Jesus said plenty of shocking, countercultural, and difficult things in his time on earth. But maybe the most shocking command he gave was to love your enemies AND to pray for your enemies.
Love your enemies? Who does that?! They’re your enemy for a reason. And a good reason at that. They hurt you. Spread lies about you. Stabbed you in the back. They are seeking your demise. They ruined your life. They hurt someone you care about. They are your enemies. You are supposed to hate them, you are supposed to fight them. Your enemies don’t deserve love, they deserve payback.
While the rest of the world does what makes logical sense, Jesus takes a different approach. He says love your enemies. Pray for your enemies. And that’s a really hard pill to swallow for some of us. So many of us don’t. It’s much easier to hate our enemies than it is to love them.
But I think this is a command we need to revisit and see how to love your enemy as Jesus did. I think we’ve missed the significance of why we would should love our enemies and how to actually do it. So let’s jump in and look at what it means to love your enemies.
Love Your Enemies Verse
To start understanding how to love your enemies, we first need to look at the command Jesus gave.
Jesus says: 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,that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
This verse is part of the Sermon on the Mount. For more about that check out: Jesus Revolutionary Kingdom Explained
Jesus does in this passage what he often does… He raises the bar. The standard expectation that exists is to love your friends and hate your enemies. Everyone does that. Jesus takes it a step further. You shouldn’t just love those who love you, but also love those who hate you.
That’s revolutionary. That’s countercultural. And that can change the world.
If you are wondering who does that… the answer is Jesus.
This is what Jesus did for you and for me. While we were still enemies of God he went to the cross for us (Romans 5:10). Jesus showed us the ultimate act of love for you and me while we were still sinners. He modeled it for us. And then commands us to do the same.
Let’s dive a little further into why you should love your enemies.
Why You Should Love Your Enemies (and pray for your enemies)
You should love your enemies because Jesus first loved you. And listen… Jesus is not giving you want you deserve. You don’t deserve his love. He’s giving you what you desperately need. You’ve been forgiven of much. Your massive debt has been paid. Your freedom purchased.
Therefore, because of what he has done for you, you are charged to go do the same for those who have wronged you. They don’t deserve it. But they desperately need it, even if they don’t know it. You can love your enemies because you have been loved when you were an enemy.
But there’s another piece to this puzzle.
You should love your enemies because how you treat people tells those around you something about Jesus. Especially those you disagree with and who have hurt you.
Don’t miss this… There are people who don’t know Jesus who are watching you and making assumptions about what Jesus is like. There are people around you whose picture of who Jesus is will be shaped by what you do and say. For better or worse.
How you love your enemies… how you pray for your enemies… or don’t… tells those around you something about Jesus. You very well might be the ONLY picture someone has of Jesus. That’s why we should love our enemies.
We love our enemies because Jesus loved us when we were enemies. And we should love our enemies because we are Jesus’ hands and feet.
Let’s look at how to love your enemies as Jesus did. Here’s 6 practical ways you can love your enemies.
How To Love Your Enemies
One quick note… When I saw the term “enemy” I mean for it to be as broad as possible. It could be someone who stabbed you in the back. It could be that person that voted differently than you. Or the person that cut you off in traffic. You should think of your enemies as anyone who you find yourself having ill-thoughts against. Whether for a few minutes or many years.
Alright, here’s how to love your enemies.
1. Pray For Healing From Brokenness and Bitterness (and pray for your enemies)
Your enemies are probably enemies for a good reason. They’ve hurt you or someone you love. The hurt that our enemies have caused to us is real. Even if it’s a seemingly small hurt, it still leaves a scar.
The first step in loving our enemies is finding healing for the wounds they’ve caused. Prayer is where we start. We should take our brokenness, pain, and bitterness to God. We should ask him to bring healing in our lives.
This isn’t an overnight fix, it will take some time. And that’s okay. Start the process of healing by praying for healing and for those who have hurt you.
Learning how to love your enemies starts with recognizing the pain and seeking healing through prayer.
