LOVING OUR ENEMIES
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Andrew Jackson was the 7th president of the United States and one of the most popular presidents ever. After two terms he left office with greater popularity than when he entered. He is one of the most interesting presidents to study, for the record would indicate that he had no business being president. He was left an orphan at age 14 because of the horrors of the Revolutionary War. He had a rough life from the start, and never did learn to speak or write correct English. He was unrefined and uneducated, and he had a violent temper. All of the presidents up to Jackson had been from the social aristocracy, and were wealthy and highly educated.
One thing Jackson was really good at, however, was hating. He hated the British for killing his family. He hated the Indians for he had seen them massacre many families. He hated his political and personal enemies. He was divorced, and his enemies tried to use his former wife in attacking him. He fought several duels over her. Jackson was a fighter all his life, and that is how he became a popular hero. He led his riflemen to victory in the battle of New Orleans with only 8 of his men killed while the enemy lost 700 dead and 1400 wounded. This man of battle, driven by hatred, became a Christian in later years, and after confessing Christ as Savior he was baptized and joined the church. He spent a great deal of time in study of the Bible. He died with a deep commitment to Christ and the Word of God. But he confessed that his toughest battle as a Christian was the forgiving of his enemies.
This is easy to understand when you think of a man who has been conditioned from childhood to hate. He thrived on hate, and hate is what motivated him and made him the hero of the masses. He was an expert hater, and only had a short part of his life to learn to love, and so he was only an amateur at love. Jesus wants us to be real professionals at love, but unfortunately even those of us who have not been conditioned by a life time of hate find it hard to rise above the amateur level. Sometimes we are able to do it, and other times we are so overwhelmed by anger, bitterness, and resentment, that the best we can do is feel guilty because we fall so far short of the ideal.
God specializes in the impossible, but we have a tough enough time trying to be effective on the level of the possible. It is possible to love our neighbor as our self, but even this can call for enormous effort. We even struggle at times to love our loved ones, and God Himself is not always a snap to love, for we do not understand His ways, and we suspect we could do something better if we were God, and so we even sometimes resent Him. No love comes easy all the time. But this love of ones enemies really goes against the grain of our nature. It does not seem to fit reality. It is like trying to taste sound or hear color. It doesn't make sense. What good is an enemy if you cannot enjoy hating him? There are some people you just love to hate, and, therefore, you would hate to love them.
Elizabeth Skoglund in her book To Anger, With Love, tells of how a Christian can battle with this business of trying to love an enemy. She worked under a supervisor who treated her and others unfairly. She was filled with resentment because of the unjust treatment. She was furious within, and she wanted to quit, but she would only damage her own career. Her only release was in prayer, and she revealed how honest prayer can save your sanity. She shares one of her prayers: "Dear God, you know how I hate this woman. You know I'd only be playing games with you if I ever said I want to like her. I don't. I thoroughly enjoy hating her, but I can't be close to you and hold on to hate. So because of that, I give you the right to love her through me. I ask you for a love I don't have and can't produce."
She began to eat lunch with her supervisor, and she asked about her family. She realized the only way to love is to know. People you despise become more real as people when you know them. It took time, but she got to know her well enough to genuinely like her. She never completely trusted her, for she was unpredictable and changeable, but she came to the point where she had a relationship where her anger was not in control of her emotions. By surrendering to God and opening herself up to know her enemy, she was able to come to the place where she was able to love her enemy. It was not perfect, but enough so that love triumphed over hate, and set her free from the spirit of revenge.
The convicted prisoner was brought before the judge for sentencing. "I find you guilty on 26 counts," the judge said. "And I sentence you to five years on each count, making a total of 130 years." The prisoner was shocked, and he said, "I can't serve that much time." The judge responded compassionately, "I know, so you don't have to serve the whole 130 years. Just do as much as you can." Jesus as our judge wants us to love on His level, and if we are totally yielded to His Spirit we can actually be channels of that kind of love. But the fact is, we are seldom that yielded. The ideal is not lowered to our level, but it is kept on His level of perfection, and His word to us is, "Do as much as you can." We are not to do nothing just because we can't do everything.
