Inspired by Matthew 5:38-48
Love your enemies. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Oh, you want more? What more is there to say? I mean, if we could get this one command of Jesus—and make no mistake, this is not a request from Jesus, but a command—but if we could get this one command of Jesus down, we could probably close all our churches, pastors could find a new career, we could all sleep in on Sundays, our work would be done! Following one command, one rule, what could be so hard? There’s a story about a pastor who preached the same sermon four weeks in a row and when someone finally confronted her about it she simply said, when y’all start doing what I’m preaching I’ll write a new one! Well, I’m not that bold, but if there’s one command of Jesus’ that I would do that with it would probably be this one.
So, why is this so hard? I think the answer to that is simpler than you realize. I think we get hung up on the word love. Jesus did not define that word the way we do. In fact, no one did. The ancient Greek language actually had four different words that we all define as love today. Apparently is too important of a concept to leave up to just one word. In English, we use context in order to figure out what kind of love we are talking about. For instance, we know when someone says “I love this new coffee!” it means something entirely different than when someone says to their spouse, “I love you.” We do not need to stop them and ask, “Well, what kind of love are you talking about?” We just know.
Now I won’t go into the differences between the four Greek words for love but I will say that the one Jesus is using here, doesn’t make this any easier for us because it means charitable, unconditional, Godly love. The same kind of love that God gives us. Yikes, I know, Jesus really raises the bar, once again. But still, I think we get too hung up on the word love. Let me explain. At its heart, the word love is a verb. And this was true for the ancients as well. As an interesting side note, a noun form of the word love came much later than its verb form. It is an action, it is something you do. Not something you feel or think. But because English just has this one word, we use it interchangeably for actions, feelings, thoughts, and more—which can make Jesus’ words confusing and open to misinterpretation.
Jesus is not asking you to feel love for your enemies. He’s not asking you to have loving thoughts about them either. What good are feelings and thoughts anyway if they don’t lead to loving actions, which is what Jesus is really interested in. What is our faith in Jesus causing us to do—and specifically, to our enemies? Because I don’t know about you but if I acted on how I felt towards my enemies, I’d probably end up in jail and you’d be searching for a new pastor. If I acted on my thoughts toward my enemies, I’d probably end up in the hospital or morgue. And don’t sit there and pretend you can’t relate, I know better because I’m human just like you!
So, let’s put a little meat on these bones we’ve constructed about love. What does this look like? How do we practice this? Well, Jesus starts us on this path by commanding us to pray for our enemies. And you might think, well, that’s easy to do pastor, and what good would that do anyway isn’t prayer just thoughts in my head. Well, yes, but I think those are thoughts that can influence our actions. I guarantee you, that if you start praying for your enemies, by name, regularly, the next time you see them and feel like saying something you know you shouldn’t or maybe even do something that you know you shouldn’t, you’re eventually going to remember that you’ve been praying for them and that might give you pause before you act. Try it! Prove me wrong, please!
But I think praying for our enemies is just the beginning, because that might not always lead to loving actions. So here’s some questions for you to help on this road to loving our enemies: Do you have to feel love for someone to respect them as a human being? Do you have to feel love for someone in order to want the best for them? Do you have to feel love for someone in order to feed them, clothe them, visit them, communicate humanely? And here’s one many of us are struggling with these days, do you have to agree with someone’s thoughts in order to demonstrate loving acts towards them? Do we even have to understand them, in order to love them?
And again, I can’t stress this enough, I’m not talking about feeling love for me. I’m talking about loving actions: like respect, like healthy communication, like interpreting what I do or say in the best possible light rather than the worst, like giving me the benefit of the doubt, like caring for me when I’m in need. And this comes in its most complete form when we don’t feel love toward someone, and yet those loving actions remain. That’s unconditional love—love that doesn’t require certain feelings, or thoughts, or beliefs, or anything else. That is the kind of love that God demonstrates to us. That is the kind of love that God commands us to do, not feel, not think, to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.