“When I leave here, I will have my money, or you will have a lien on everything you own!” he shouted angrily.
Several years ago, I had a serious dispute with a building contractor. Our building had been damaged by a tornado and we had contracted him to make repairs. Everything started out fine but at some point towards the end of the project, our relationship went downhill. Some of the work was left uncompleted and he was demanding to be paid in full.
We met at the building for a final inspection. After shouting at me for a while, then actually getting up in my face and shoving me hard in the chest, we finally parted ways and left it in our attorney’s hands to come up with a resolution.
Now, when I drive through town, I see this contractor’s signs on his job sites. And when I see these signs, I pray for this man. I pray for him that he would be blessed. I pray for him that his business would prosper. I pray that he would come to know Christ as Savior.
My first human-nature-inspired reaction when I see his signs is to think of all the ways that I could get back at him and make him pay for the huge mess he put me through. But thankfully, I’m a new creation! That fleeting thought gives way to a reminder that our calling as believers in Christ is to live out Jesus’ counterintuitive and difficult command: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.
I don’t have many enemies. I think that’s what made this episode in my life so poignant. I felt like in some ways this man is the first “enemy” I’ve encountered in my adult life.
It’s worth noting that when Jesus said “Love your enemies” to the crowd gathered by the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, he was talking to a group of people who had a clear enemy. They could very easily identify a terribly oppressive enemy that walked among them. An enemy that caused widespread physical suffering. An enemy that caused financial hardship. The cruel Roman occupying army.
No doubt that the Roman soldiers were a reminder every day of Jesus’ words. Jesus’ challenge. How could he ask for that? How could you challenge a people under the boot of a cruel tyrannical government to do something so…hard?
Four thoughts about Jesus’ difficult command
It’s the only superior response
The reasoning that Jesus gives for why we should love our enemies is basically, “otherwise you’re just like your enemies.” It’s easy to get into a tit-for-tat. Sometimes when we see politicians arguing, they sure seem like toddlers. Jesus teaches us that the only way to break that cycle is to be the one that doesn’t retaliate.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote captures it well, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Or, as my father used to tell us as kids when we had a disagreement, “The more mature one will yield.”
We need God’s help to do this
When Jesus told his disciples that it was hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, he explained that, ““With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I think the same principle likely applies here. To do it is so far afield from our human nature that it can only really happen with God’s help. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural. God, help us to live this way!
Jesus showed the way
One distinctive thing about Christianity is that our God doesn’t watch from afar. He participates in our suffering. Jesus showed us the way to love our enemies, when, on the cross, he said these incredible words, “Father, forgive them, for the do not know what they are doing.” Hard to find a more powerful example than that sentence right there.
Make it personal
Love your enemy sounds great until you have to do it. How can we put it into practice. I would submit that politics is a great arena to practice in. Think of someone you stridently disagree with on political issues and ask yourself, “How can I love this person?”
The world is watching
The way we treat people who disagree with us is a key element in how the world perceives us and our Christian witness. It’s a big opportunity for us to show the world that our ways are different.
Lord, help us to love our enemies!