In our young adults Bible study on Wednesday nights, we’re presently working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus’ life. The gospels are wonderful as they reveal God’s kingdom bursting into the world in the person of Jesus, but also challenging as he calls those who follow him to live radical lives of sacrifice, putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Often we find him teaching in ways that are on one level easy to understand, but on another very difficult to do.
One perfect example of this is the classic command, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” On the one hand, it’s easy – there’s no real difficulty in knowing what he means, no cultural confusion by the centuries between his time and ours. Love your enemies! What could be simpler? But then, how do we actually do that?
The first question that we need to answer is this: who are our enemies? When Luke recorded these words of Jesus, he probably had in mind the Roman troops occupying their land, a visible sign of Rome’s oppression. Certainly the actions he goes on to describe these enemies doing – violence, theft and unreasonable demands – fit with the way that many such soldiers were free to act towards the local population. But we don’t live in a country like theirs, so who are our enemies? Perhaps asking the question can be misleading. Jesus doesn’t tell his followers to look for enmity, he tells them this is how you are to be when people wrong you. You are not to be a people of vengeance, or even what might seem to be a just retribution. Jesus, like us, lived in a culture where the norm was to be good to those who were good to you; and to respond in kind to those who aren’t. In our heads, this seems fair – but the Christlike response is to offer grace where it is undeserved. Grace isn’t fair. We’re to love those who oppose us.
Second, love is not an emotion. Jesus isn’t calling us to feel warm and fuzzy towards our enemies so that our hearts leap out to them, the popular Hollywood picture of ‘love’. Love is an action. We show love by the way that we do love – having said to love our enemies, Jesus spells out a series of positive verbs. Do good. Bless. Pray. We don’t just tolerate those whom we struggle with, we are to seek their good in a proactive way.
How will we love our enemies this week? How can we grow as a community who seek to make his love known? The first and best step we can take is to begin with prayer. Pray that God will help us to understand the depth of his love for us, and so grow in us a love for others, an active, self-giving love that will extend not only to friends and family but even to those who might be perceived as our ‘enemies’. The love that God first showed to us.
“And God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)”