Love Your Enemies

By Amy Sparkman

How easy is it to love someone you’re mad at? Or someone who’s being nasty? Or someone who’s annoying? What about someone who’s negative and down? Jesus gives us a very direct order when it comes to interacting with people: “I tell you [that’s his way of commanding us to do something], love your enemies [his first command] and pray for those who persecute you [his second command], that you may be children of your Father in heaven [this is our reward for being obedient—for being loving].” So, the real question is: How do we love those who don’t love us?

The answer stems from the way we think about people. If we believe that God is good and made us in His image and likeness, then we must believe that we are good (Gen 1:26, 31). What, then, is the explanation for people who aren’t doing good things or acting in good ways? Behavior. The way we behave is not necessarily a reflection of who we really are. So when someone is acting annoying, grumpy, mean, nasty, negative, down, we need to look behind their actions or words to see their God-given identity. Sometimes this can be hard. Sometimes the behavior is so awful that we turn away from it in disgust, dismay, or discouragement.

When we’re facing an enemy or feeling picked on, we might need to ask for help from someone in authority, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if someone continues to bully another, it’s really important that we find help from a person in authority—parents, teachers, administration, coaches. It’s the loving thing to do. And it helps protect us from getting into a fight, from retaliating, from turning into a bully ourselves, from getting in trouble, and/or from getting suspended or expelled from school.

At the same time, we should be working hard to love this person. We do that by picturing how God sees this person. Does God see this person the way we’re seeing him? God is not making this person do nasty things. That would be impossible. Why? Because God is love and loves everyone—including those people who are giving us a hard time.

So if God loves everyone, does that mean I have to, too? Yes. But does God really love everyone? Yes! There are no exceptions. Jesus points out something very helpful about God’s love for all of us: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Think about that. We all see the sunrise, and the rain falls just as hard on my neighbor as it does on me. That’s the way God loves—evenly, equally.

So why is it so important for us to be obedient to Jesus’ commands in this case? Because the way we think affects how we respond to people who we think are our enemies and persecutors. If we see everyone through God’s eyes of Love, we are not going to get all upset and react to someone’s bad behavior. We won’t LIKE that behavior; but we will be able to separate the behavior from the person and love the individual who God created.

Jesus told us that it’s our job to love as compassionately and extravagantly as God does. What if we’re not doing a very good job of that? We can change. We get new opportunities to love more every single day. And every time we try, it gets easier. Why? Because to love is good, and that’s what we are. Every single one of us.