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Got enemies? Anybody out there in your country whom you despise?

I get it. We are being tempted to hate. It is like a virus these days. Yet, Christians know that they are called upon, not to hate, but to love their enemies. Let me be quick to add that we are addressing the enemies of Christians, not necessarily enemies politically. Our job as Christians is to speak God’s truth in love to those who oppose our faith in Jesus. There is political truth and there is Christian truth—they may not be identical. If Christian enemies and political enemies conjoin, our charge to tell God’s truth does not change. I am not saying that Christians should not speak political truths. After all, one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot (Mark 3:18).

Here is Jesus’ difficult command:  

“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” (Matthew 5:43–45).1

What does that look like? For some answers, the best place to look is at Jesus Himself and find how He loved His enemies.

It may be startling to discover that for Jesus, loving His enemies did not mean that He avoided offending them or hurting their feelings. Once He called them hypocrites six times within the space of a few minutes (Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, and 27). He told them they did not know God and were liars. “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word” (John 8:55). He said they were the offspring of the devil and did his will. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44a). He called them snakes and destined to hell, to their faces. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). After Jesus had finished a diatribe against the Pharisees, a lawyer told Him that He had insulted them, too. Jesus did not back off. “One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And he said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers’” (Luke 11:45–46).

Jesus did not apologize for insulting the lawyer. He doubled down.  

So, a question. How could Jesus be loving His enemies if He was insulting them?

The truth must be answered with the truth. We know for certain that Jesus was loving the Pharisees and lawyers when He blasted them, because God is love. Thus, our only answer is that loving these men meant confronting and insulting them to bring them to truth. Jesus was more concerned about them believing in Him than He was their hurt feelings.

Here is another New Testament example. The coup de grace of Stephen’s amazing message before the Sanhedrin detailing Israel’s continuing rebellion against God despite His gracious care, was,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51–53).

Their response? “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54).

God’s response? “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

Clearly, the Lord was pleased. As the old preachers used to say, “Jesus gave Stephen a standing ovation.”

So, another question: How do we work out these challenging, loving encounters in our lives?

With great care.

With great difficulty.

With great love.

How do we speak the truth in love without insulting our enemies? That may not be possible. However, we must be sure that if we are angry, that we sin not. We must be certain our anger is righteous and does not originate in our old nature.

Lord, please help us in our weakness. We know we should not hate, but it is tempting to do so. Please place your love for our enemies in our hearts. Please give us wisdom, tempered with compassion and forgiveness as we enter some very strange days.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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