How To Love Your Enemies

One aspect of Jesus’ love has deeply convicted me, and I want to delve into its meaning. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” As followers of Jesus in the modern world, 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 makes little sense to us to respond with loving feelings.

Maybe the hurt was a betrayal from a best friend, or someone spread lies about you. Whose cruel words or actions hurt you?

Was it a 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.

The first reason is because Jesus asks us to.

He taught extensively on the subject starting in Matthew Chapter 5:44 and He was crystal clear:  

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Luke’s Gospel records this:

“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. “

The teachings of Jesus tell us to love our enemies and treat them with kindness, blessings, and prayer. Jesus is teaching us it is more important to extend mercy than to receive it.

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” of loving enemies that can be difficult.

How Do You Love Your Enemies?

It can be a struggle 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

Loving our enemies is a difficult thing that goes against our human nature and is one of our greatest challenges. 

Sometimes our human nature wants to hold a grudge or get revenge. But these Bible verses make 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 at our enemies. And when we feel attacked or hurt, it’s hard to respond with God’s love.  

But our Heavenly Father 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, the only way to respond is with a blessing, a prayer, or a positive response.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39.

We are to love and forgive, and God will give us the strength to love as He does. (Philippians 4:13)

A.W. Tozer puts it this way:

“We cannot pray in love and live in hate and still think we are worshiping God.”

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 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.

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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.

Over 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 experience God’s wrath for his actions.

The only reason I can admit to this, and feel compelled to, is because it was my Lord 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. By the grace of God and His redemptive power, my response to this person completely changed.

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

Healing From Bitterness

Healing was a process (and continues to be) for sure. How gentle Jesus 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 and supernatural love.

Satan was trying to use my abuse to harbor hate and pull me away from His 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.)

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.

Since none of these are loving, the first step is to change the way we see our enemies. Here are some practical and real-world ways you can put this into practice:

Change your internal dialogue.

Instead of ruminating on the hurt they caused, pray for them. Bless them by offering 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 Christ will work mightily to soften their heart and open their eyes.  

It’s hard to think revengeful thoughts as you offer 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.

•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).

•Jesus 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 of the world.

•He gave me the insight to see my abuser with His vision. I saw the value He places on my fellow human beings.

He wants no one to perish. We are all made in the image of God and, therefore, deserve dignity and respect.

“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. When I struggle with finding common ground with an enemy, I remember Jesus is loving both of us.

Forgiveness and Bitterness

•He reminded me that because He has forgiven me, I, too, am obliged to forgive.

•I love Jesus; therefore, I can’t pick 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. From then on, a great peace and 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. Words can’t adequately explain how freeing it was to embrace this different perspective. 

I am no longer 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.

When we choose to love and give up our enemy to God, it releases us from the prison of hate and bitterness.

How do we love our enemies

Loving Like Jesus 

It helps me to understand that the love Jesus is talking about doesn’t always mean affection or feelings of love. 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 He 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.

Love Your Enemies

Loving our enemies is a challenge in our Christian life. 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.

Satan 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 wisdom in God’s word helps us develop a love like His. Then our response can be in His image as we love our enemies.

“A new commandment I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34 ESV.

Blessings!

AnnMarie

Photo Credits: Pixabay, Canva

All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.

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