of the New Testament. And Paul impacted the world for the cause of Christ.
Remember Jesus? After being betrayed, falsely accused, stripped, mocked, beaten, and hung on a cross, while dying, He said of His enemies, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (See Luke 23:34.) Jesus died for those who crucified Him.
I can't tell you how to love your enemies. I haven't mastered loving mine. But I can say this: if any of us are going to please God, we're going to have to learn how to love them. We all have to change. We may feel justified to lash out with hatred, but no matter how evil or unjust our enemy is, hateful behavior was not our example. Better is expected of us.
Loving and praying for our enemies is not about embracing their evil or unjust behavior. Nor is it about changing them. They may change; they may not change. Choosing to love and pray for our enemies is about pleasing God and putting our desire to please Him over our desire for self-preservation.
I say I want to be like Jesus, but I don't know how to be like Him. As I'm writing this blog, I find myself pushing back from being like Him in this way. I'm afraid of what the experience may entail if I open myself up to this learning process.
But I must change. I must be like Him. I must love my enemy because I love Him.The only way for my enemy to stop being my enemy is when I become like Jesus. When I become like Jesus, when I learn how to love and pray for my enemy, I stop seeing my enemy as my enemy. I start seeing them like Jesus sees them. Maybe it'll make a difference to them, and maybe it won't. But, in the end, it'll certainly make a difference to me.