not hating enemies not enough

A few weeks back our pastor Jack gave a penetrating message to us on loving our enemies. Given the freedom we are privileged with in our nation, we really don’t experience the kind of persecution an enemy might bring on us in so many other places in the world. So that such people here are held at bay by and large, at least for most of us. But we do have those people who rub us the wrong way, and we them. To the point where they seem to be enemies or perhaps are.

The teaching was prevalent in Jesus’ day that they as God’s people were to hate their enemies. When actually that is never explicitly said, though one could draw out that thought through some lines in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Jesus tells them with the words, “But I say to you”, that they are indeed to love their enemies. Jesus tells us to do good to them, pray for them, and then we will be like our Father in heaven who sends blessing on both the just and the unjust.

If we simply seek not to hate our enemies, we stop short of Jesus’ call to us. We’re to love them, no less.

It is so easy to withdraw, or try to avoid such people. We usually have been wounded by them, so that even though we seek to forgive them in our hearts, we want to avoid them. And from Jesus’ words in that world, as well as in much of the world today, there is a time to flee. But Jesus’ command still stands. We’re to love our enemies.

Sure, love in scripture consists primarily of acts. But acts are of no value in God’s sight unless they proceed from love. And love has to include the totality of our being and doing. It is not only a mind and will matter. It includes the heart as we use that term. Meaning a love which has compassion and wants to extend mercy. With the aim for reconciliation and fellowship.

Early Anabaptist history tells the true story of Dirk Willems. He was being chased down to be killed because of his faith in Jesus expressed in the desire to obey him by receiving believer’s baptism. The doctrinal issue aside, the one chasing him fell through the ice. Dirk could have accepted that as the judgment of God on this person, at least an agent of his enemies. But in compassion and mercy he extended his hand and rescued the man. Who promptly in keeping with his orders arrested him. And Dirk was subsequently burned at the stake because of his testimony and following of Jesus.

We likely are under no such danger. But what we are under can be just as debilitating and damaging at least in our spiritual lives. How are we to overcome evil according to scripture? By doing good.

At the heart of all of this is  the “Jesus Creed”: the command to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t love our enemy in some sort of triumphalist way, as if we are right while they are wrong. That is not love at all. Rather we love them in the way of Jesus, and as our neighbor. We love them as ourselves.

This is the kind of love we need to learn to live in, to practice, to become a part of us–in the way of Jesus through us to and for the world.