What we need to avoid is the terrible guilt feelings that develop in Christians because they have so many negative feelings toward others that contradict the spirit of Christ. Some of that guilt is good, for it is based on rebellion and a refusal to follow Christ, and are guilt is to lead us to repentance. Much guilt, however, is false guilt that comes from misunderstanding. Many Christians feel that they have an obligation to like everybody, and this really is impossible. Loving your enemy is not the same as liking your enemy. If you really liked your enemy, he would not be an enemy, but a friend. That is the goal, of course, of loving your enemy, but if that goal is not reached you can never like your enemy.
It is demanding of yourself more than Jesus intended to try and pretend that you like people who despise and persecute you. It is impossible to like a lifestyle that is one of evil, and which is injurious to those who live it, and to the society in which they live.
Trying to like everybody would be like trying to like all tastes in food, clothing, cars, life-style, etc. The commands of Christ are tough enough without making them absolutely impossible, and if you equate loving with liking, that is exactly what you are doing. Love for an enemy is based on an awareness that they are persons of infinite value for whom Christ died. They have the potential as you to be trophies of God's grace, and part of God's eternal family. This means you care about them and are concerned that they find God's best in Christ. You deal kindly with them in anyway you can, and you pray for them. You go out of your way to avoid offense and being a stumbling block to them. You strive by word and deed to enable them to feel the touch of God's grace in their life.
Jesus did this with His most antagonistic enemies, the Pharisees, and many of them came into His kingdom as leaders. Nicodemus, Joseph of Aramathea, and Paul the Apostle just to name a few. But Jesus never once altered His dislike for the Pharisees, and their whole legalistic scheme of life. He loved them and ate with them, and He counseled with them. His door was ever open to meet any need of the Pharisees, but Jesus never did like them. To like them would be to approve of them, and Jesus could never do that. So we see the paradox of being able to love your enemies while at the same time never liking them.
The Christian who tries to eliminate the not liking of his enemies is trying to do what goes beyond Christ, and that is not an achievable goal, nor is it even a desirable goal. If one could get to the point where he liked evil, injustice, and folly, one would be more like Satan than like Christ. It is failure to keep this distinction between love and like that leads people to distort the love of God. God is love, but God is not like. When you make the love of God such that it means He likes all as He loves all, you end with an universalism that eliminates judgment. You have reduced God to a level of indifference to evil, and so there is really no difference, and everybody is okay.
Nothing could be further from the truth of Christ's teaching. Jesus loved His enemies so much He died for them, but He never did like them, and He never ceased to fight their evil and warn them of the judgment to come if they persisted in their evil ways. Matthew chapter 23 reveals Jesus telling the Scribes and Pharisees how it really was. He calls them hypocrites, snakes, a brood of vipers, and sons of hell. He warns them over and over again of the judgment awaiting them for their folly. It is clear that Jesus did not like His enemies, and, therefore, do not demand of yourself that which is contrary to the spirit of Christ. To despise evil men and evil schemes is not inconsistent with obeying Christ. Following Christ's demands that we oppose the forces of evil, and do all we can to prevent their evil influence from hurting lives. Loving an enemy does not mean cooperation with him in promoting evil.
We have here then a great paradox where both sides are to be fully true even though they sound so contradictory. We are to love our enemies, pray for them, and treat them with kindness, yet we are not to like them, but despise their evil, and do all we can to prevent their effectiveness. You can't pick and choose which side of the paradox you are going to live on. You live on both sides or you cannot be complete as your Father in heaven is complete in His love, for He lives and acts on both sides of this paradox.
In the Old Testament the balance shifted toward hating ones enemies. There was such a battle for survival that Israel became very self-centered. The Gentiles were a threat, and so they were to be despised and rejected. The Jews came to think of the Gentiles as dogs, and, of course, the Gentiles felt the same about the Jews. There is a picture of universal love in the prophets, but in practice the Jews were very exclusive. The result is that to this day there is hostility between Jews and Gentiles. The Old Testament is not a very good foundation for a universal kingdom, even though that is the promise of God to Abraham.