2. Practice Empathy (put yourself in their shoes)
We are increasingly becoming a more and more polarized society. We exist in echo chambers that reinforce what we already believe to be true. This has lead to us lobbing stones at those whom we disagree with. Our enemies.
But instead of throwing stones we should extend a hand. To love our enemies we need to put ourselves in their shoes.
I would bet, that if you actually got to know that person you can’t stand, I mean actually listened to them, not to argue, but to genuinely listen, if you heard their life story and took time to understand what makes them tick, you would see that they have good reason to believe what they believe.
Don’t miss this… even if what they believe is wrong, they still probably have good reason to believe it.
Learning how to love your enemies means you need to practice empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Let that person become human and not just a target for your attacks. After all, they are created in the image of God and loved dearly by him.
3. Find Common Ground
When we are in conflict we tend to focus on what’s wrong with the other person. We find all the faults and differences. We focus on the negative. But instead we should find the positive.
I get it, this is hard. But I bet there is something you can find in that person that you like, that’s admirable. I promise there’s something there. Find the common ground.
I know that can be really tough. But there’s at least one thing you should always be able to find common ground in. Your enemy is created by God and loved by him. Just as you are. You have that in common. If you can find nothing else, focus on that. God created and loves that person.
To love your enemy you need to stop focusing on all your differences and instead find the positive.
There’s an incredible amount of unforgiveness in our culture. You screw up once and you are done. We live in a cancel culture. We love calling people out for their mistakes. You make a mistake and you are canceled.
The problem is we all make mistakes. So, if you play by those rules eventually you will be the one that gets canceled.
Jesus offers a way out. He gives us what we need and not what we deserve. That’s called grace. We’ve been forgiven of much, therefore we should forgive others.
It’s not fair and it’s not easy, it cost Jesus his life and it will cost us too. But when we show grace, when we offer forgiveness, we are showing people a glimpse of Jesus.
In a culture that relishes pointing out others’ failure, imagine the impact a church that pours out lavish grace would make. Even on our enemies.
Part of loving your enemies is learning to forgive them for what they’ve done to us. Just as Jesus has forgiven us.
For more on cancel culture check out: How Should Christians Respond To Cancel Culture
5. Pursue Unity and Peace
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9
In Matthew 5:3-11 Jesus lays out the distinguishing marks of His kingdom. One of the marks is that we are to make peace. But it’s so much easier to throw gasoline on the fire isn’t it? But that’s not what Jesus calls us to do. In a world that is broken and divided we should be pursuing peace and unity.
And that includes with our enemies.
It’s possible to have peace with those who voted differently than you. It’s possible to be friends with someone who views the world differently than you. It’s possible to stand for your convictions in love. It’s possible to love someone with whom you disagree with. It is possible to find peace with your enemies. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us.
Part of loving your enemies means pursuing peace with them.
You might also like: How Christians Should Respond To Political Turmoil
6. Be Patient
All this takes time. It’s not going to change overnight. Be patient.
Be patient with yourself. It will take time for you to genuinely love your enemies. That’s okay. We are on a transformative journey where we are looking a little more like Christ each day. But it won’t happen overnight and it’s going to be hard. Be patient with yourself.
Be patient with your enemies. The same journey you are on is one that they are one. Just as you won’t change overnight, neither will they. Give them time. Jesus is the perfect example for us. He has been far more patient than we deserve. He models for us the posture we should take. We too should be patient with our enemies.
Closing Thoughts On How To Love Your Enemy
I know this isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus either. The command to love your enemy is why many abandon following Jesus. It’s hard and flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It’s countercultural. It’s different than what anyone else is doing. And… it has the potential to change the world.
We are still talking about Jesus 2,000 years later because he loved us while we were still enemies. He lived out his command to love your enemies and everything changed. Imagine what could happen if the church today took this command seriously and chose love instead of hate. If all the followers of Jesus chose to love those they disagreed with. If instead of fighting we choose to turn the other cheek. I think the world would once again change.
So, go love your enemies. Change the world.
Let’s hear from you! How do you love your enemies?
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Don’t forget to leave a comment. What tips do you have on how to love your enemies?