Why Love Our Enemies?

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved, Loving Our Enemies


Why should we love our enemies?

Response (staff answer):

The simple answer to this question is that Jesus told us to love our enemies:

“I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:44-45 KJV)

Jesus didn’t say this would be easy. In fact, this happens to be a most challenging instruction from his Sermon on the Mount. There’s lots of resistance to it, which we’ve all heard or even thought: I don’t want to love my enemy. I’ve been too hurt by someone. I want them to suffer. There’s nothing in that person to love. There’s no way that person deserves forgiveness. The enemy needs to be destroyed. Why should I pray for someone who is out to hurt (or even kill) others?

Yet, as followers of the Christ, we follow his lead; we obey his instruction. And that’s a really important why. Jesus also gave us a why: “that you may be the children of your Father in heaven.” The NLT translates Jesus’ words this way: “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” The first translation could indicate that we love so that we can be God’s children. The words of the NLT suggest that because we are God’s children, we act like God’s children—we love. Our loving our enemies reveals, shows, even proves that we are God’s true children, made in God’s own loving likeness.

Additionally, if we love our enemies, we are free from enmity of any kind. Let’s think about this for a bit. Do we have any enemies? Do we harbor any resentment, hold any grudges, aim animosity and bitterness toward anyone, even if we don’t know them personally? How is that affecting us? Is holding on to hatred making us feel free and happy? Or, rather, does hating make us feel out of control of our emotions and actions? And if we’re controlled by something else, then we’re not free.

If we hate, we are essentially slaves to hatred. What we send out to the world, how we view the world and its people, is what we bring into our focus. Vitriolic words, angry and vengeful actions, spiteful and made-up lies, pollute our mental atmosphere and our well-being. They’re essentially self-destructive. But we don’t want to self-destruct, so we do not want to be involved in hating or cursing.

The only way to experience freedom, to free ourselves from the destructive nature of such animosity, is to love. If we love others, we cease to see them as enemies. If we cease to see them as enemies, we don’t have them as enemies. We’ve eliminated the threat. We’ve gained freedom from fear, from potential victimhood. We’ve claimed dominion.

And, as follower of Christ, we use such dominion to go out of our way to help and heal others. The only way to save our enemies from the destructiveness of hatred, fear, anger, revenge, etc., is to love them, too. This is another reason why we love—to save, redeem, and protect others from the damaging effects of enmity; to lift others up to the Christ; to help others, as much as we can, experience the transformative power of love. We can’t keep the power of love to ourselves. We must share it.

As God’s children, acting as God would have us act, we love everyone—unconditionally and without judgment. Jesus explains, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (NLT). God loves all. It doesn’t appear that God plays favorites. God doesn’t withhold sunlight and rain—love, blessing, good—from anyone. So who are we to judge, condemn, create enemies, and withhold love since God sends blessings on all alike?

If we don’t love our enemies, well, then we’re not really doing anything extraordinary; we’re not really living a Christly life; we’re not setting an example; we’re not using what we’ve learned; we’re not walking the walk; we’re not making a difference. The rest of Jesus command is this:

“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:46-48 NLT)

We’re to be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect. Now, this may seem like a tall order, especially since we’re not perfect human beings. But “perfect” in both New and Old Testament can also mean complete, whole. In this light, we can think of ourselves as whole and complete. God gave us everything we need, and that includes the ability to love others. Scholars also look at this verse as saying that we are to imitate God, to be like God. Well, God loves everyone, so we love everyone.

When we realize that we love others with the love of God, loving our enemies becomes much easier. We don’t have to generate love. We just express the love of God to others. That takes the burden off of us and enables us simply to share a gift God has given us with others.

So why love our enemies? It’s natural for us to love. Love is the only power that can neutralize enmity and bring freedom to ourselves and the world. And the world could use some loving right now.