Jesus came to fulfill that promise that in Abraham's seed all the nations of the earth would be blest. Jesus came to establish a kingdom where all walls are to come down. There is to be no Jew or Gentile, no rich or poor, no bound or free, and no male or female, but all are to be one in Christ. They are to come from every tribe, language, and nation. Everything that divides men is to be eliminated in Christ, and all former enemies are to become one in the family of God. What this means is that the Christian is to be constantly fighting against all of the natural tendencies of man to divide and categorize people, and put them into their proper box. Jesus is fighting this tendency because that is what creates so many enemies so unnecessarily.
If you love does not go beyond the circle of your own kind, you are no different than the rest of the world, and the worst of the world. Even the Publicans and the tax collectors, the most despised group of people, love those in their same box. Traitors and cut throats get together and have a ball, for they have much in common, and they enjoy one another. This is true for all people, for everyone likes those who are like them. Christians do the same thing. Evangelicals like evangelicals. Fundamentalists like fundamentalists. Liberals like liberals. But the Christian who stops there, and only likes those like themselves have ceased to be truly Christlike. Jesus expects us to go beyond this liking of like to the loving of the unlike.
Remember you don't have to like the unlike, but you must, to be Christlike, love the unlike. If you do not, you are not any better than the rest of the world, and are not a part of the answer, but a part of the problem. Many Christians are of no more value to the plan of God than are unbelievers of the world, for they only love those who love them. Anybody can do this, and so the Christian who does only this has not risen above the lest of the world, and this is to be salt with no saltiness, and light under a bushel, and so of no value as far as God's purpose is concerned.
Only by crossing over the lines and breaking down the walls, and reaching into other boxes can the Christian be truly Christian in this world. The Christian is one who loves those he does not like, but the world are those who love only those they do like. The Christian, therefore, is different from everyone else. If they are not, they add nothing to life that is unique and of Christ. All other people feel obligated to hate their enemies, for that is part of their love and loyalty to those of their own in group. The Christian can, and must, love those who oppose their in group, and do so without any love or loyalty lost to the in group.
This means the Christian must love the non-Christian, and even the anti- Christian. He does not need to like them, but he does need to love them. He must relate to them differently than all others relate to their enemies. He must care about them as persons, and not just seek to win victories over them. Many are the true stories like that of the young Armenian girl who watched a Turkish soldier kill her brother. She escaped and later became a nurse working in a military hospital. That Turkish soldier was brought into the hospital severely wounded. A little neglect could have ensured his death, but she fought back the natural desire for revenge. She gave him the best possible care she could. When he recovered and came to know who it was that saved his life he wanted to know why she did it. She shared with him her faith in Christ. He wanted to know the Christ that could give such a love for an enemy, and he became a Christian and her brother in Christ. Revenge could have been so sweet for a short time, but her love brought sweetness that will be forever.
Love always looks at the long run. The reason God can be good to evil men is not because He likes evil for a second, but because, though He hates it, He knows evil is only temporary. He loves evil men, and providentially shows them grace, not only by the sun and rain He gives, but in a multitude of ways, because some will respond to that grace and be saved forever. That is worth a lot of patience and endurance. It was worth the cross to God and Jesus.
Many feel the Sermon on the Mount is incomplete because it lacks the cross, but this is not so, for the cross is right here. To take up the cross and follow Jesus is to deny self and love your enemy. That is what the cross is all about. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, that is, the enemy. Baring the cross is saying, not my will but Thine be done. It is letting go of the natural desire for revenge and retaliation in order to love and have concern for the well being of those who do not deserve it. This is not hard, it is impossible, but by the grace of God it can be done, and in being done we see redemptive love rising above all other values as the cross rises above all other symbols or self-sacrifice. History proves that the way of Christ does work, and no other way does. His teachings are the only way to victory over the forces of evil in our own hearts and in the world. The way of the cross leads home, and it is the only way to get a taste of heaven in time. May God give us the wisdom to see that the only way to be truly Christlike is to practice loving our enemies.