On Coming to Love One’s Enemies

By Virginia Schurman

Every day, we hear reports of how people are being murdered, and of how lives, families, and peoples are torn apart by hatred, wars, violence, torture, and terrorism. Hate leads to more hate, wars to more wars, violence to more violence, and terrorism to more terrorism. How can we find a solution to this escalation?

We must turn to love or face even more widespread suffering and ultimate mutual destruction. Only love will stop the escalation of hatred and violence, and cut across the rising barriers as we seek vengeance for being wronged.

How can we come to love our enemies?

We can come to love our enemies because love reflects the very nature of the Light of God within us. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7) The Holy Spirit loves all people without qualification. Our willingness to love brings us closer to God and to reflecting that love in our lives. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “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 children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43 -45, 48) The perfection of which Jesus speaks is one of loving, wholly, unconditionally and without ceasing.

We can come to love our enemies because this is what God wants us to do. Just before his death, Jesus instructed his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love: just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love…This is my commandment. That you love one another, as I have loved you…You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15: 9, 10, 12, 14)

We can come to love our enemies because love is a fruit of our relationship with God. Before His death, Jesus promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit who will teach us inwardly and lead us into all truth. (John 16:13) It is the Holy Spirit that places love in our hearts and brings the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

How do we grow in love?

Growth in love arises from our growing relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us into the ways of love and loving works. We are given the ability to love, the specific leadings to express that love, and the strength to love. We will grow into the loving person that God has created each of us to be. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”

As we grow in the life of the Spirit, and participate more fully in the ways of God’s love, we are stretched to go beyond our normal likes and dislikes. “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you”. Like Christ, we develop a special affection for the outcasts and those that others consider unlovable. Jesus was criticized for associating with the tax collectors and those who others considered sinners. He identified himself with all those suffering and in need (those who are hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the sick, the prisoners) and said that whatever we do to them, we do to Him .

As we grow in the life of the Spirit, our whole paradigm shifts from centering on ourselves to centering on God and what God wants for our lives. This results in altering our usual attitudes toward others and therefore altering our unhealthy patterns of behavior toward them. We give up the self-centeredness, competition, and comparison with others that our culture fosters. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” . We can grow in love for others by learning how to put ourselves in their places and trying to understand why they are acting and reacting as they do. It helps us to be more loving when we try to understand what or who has influenced them to come to their current actions and attitudes.

As we grow in the life of the Spirit, we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ by our growing commitment to do what God wants us to do. “And all of us, with unveiled faces seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord; the Spirit…For it is the God, who said, ’Let light shine our of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” . We are His workmanship. As we grow in the life of the Spirit, we come to realize that we depend wholly on God for sustaining love. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God “

A New Life of Love

The Love that comes from our life in Christ is not naïve. This love realizes that it may not be returned, just as Jesus’ love was not returned. There is a willingness to suffer to bring all to a new place of love, just as Jesus was willing to suffer and die to show us the full extent of God’s love. Paul writes from the experience of the early Christians “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” . God revealed to Paul that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As we grow in the new life in Christ, we are given the ability to forgive just as Jesus forgave from the cross.

We must love our enemies because it is emotionally and psychologically healthy for all of us – for the one who loves as well as the one being loved. Jesus’ teaching was for the welfare of both: “You have heard that it was said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

We learn from Paul’s experience: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three: and the greatest of these is love.”

All quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible