How To Love Your Enemies

Last week we looked at how to love like Jesus.  There was one aspect of His love that I have been keenly convicted of, and I want to dive deep into what it means.  Jesus tells us that we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Matthew 5:44 (NIV).  But how do you love your enemies?

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What Is An Enemy?

An enemy is someone who wants to hurt you and is harmful to you. Whether the pain is emotional, physical, or both, it’s hard to imagine loving them in response.

Maybe the hurt was a betrayal from a friend, or someone spread lies about you. Whose cruel words or actions hurt you?  Was it your friend or family member? A coworker or fellow church member?  Were you emotionally or physically abused?

Why Should We Love Our Enemies?

The “why” is simple to answer.

First of all, Jesus asks us to do it.

He taught extensively on the subject starting with Luke 6:27-28 and he was crystal clear:  “But I tell you who hear me:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “

He is telling us to love our enemies and treat them with kindness, blessings, and prayer.

Why? Because we show who Jesus is when we love our enemies. 

We are his ambassadors to show them his love.  That differs completely from feeling love for them.  The love of Jesus is not dependent on feelings but loving in the way Jesus did despite our feelings and regardless of people’s actions.

It’s the “how” that can be difficult.

How Do You Love Your Enemies?

We talked last week about how hard it can be to love like Jesus. We need:

• God’s grace (His undeserved favor to us)

•The power of the Holy Spirit

•A deep trust in God

Our Human Nature

But loving our enemies?  That goes against our human nature.  Sometimes our human nature wants to hold a grudge or get revenge.  But the Bible makes it clear: “Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.” Romans 12:19 (NLT).

To take revenge is to repay evil with evil.  It’s easy to strike back or to strike out at our enemies. And when we feel attacked or hurt, it’s hard to love.  But God says to let Him deal with our enemies. Only He can judge, and he doesn’t need our input on how it should look.  We are to leave our enemy in his hands.

“Don’t repay evil for evil.  Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you.  Instead, pay them back with a blessing.  That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.”  1 Peter 3:9 (NLT)

As Christians, we have a new purpose and a new way of life. Instead of “getting even” as our old self wants, we respond with a blessing, a prayer, or a positive response.

How Do We Love Our Enemies

Jesus Models How To Love Your Enemy

Jesus faced incredible opposition in his life.  His enemies were out to discredit, harass, and eventually kill him.  But he did not allow himself to let his enemies sidetrack him from his purpose.  He responded to his enemies with truth, healing, kindness, and love.  He was out to change hearts.

And He wants us in this battle with Him.

He also asks us to love as he does because blessing others with kindness and love is a protection for us.  It keeps us from falling into a trap of bitterness, hatred, and seeking revenge.

How to love your enemies

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What If I Don’t Love My Enemy?

Let’s talk for a moment about what happens when we don’t love our enemies.  Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it causes great anxiety, sleepless nights, a bitter and angry spirit, and affects those who we love and care about.

I believe Paul says it best: “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. “Hebrews 12:15b.

A Root of Bitterness 

I suffered sexual abuse as a child over a period of years.  My anger, shame, and confusion simmered deep below the surface.  The concept of forgiveness ate at me for years. Had I truly forgiven? I forgave him (I thought), but forget?  Impossible. And “loving” my abuser? No way. That was the last thing on my mind.

Approximately 10 years ago, my abuser (whom I rarely saw) hit again with a cruel public humiliation (in church, of all places.)  A wave of bitter, furious anger immediately boiled up inside me. My reaction was an immediate strong physical and emotional one.

I admit, with all honesty, that after that incident, I absolutely wanted him to burn in hell for all the torment he had caused in my life.

I know how horrible that sounds, but it is the absolute truth. My deep underlying disgust and bitterness converted to hate.  Not only did I never receive an apology or admission of guilt, but after all these years, I realized he was still out to hurt me.  I wanted him to pay for his actions.

The only reason I can admit to this, and feel compelled to, is because it was Jesus alone who changed my heart in this situation.  As impossible as it sounds, at long last, it was Jesus who helped me to love my enemy. He alone changed my response to this person.

To God be all the glory in this situation.  It certainly did not come from me.

Healing From Bitterness

It was a process (and continues to be) for sure.  How gentle He was with me!  While I expected my hatred to turn his face away from me, I only felt his love. I could feel how his heart ached over my injured spirit.  He sent me verse after verse of his unending, supernatural and forever love.

Satan was trying to use my abuse to harbor hate and pull me away from Jesus’ love. But Jesus said no; she’s mine.

“No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

Jesus exchanged my distorted view of self-worth, safety, and trust with his own. He let me see myself as his beloved.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NKJV.)

God Makes All Things New

•He showed me the truth of his love in a new way through words I had read previously many times:

“Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 12:2 (NLT).

