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Opinion
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Editorial: What it means to love our enemies

Jesus’ simplest but most challenging teaching is the antidote to endless cycles of violence.

Jesus had a way of saying things that are easy to understand but hard to hear. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43) tops the list. Each word is simple, but taken together, they form the most challenging of all Jesus’ teachings.

In a world drenched in hatred, Jesus’ words seem naive at best. At worst, they come across as weak and dangerous. “Love your enemies” risks abuse and failure, conceding victory to evil. Left unopposed, enemies gain power only to do more evil. Love only seems to encourage them.

Part of the challenge is identifying enemies. Who is my enemy? Enemies are not people who vote for the opposing party or live outside my geographic borders. They are not people who look, speak or live differently from me. Jesus used another word for such people: “neighbor.” He said love them, too.


Related: Editorial: Reclaiming unity through respect


Enemy is more menacing, raising the stakes. Enemies actively seek my destruction. They view every means as justified in pursuit of their selfish end. Their greatest joy is built over my deepest hurt.

Sometimes, enemies are easily identified. They command militaries to senselessly bomb women and children. They stand across courtrooms trying to upend your life and future. Too often, enemies are more stealthy, working behind the scenes, sabotaging efforts and slandering character. Enemies have no regard for the dignity or significance of others.

Still, Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

Enemy is not the only word tripping us up. Love seems a bit much to ask.

Popular misconceptions of love only further confuse Jesus’ words. “Love” is not synonymous with acceptance, tolerance and support. Love does not look the other way, refusing to speak out. Love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Love does just the opposite.

Still, Jesus calls us to love our enemies.


Related: Jesus emphasized peace to those who would follow him


“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).

The force of those words is witnessed in recent pictures of a Ukrainian village offering food, water and a cell phone to a captured Russian soldier. Even as media officials and commentators debate the authenticity of the images, no one questions their power.

Loving enemies is the refusal to play by their rules. It is an invitation to encounter the kingdom of God. When they hate, we love. If they curse, we bless. They seek harm. We seek good.

“Loving enemies is the refusal to play by their rules. It is an invitation to encounter the kingdom of God. When they hate, we love. If they curse, we bless. They seek harm. We seek good.”

“Love your enemy” is the antidote to endless cycles of violence. The old rules changed nothing. Jesus offers a radically different approach.

Whenever you doubt the seriousness of Jesus’ charge, remember his prayer for his own enemies, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).

Missing from Jesus’ command is any promise of an immediate desired outcome. If only we knew that loving our enemies would bring immediate relief and closure, then perhaps his words would be more reasonable. Sometimes loving our enemy results in “heaping burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:20), but not always.

Jesus had something different in mind. By loving our enemies, God’s will is done on earth the way it is done in heaven. When we love our enemies, we become more like God (Matthew 5:42-48).

That is why Jesus calls us to love our enemies. — Jeremie Beller, for the Editorial Board

Filed under: Christian living Editorial Jeremie Beller Jesus' commands love Opinion Top Stories

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