In the 21st century, the word “enemy” seems like a distant idea reserved for political extremists and serious lawbreakers. Ultimately, a lack of context leaves us lost as modern-day Christians at Westmont. How do we approach a text such as Matthew 3:34-35? How do we live out Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” if we don’t know how to recognize our enemies?
Before I begin, let’s look specifically at the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:43-44). In these two sentences, we are given one of the most subversive and challenging commandments in the New Testament. Let’s look at the context.
Jesus preaches these lines during his famous Sermon on the Mount — a sermon Scott Lisea recently and eloquently called his “State of the Kingdom of God Address.” In this sermon, Jesus covers all sorts of easy dinner conversations, from the problem of hating others in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-26), to the adulterous nature of lust (Matthew 5:27-30), and refraining from retaliation to “turn the other cheek” (Mathew 5:38-42). Obviously, these teachings are not actually easy dinner conversations. Rather, the problems Jesus calls out in this sermon push us beyond external virtuousness.
Because of the non-intuitive nature of these commands, we hear many of these teachings discussed at churchs and even at school chapels. Besides recounting Jesus’ teaching, our pastors tend to provide historical background and practical steps to begin walking in these teachings. However, I have noticed few action steps proffered for the last teaching in the chapter. Here, of course, I refer to Jesus’ proclamation to “love our enemies.”
So, rather than leaving a stone unturned, let’s do what we set out to do and find out what it might mean for us to love our enemies. Well, for Westmont students, we must first identify our enemies. Clearly, those who threaten our safety, whether that of our nation or of ourselves, are enemies. Moreover, as the political scene in America continues to get more and more polarized, it is easy to get caught calling our political rivals our “enemies.”
In these two cases, loving our enemies can have some fairly simple steps, such as education, conversation and prayer. We at Westmont can love those who seek to harm us by learning how to support those who cause harm due to mental illness and then using our newly acquired knowledge to find ways to help them. As for those who pose a threat for other reasons, we can love them through prayer, which we will look at soon.
In regards to political enemies, one way we could extend the love of Jesus is by listening. How often do we speak in ways that are shortsighted and filled with anger? The answer is more than I would like to admit. If we can acknowledge that we don’t get everything right and don’t always speak in a totally understanding and logical way — if you do, please say hi so I can ask you how you do it — then we can put our pride down long enough to hear from someone who might be doing the same. Who knows, you might learn that you were the one in the wrong, or you might learn from each other and grow in understanding others.
Finally, I think there is one group of “enemies” we might be able to love better. These people, of course, are those we view as different from ourselves. Whether because they have a different hobby or because they look different, it is easy to separate ourselves into like-minded, homogeneous groups. There is nothing wrong with this — per se — but when it becomes a way to avoid talking to people just because of visual differences, then I would argue we have room to grow.
Similar to political opponents, one way we can grow in loving these people is by engaging in conversation with them. If you are in theatre and don’t normally sit with athletes, ask an athlete to get a meal with you and just listen to them. The same goes for athletes who don’t normally engage with theatre people. Acting for Jesus often means acting in ways that are uncomfortable for us because they defy our normal patterns. While it will be strange, it will often be rewarding.
We can also pray for those whom we don’t easily love. Prayer is not limited to our friends or to our personal lives. Both of these are included in our prayer lives, but we can and should include those we don’t talk to every day. If you don’t know anything about them, ask God as you pray, and he might reveal something to pray for. Prayer for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in that person is always helpful. Who doesn’t have room to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22).
With all that in mind, let’s not let this teaching stay on paper — or a screen. One of the most effective ways to do something is to set a goal, whether it be getting coffee or lunch with someone who disagrees with you politically or who you maybe don’t talk to often. If you don’t have time for that, pick someone and pray for them for five minutes. Doing these simple things will help you step into this teaching and can get you closer to loving your enemies.
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