•He reminded me that because he reconciled me to himself, I am a completely new person on the inside.  And that makes me a partner with him in the reconciliation process to the world.

•He gave me the insight to see my abuser with his vision.  I saw the value he places on each human life he creates.  He wants no one to perish.

“God is patient because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” 2 Peter 3:9 (CEV)

•His love put everything in perspective.  While he was holding me close and loving me, he also loved my abuser.

Forgiveness and Bitterness

•He reminded me that because he has forgiven me, I, too, must forgive.

•I love Jesus; therefore, I can’t pick and choose whom to forgive or who to love. If I say I love and trust Jesus, then I accept his words as truth.  He says to “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34.

•Then he lovingly asked me to put my abuser in his hands; to let Him be his judge and jury. It was my choice.

And I did.  I handed him over.  And then a great rest came over me.

What Happens When You Love Your Enemies?

Jesus’ overwhelming love and care for me soothed my hate like a healing balm. The roiling turbulence inside me receded.  It allowed me to trust Him completely to deal with my abuser.

God filled me up with the power of his Holy Spirit (my advocate, my defender!) to bless/love my abuser just enough to pray that he will truly repent and be saved.  I can’t adequately explain how freeing it is to no longer be a slave to another person’s behavior through bitterness and hate. I am no longer his victim, and I never will be again.  Jesus healed me.

Ho do we love our enemies

Loving Like Jesus 

It helps me as well to understand that the love Jesus is talking about doesn’t mean affection. It doesn’t mean letting others continue to hurt us.  He wants us to put strong, protective boundaries into place. He wants us to find people to help us heal through the hurt. Jesus wants us to feel safe and secure.

He has a much better plan for our lives than to live in hate and bitterness.  He created us to do good works, not sink into sin. It’s a poisonous place to dwell.  Nipping those feelings off before they can blossom keeps them from growing back.

Jesus watches carefully and sees how other people treat us. He had seen all my abuse and was heartbroken.  But allowing Him to be the judge released me to have his deep peace in my heart.

Ways To Love Your Enemies

Bitterness against our enemies doesn’t always manifest itself in hate, but other actions are just as destructive.  We may complain or criticize, or use jabs or sarcasm when speaking of them or to them. (Guilty!) Since none of these are loving, we have to change the way we see our enemies.

Change your internal dialogue.

Instead of ruminating on the hurt they caused, pray for them.  Bless them by offering up a simple prayer: “Jesus, please bless _______.”  Each time your enemy comes to mind, replace the negative chatter in your head with prayer. Pray that Jesus will work in a mighty way to soften their heart and open their eyes.  Pray that they feel a deep need for Jesus instead of opposing his ways. But just pray.

It’s hard to think revengeful thoughts as you offer up a prayer.  It puts our focus on God and His good plan for our healing and spiritual growth.

•Honor your emotions, but don’t let them overtake you.  

“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”  2 Thessalonians 3:5  Don’t let your emotions overpower what you know to be true about God.

(Need hope and encouragement that comes from knowing the true character and attributes of God? You may like this post: Psalm 23- Discovering the Character of God.)

•Pray for strength and patience for yourself.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26 (NLT).

Love Your Enemies

Loving our enemies is a lifelong challenge. We will continue to be hurt, disrespected, betrayed and mistreated in this life. But remind yourself of who the real Enemy is in each situation.  He wants us to be at war with each other and within ourselves.  The last thing he wants us to do is to heal, or bless and love our enemies!

Trusting in Jesus and seeking out the wisdom in His word helps us develop a love like His. Then our response can be in His image as we love our enemies.

Blessings!

AnnMarie

Photo Credits: Pixabay

29 thoughts on “How To Love Your Enemies”

    1. Your words affirm what I know to be true in God’s Word.
      I read in Ezra 7:10 that Ezra “Set his heart to study the Law (God’s Word), to DO it, and to teach it….”
      My situation is my mother moved in with our family this past year and my life has been extremely stressful since!
      She preaches God’s Word to me, but she does not practice what she speaks.
      I must constantly deflect snarky comments that are personally attacking or belittling.
      She has an angry spirit and is filled with unforgiveness and bitterness.
      My parents had a very volatile marriage, they divorced 30 years ago, my Dad has been remarried for 20 years.
      Mother has never forgiven him, and expects us to hate him and especially his wife, because that would “honor” her as our mother. (her twisting of God’s Word)
      Though I am a seasoned prayer warrior and Christian and have been married 40 years myself, I find this small woman in my household has wreaked much havoc to my faith and peace of mind in one year’s time!
      Almost daily I am told I do not “obey Scripture to honor her, and that I am disrespectful”.
      By that what she really means is:
      “I don’t let her do what she wants to do, when she wants to do it.”
      (FYI: she is a hoarder – when we closed her small home we had a 3 ton dumpster overflowing with trash!) (much of her frustration with me is that I will not let her stack my home with stuff as she did hers)
      All this to say:
      What was I thinking to bring this woman into my home?
      Is this truly the way to honor her?
      It feels like it is killing me!
      My blood pressure is up every day.
      I don’t expect answers.
      I don’t expect any human to rescue me.
      But –
      I AM making an intentional choice to stay in God’s Word!
      I believe my God SHALL supply All that I need – including endurance and perseverance as is necessary.
      All this to say that loving our “enemies” may at times be those in our immediate family.
      However, it is still a choice to release the difficult person (in this case my mother) to the Lord.
      Only He can heal her wounded areas.
      I pray God help her forgive and let go of the anger.
      I pray God bless her with peace of heart and mind.
      And – I pray these things for myself as well.
      Thank you for sharing your heart in words.
      It helped me this morning!
      God bless and keep you!

