One of the basic tenants of the Christian faith is Jesus’s call to love our enemies. Jesus proclaims it in both the Sermon on the Mount and also the Sermon on the Plain. Ask many non-Christians on the street, and they will admit that Christians are called to love our enemies. Christians may argue at times over how best to live into the truth of this teaching, specifically what exactly constitutes love of enemy, or even whether the command is practical or not, but no one can really argue over the fact that Jesus calls his disciples to love their enemies.
Which raises a very important question; who is my enemy?
Often we try to answer this question on a national level. The national government or the news media try to name our enemies. They name foreign countries or terrorist organizations as enemies of the State that need to be eradicated. Yet for Christians, are foreign countries really our enemies? Each of these “foreign powers” has many Christians living inside the country; good, God-loving people. These are not our enemies. We worship the same God, and the teachings to love our enemies. Also, when we leave the question on a national level it is very theoretical. Most of us will never actually travel to some of these foreign countries labeled as enemies. Thus, we have almost zero chance of encountering our enemy and needing to wrestle with the truth of what it means to love. Loving our enemies then becomes a theory that we can believe in while never having to live out in practice.
What happens when we bring the conversation down to a local level, a personal level, and ask who is my enemy? Often, when asked, we might claim we have no enemies because there is no one we are currently fighting with; no one with whom we have direct conflict. Again, by failing to name our enemies, we don’t have to struggle with the call of discipleship to learn to love our enemy because our enemy has neither a face or a name. Our enemy is not personal.
Perhaps our idea of what is an enemy needs to be redefined. What if our enemy is not just someone we are fighting with, but the person we despise most? Can we learn to love the person we despise most? Can we learn to love the coworker who always gets on our nerves? Can we learn to love the neighbor who lets their dog run free in the neighborhood and go to the bathroom in everyone’s yard? Can we love the person at church who always complains about every decision, no matter what it is? Can we love the employer who told us our services were no longer needed? Can we love the one who has wronged us in ways that hurt to the core? Can we learn to love the person we most despise?
On this level, loving our enemy becomes a relevant question, and a difficult proposition. To learn to love the person we despise most is not easy. To learn to love the one who has wronged us is extremely difficult. Learning to love the other doesn’t take away the hurt, or justify the actions. It’s not a passive response allowing the other to harm you indiscriminately. It is however refusing to return hatred with more hatred. Loving the enemy is refusing to escalate the battle. Loving the enemy is saying no matter what you do, I will not treat you the same way you treat me. This goes against our natural instincts, which when attacked make us what to attack in return. Yet, Jesus never said discipleship was easy. It’s not easy, but it is godly.
Which brings us back to our question, can I learn to love the person I most despise? Whoever that person is: coworker, neighbor, family member, church leader…. Can I learn to love the person I most despise? Yes, I admit Jesus calls me to love them, but can I actually learn to love?
One strategy that can help is to pray for the person you most despise. Don’t pray for them to be punished, or to see the error of their ways. Instead, pray for them to be blessed. Pray for God to bless their business or career. Pray for God to bless their marriage. Pray for God to shower them with blessing upon blessing. This accomplishes two ends. First, it helps to fulfill the command of Jesus “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who wrong you.” Secondly, it is very difficult to hate someone you pray for daily. Praying for God to bless the one you despise causes you to see that person in a new light. It breaks down the barriers of hate, and brings about love. It doesn’t mean they will become your best friend, but it will help you to love the one you don’t want to love.