Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, "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," (ESV).
A few weeks ago, my daughter came to me for advice. She explained with tears in her eyes how she had been hurt deeply by someone who continuously treated her contemptuously. She acknowledged that though she knew hating was wrong, she hated this person who was bahaving so badly towards her. She asked me how to stop hating.
My daughter's struggle was all too familiar to me. As I listened to her, I heard the same words I said to God twenty years ago about the very same struggle. While alone in my house I sat down on the kitchen floor and wept as I expressed my hurt and acknowledged my hatred to God and asked God how to stop hating.
I told my daughter the only thing I knew to tell her. I told her to ask God for help because it's what I had done, and it worked. He helped me stop hating. Though I can't say the one I hated ever changed, I can say I changed. God taught me how to love instead of hate.
God responded immediately to my request for His help by making me recognize my own humanity. He helped me understand how there were some whom I had wounded. He also helped me see the root of my enemy's wrong behavior. God gave me empathy for my enemy.
Thankfully, my daughter heeded my advice and asked God for help. A few days later, she explained she was reading about how God helps us when we are incapable of doing things on our own. She then related the principle to loving someone you hate. She realized that though she had no love within herself to give this person who had hurt her, she loves God. Therefore, because she loves God, she could turn and love this person through God's love.
I am saddened by my daughter's expereince, but I am also thankful. It's incredible to see her learning this valuable lesson about loving her enemies at fifteen. She's a little older than half the age I was when I started learning. I am also thankful my own experience was able to provide the answer she needed. I have stopped hating more than once because I asked God for help. And it is a joy watching God help my daugher.
Our enemies wear many different faces. They bear false witness against us. They let us down. They abandon us. They neglect us. They stab us in the back. They kill us with thier words. They rob us of our innocence. They abuse us. They take advantage of us. They seek to destroy us. They wish ill will towards us. They are jealous of us. They terrorize us. They harm us. They rob us of our peace of mind.
They persecute us. And we all hate them for their behavior.
But Jesus did not hate His enemies. He was mocked, stripped, beaten, pierced, and crucified my His enemies. But He took every horrible thing they did to Him and remained silent until the end. Before He died by their hands, He prayed for them and asked that they be forgiven. Rather than see them as His enemies, Jesus saw them as misguided souls who needed a Savior.
The most difficult thing about learning to love and pray for my enemies is overcoming my justification for hating them. I want to hate my enemy. I feel obligated to hate them, especially the ones I hate and fear most. They deserve my haterd. But Jesus said love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
I am flawed and limited. I don't want to love and pray for the one I hate. But though it seems impossible, Jesus said I must. And the only possible way to do the impossible is by God's help. He makes up where I lack and helps me in my weakness.
I'm no expert on loving and praying for my enemy. It's an ongoing journey for me, and God has been very gracious to me through this learning process. He surprised me with His method for helping me. I never expected it, but God helped me stop hating by changing me instead of my enemy. He is still changing me.
We will always have enemies. Some will be trivial and some horrific. Hating and fearing our enemies will never make things better. The enemy will most likely continue to behave badly and probably won't go away, but Jesus said love and pray for them. The only way we can do this is with God's help. When we turn to God for His help, He changes us. That makes us better even when our enemy remains our enemy.
Because we have become so consumed with hatred and fear towards the enemy, I think we have lost sight of what matters most. Getting rid of or getting even with the enemy is not supposed to be the focus nor the goal. Relieving our suffering is not what we should be aiming towards. Regardless of whatever chaos happens around us, our focus, goal, and aim is supposed to be to serve God's purpose, whatever that may entail. It is God's purpose that we serve Him and point others to Him. We usually have to change to be able to fulfill His purpose successfully. Sometimes our enemies help facilitate that process in us. Jesus' enemies certainly helped facilitate the process of God's purpose.
Jesus continued on in Matthew 5:44-48 and said, "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 to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," (ESV).
What is the true measure of Christianity? I think the true measure of Christianity is determined by our behavior towards our enemies. We are most like Christ when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Though it's not the only way, there is no better way to reveal Christ to others.