      1. Thank you for sharing your story, Violet! I’m glad this post spoke to your heart. This is a very difficult situation. Timely that you would share it as well! Next week’s post is about “Bible Verses for Caregivers” which can be a thankless and stressful task. I speak about honoring our parents when they are angry/disrespectful/etc. God’s Word has such comfort, reassurance, and love to help us through any trial! I know He will continue to guide you and give you wisdom as you seek His heart. God bless you Violet! I am adding you to my prayer list ((hugs))

  1. Hello AnnMarie! I came looking specifically for help with this question and this blog post was incredibly helpful. My situation sounds minor – a difficult and angry neighbour has made life far more challenging that it needs to be. Jesus has come through so much in actually prompting her to ask for peace between us – I was stunned into silence and crying openly. I and my prayer group had been praying for peace between us because I simply couldn’t continue with the verbal attacks and intimidation anymore. Any time I tried to initiate a conversation I was shouted down and told harshly to go away. I was emotionally spent front it all. With this incredible breakthrough for peace things can certainly improve – and here comes my but – but I don’t trust her. Reading that having boundaries is needed helped me greatly. I do feel convicted that Jesus is telling me very clearly to love her. I opened my Bible reading app, and a verse displays on the first ‘page’, that verse was Love your enemies. I cannot ignore Jesus and at the same time my instincts of preservation tell me to stay far away. I keep praying Jesus please hold my hand when she demands my attention again, please guide my lips to set the boundaries that my family needs for their well-being and my own. I’ve subscribed and liked your page on Facebook. I would so love to talk to you more, I feel like I was led to you for help. Thank you for what you are doing here!

    1. Wow! We have so much in common! Our family was also harassed by a neighbor and it was such a stressful time (we ended up moving.) Years later she saw me in the grocery store and apologized…
      I am thankful that Jesus has worked in your neighbor’s life to change her ways, but that does not mean you have to trust her. We can show His love to others(different than feeling love for them) and keep our guard up. That is just protecting our physical safety and mental well being. I love your prayer and can tell that your heart desires to respond in His love. Continue to put her in His loving and capable hands! I will put you on my daily prayer list for strength and patience for you as you deal with this challenging situation.
      Thank you for your kind words; they are so encouraging. All the glory to God for His guidance, wisdom, and continual direction and strength to follow this path He has laid out for me. God bless you! AnnMarie

  2. Hi AnnMarie, I absolutely love this! It’s something ive struggled with and am finally working through. I think its especially important now with so much division in our country. I’m actually doing a message this week about letting God’s love shine through us..I have most of it written, but when I read your article I really liked it and wanted to add some of your points to my message..I would definitely credit it to you. You are so spot on. please let me know what you think,

    Blessings,
    Amy

    1. Yes, absolutely Amy! I am praying your message is met with open hearts and minds! As an aside- when I was contemplating going forward with this blog (God definitely put it on my heart, but I resisted)- I “bargained” with Him. I wouldn’t use my real name, I would for sure not talk about my sexual abuse, among other things. HaHa! He must have just chuckled knowing how He would change my heart. And now His work is spreading out- all for His glory! God bless!

  3. Samuel Ogunboyowa

    Thank you for this beautiful words, I really love the way you finish of the all discourse, the fact that we must never loose sight of the fact that the Devil is really our true enemy and not men made in God’s image.

    Thank you very much.

    1. Thank you Samuel for your kind words. Yes, our enemy is a master deceiver, and knows how to lead us astray. Thank God for His word and wisdom! God bless you!

  4. Amen this has really changed my perspective of how to deal with my enemies.. I really want them to be saved just as myself. I thank God for using you to speak to me directly. I was sinking in bitterness and vengeful thoughts and acts now I realise it was the enemies power at work. I can gladly shout I am free from the chains of the enemy. Praise God

    1. Praise God, Vanessa! This was me also until God changed my heart. I am beyond grateful that His words have released you from the grip of the enemy! Bless you, Vanessa, this news has made my day 🙂

    2. But, how do we forgive the Russian atrocities that are occurring hourly in innocent Ukraine!! Innocent people slaughtered while in a line to buy bread, bombs falling on hospitals, schools etc. I am having difficulty with this!

