Love Your Enemies

The golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do to your. No matter what situation you find yourself in, if you’re searching for the right thing to do, this rule will give you some guidance. If you can imagine how your actions will impact on the lives of others, imagine how it might be to be on the other side, you can get a pretty clear notion of the best action.

This seems simple enough and yet in many situations, it requires a level of trust few of us are willing to risk. Many of us lack the trust to carry out the Golden Rule in situations that require risk. Maybe if we could narrow the scope and say something like, “Do unto others (whom you trust) as you would have them do to you.”

But instead of narrowing the scope, the Bible breaks it wide open. Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” These are difficult and demanding words. First, these words assume that we have enemies. Many people think they get along pretty well with everybody. The thought of having enemies is hard to swallow. But there it is. Love our enemies. Do good to those who hate you.

Hate is such a strong word. Again, we want to soften the demand. We’d much rather replace hate with something like “unpleasantness.” That’s it. Maybe we could soften this passage if we just said, “Love unpleasant people, and be kind to people who aren’t nice to you.” We’d like to soften it, but there it is. “Love your enemies. Be good to those who hate you.”

The Rev. Clarence Jordan, who was a preacher and a farmer, tells the story about a conversation he had with another farmer about loving your enemies. This fellow was having a genuinely difficult time understanding how God would want us to love our enemies, what good that would achieve in the long run. He was especially confused because Rev. Jordan was a man with plenty of enemies. He was a Southern white man in the forties who paid black people a decent wage and sat down at table with them as equals. In return for this, he received death-threats and drive by shootings. Why didn’t Jordan strike back, this old farmer wanted to know?

Clarence thought for a minute, scratched his chin and said, “Suppose, you have a mule. And suddenly that mule sneaks up behind you and bites you on the leg. Would you bite him back?”

The farmer said, “Heck no! I’d get a two-by-four and whack that old mule upside the head.”

“That’s right,” says Jordan, “and as Christians, we have a weapon more powerful than hate. We have love.”

Jesus calls for a love without limits, a merciful love that doesn’t wait to see how people are going to act or respond. It just goes ahead and loves. 

The Bible does not ask us to stand still and take it, but to act. To love in such a way that leaves our enemies powerless. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Don’t resort to the same violent and abusive methods others use to gain power over you. Take the game out of their hands by showing them you have a weapon greater than hate. Love.

 Notice how the Bible says to “pray for your abusers.” I believe part of what this means is to let go of the notion that anything you can do will change their behavior. Put it in God’s hands and step out of the violence that only does damage to the image of God in you. Remember another thing the Bible says about love and that’s to love your neighbor as yourself. Preserving the imaging of God in you is an act of love. Sometimes the best way to love your enemies is to protect yourself.

Jesus calls not for passive resistance, but active love. We are all to love our enemies, no matter who or what they might be. Maybe your enemy is a person, a condition, a disease. Loving your enemy does not mean standing still and taking it. This love is not just a good feeling, a kindness or politeness that keeps us from causing trouble.

This love for our enemies means doing the right thing even when it means taking a risk. We love not in order to change our enemies, not even in order to win favor in the eyes of others, but because God has loved us. And love is stronger than hate. The love of God gives us the strength to love each other. In the long run, this love will win out over hate and fear. As the Psalmist says, “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more.” It won’t be long. In the meantime, love your enemies.

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