      1. It is almost beyond our scope of thinking! We cannot downplay these crimes, and forgiveness seems almost offensive. I go back to what I mentioned in my blog- we can pray: that they be stopped, judged appropriately, and brought to justice. We know God sees all that is being done and has the final say. To withhold forgiveness is to live in bitterness and hate, which festers in our souls. The only hope for healing the wrongs done to us and others is forgiveness. This doesn’t mean “just move on”, or denying your emotions, but placing the perpetrators in God’s capable hands. Forgiveness does not absolve them of their crimes. Forgiveness is not for them, it is for us. We are a forgiven people, and so we must forgive. God bless you Mala, and your openness to put words to what many are struggling with!

  5. Thank you so much for this blog post. God recently used this part: “It helps me as well to understand that the love Jesus is talking about doesn’t mean affection. It doesn’t mean letting others continue to hurt us. He wants us to put strong, protective boundaries into place. He wants us to find people to help us heal through the hurt. Jesus wants us to feel safe and secure,” to break down some heart issues I was experiencing towards my abusers. I thought I wasn’t loving my enemies because the way I was loving them wasn’t all fluffy and affectionate– I had to protect myself. I still cared about them from afar and prayed for them, but I felt convinced this wasn’t enough. Sometimes this blame got to be so much I broke down my walls. There was constant guilt and shame. I have never read your blog before but I’m very glad God put you on my path. Thanks again.

    1. Isn’t it ironic that when God led me to start this blog, I tried to bargain with Him? “Ok, God”, I said, “I will write, but not about my abuse.” He did a mighty work in my heart that I am now so grateful for! I can write about it because He is so good. I’m so happy that His Word found its way to you. Blessings to you! AnnMarie

    1. Thanks so much Esther- that is so encouraging! Loving our enemies is so hard, but it is what we are called to do!

  6. (I stumbled across this post. I will definitely follow your posts as well as catching up on older posts.)
    “Because we show who JESUS is when we love/bless our enemies”…. this says it all. It’s not just about me, my hurt, my fear, my anger is it? HE hurts too, when we hurt. HE just knows much better how to help us deal with it. If I want to give HIM my hurt because I can’t deal with it, I may as well do what HE advises me to do, right? Either I give HIM all of it and work WITH HIM (including following HIS advice and instruction) or not bother calling on HIM at all.
    HE is no half-measure GOD. HE is an all or nothing GOD.
    If I absolutely insist on doing it my way (in the loving, forgiving, blessing department), HE graciously bows out until I’m ready to submit. The longer I wait, the longer it takes…. and in the meantime my prayerlist of requests to heal me grows, because I am slow to listen and learn 😉
    Thank you. For insight and wisdom and for sharing your story so candidly.
    Just thank you ☆

    1. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts! I’m so glad He never leaves us, but patiently waits as you describe. He never stopped pursuing me, which I am so grateful for. He showed me His heart and finally, I submitted. What a blessing!

  7. Flordeliza Pabiona

    Same experience, I rebel and in the process God let me saw the path that I’m taking and it will lead me to destruction. I saw it myself walking as a dead human being in my dream. I believe it was God who showed me that. And I slowly make a move to do things with love and understanding, it’s a puzzle but the Holy Spirit is willing to help. And I learned to forgive. It’s written in the Bible and I believe in the Word of God. Glory to God. His love is everlasting and forgiving!

    1. Yes! Glory to God for His persistence in pursuing us even when we rebel! Thanks for sharing your incredible story. I love the “puzzle” analogy- and that the Holy Spirit is helping us figure it all out.

  8. Thank you for writing this. God is always on time with having me come across this. Your transparency, vulnerability, and wisdom helps to organize, and give language to this experience. May God continue to bless you in producing such good fruit for the Kingdom, but more importantly, who it is sent out for . Amazing!

    1. God has been so, so good, faithful and loving to me, a sinner! It is beyond my comprehension- He leads me in all His ways. When I started this blog, I knew I for sure would not write about my abuse. But just 2 years later, He had changed my heart. Only He could have done this! I pray He continues to guide and give me His wisdom, and proclaim His glory through Jesus! I am so encouraged that He sent you the words He helped me write. Blessings to you!!

  9. Shawna Wuenstel

    Good morning, This reading was really insightful and helpful for this portion of my journey.

    Thank you,
    Shawna

    1. Thank you so much Shawna for taking the time to bless me with your thoughts. This was a hard, long lesson for me to learn. All glory to God for changing my heart. I couldn’t help but share how gentle and patient He was with me (it took me years to come to this conclusion). I will be praying for you on your personal journey!

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