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The Absolute Love of Enemies

By Bill Petri

 

Love the Lord Your God and Love Your Neighbor

In Matthew 22, one of the Pharisees, “an expert in the Law,” asked Jesus the following question:

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law[1]?”

Jesus replied:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.[2]

This is a profound statement. All of the ethical teachings from ancient Israel to Jesus’ ministry, a period of time covering centuries, can be summarized with two commands: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. This, indeed, is a constant theme throughout the entire New Testament. This is a constant theme to both Israel and the Body of Christ. The following are several examples:

 “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.[3]

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.[4]

“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.  Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?[5]

From these passages we learn that God is love, and that God’s love is made complete in us. We love our neighbors, because God first loved us. Those who do not love one another cannot love God, and those who love God must love one another.

Jesus and the Love of Enemies

Jesus’ ministry concentrated on extending this general love of neighbors to a love of enemies.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.[6]

“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.[7]

“For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.[8]

Even sinners love those who love them. Jesus promoted a greater love, a love of one’s enemies. God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, so we must be kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. God shows mercy towards His enemies, so we must show mercy towards our enemies. God loves His enemies, so we must love our enemies.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.[9]

“Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” was the method of retribution in the Old Testament as delivered by Moses. Under this ethical system, the punishment for any wrong done to a neighbor would be the infliction of an equal wrong. If someone harmed his neighbor, he would consequently face that same harm. If someone murdered his neighbor, he would consequently face death. This was how enemies were treated in the past. Jesus promoted a new method as He was taking Israel out of the Old Covenant and laying out the foundation for Israel’s New Covenant.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.[10]

“And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.[11]

If these passages are meant to be taken literally, the Jewish followers of Jesus are forbidden from taking part in any actions of self-defense. If physically assaulted, Jesus instructed his Jewish followers to turn the other cheek. Show your attacker that you do not wish to retaliate; show your enemy love. Remember, God loves His enemies. Instead of “eye for an eye,” they are to follow the advice of Jesus:

“… Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.[12]

Many argue that Jesus taught against personal retaliation, but not governmental retaliation. According to this viewpoint, it is wrong for a follower of Jesus to retaliate personally against an enemy, but it is perfectly fine to use the governmental authorities and courts of law to punish the enemy. It must be noted, however, that even the Mosaic Law did not allow personal retaliation. An individual, to be in compliance with the Mosaic Law, was called upon to report any injury to the authorities, who would then administer punishment. This is what the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye” consisted of: governmental retaliation. Personal retaliation is not condoned under either Testament. The Old Testament, however, did condone governmental retaliation, and this is what Jesus referenced and taught against. Jesus promoted the love of enemies. Retaliation, whether it is personal or governmental, does not convey love to an enemy. So, are these passages meant to be taken literally? Several issues will need to be addressed to answer this question. To begin with, the example Jesus provided demonstrates this literal denial of self-defense. When Judas Iscariot arrived at Gethsemane, intending to betray Jesus and turn him over to the authorities, Peter attempted to defend him by reaching for a sword, and striking the servant of the High Priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus miraculously healed the wound Peter inflicted, and then rebuked Peter:

“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.[13]

Peter's actions could certainly be considered a just use of violence. Jesus, an innocent man, was about to be given into the hands of an angry mob. Peter attempted to rescue his friend through the use of defensive violence. Jesus, however, rebuked him. Later at His trial before Pilate, Jesus made a comment which explained His condemnation of Peter’s actions:

“… My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.[14]

If Jesus’ kingdom were of this world, His servants could use defensive violence when attacked. However, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Many argue that Jesus’ purpose was to redeem mankind, and this is why His servants could not defend him. It must be noted, however, that Jesus’ reason for not fighting was not that he had to redeem mankind, but that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is built around love and the love of enemies. Jesus specifically forbade Peter from using the sword, but His wording was universal:

“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.[15]

This same prohibition of “the sword” is found in the book of Revelation 13:9-10. In this passage, the same comment Jesus made prohibiting the defense of Himself is explicitly applied to all “who has an ear.” Indeed, refraining from using self-defense against an approaching enemy does require “patient endurance and faithfulness.” Followers of Christ, however, are called upon to love their enemies, as Christ loved His. Repeated throughout the New Testament is the idea that followers of Jesus must imitate him in this respect.

Followers of Christ Must Imitate Christ in Regards to the Denial of Defensive Violence

Peter, the disciple rebuked for using the sword in the attempt to defend Jesus, later explained in 1 Peter how Jesus’ unjust suffering and denial of self-defense was an example for his followers:

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:[16]

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;[17]

According to Peter, along with the redemption of mankind, one of the purposes of Christ’s suffering was to leave his Jewish believers an example. They should follow in his steps and renounce defensive violence. Instead, the followers of Jesus should love their neighbors, including enemies and attackers. The Gospel of John reveals explicit instructions from Jesus Himself to love one another as He loved:

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.[18]

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.[19]

In 1 John, the command to imitate Jesus is further promoted:

“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.[20]

“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.[21]

The writings of Paul also reveal an injunction for the Body of Christ to imitate Christ:

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.[22]

We are instructed by the Apostle to the Body of Christ to follow him in the way that he followed Christ. How did Paul follow Christ? Consider the following instructions Paul gives to the believer:

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us …[23]

“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:[24]

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:[25]

One last thought, once again in the Gospel of John when Jesus was dealing exclusively with Israel, there is an account of a touching moment where Jesus prayed for His disciples, He expressed concern about the fate they would suffer once He left. Jesus explained in this prayer just how alike they were. The following is a portion of this prayer:

“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.[26]

All The Apostles Promoted the Love of Enemies

Acts 8:1 tells us that a great persecution broke out against the church. During the course of the book of Acts we read of persecution from mobs, religious authorities, and governmental authorities. Most of the Apostles met a martyr’s death, but instead of using self defense, they showed love towards their enemies. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he fell to his knees and cried out:

“… Lord, lay not this sin to their charge…[27]

“Although faced with great persecution, the Apostles followed the lead of Jesus and Stephen, facing their enemies with love while rejecting the sword.[28]

“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.[29]

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.[30]

“See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.[31]

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.[32]

“Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.[33]

The Denial of Defensive Violence Will Lead to Suffering and Persecution

“Many argue against a love of enemies which includes the denial of self-defense because it will lead to suffering and persecution. Indeed, this is true. Jesus predicted this and warned his followers:[34]

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.[35]

“But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.[36]

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.[37]

“They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.[38]

These warnings, although seemingly bleak, are accompanied by a message of hope. Peter lived through much of this persecution, and ultimately faced a martyr’s death. In 1 Peter, he wrote of the glory in persecution:

“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:[39]

“And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?  But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.  For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:[40]

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;[41]

“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Believer, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?  And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.[42]

The Apostle Paul also faced much suffering and persecution. In his writings, he discussed the hardships he faced:

“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;[43]

“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.[44]

“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.[45]

Like Jesus and Peter, Paul also predicted that followers of Jesus would face suffering and persecution. Indeed, he stated this directly:

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;[46]

Furthermore, Paul wrote:

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.[47]

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.[48]

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;[49]

How did Paul instruct his readers to respond to such suffering?

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:[50]

“We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.[51]

Rather than being discouraged by potential suffering and persecution, Paul rejoiced. Most importantly, through it all, he still showed his enemies love. When he was cursed by his enemies, he blessed them. When he was slandered by his enemies, he answered kindly. Although he was beaten, whipped, stoned, and imprisoned, he still had enough love in his heart to write:

“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.  Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.[52]

This provides Believers with a great weapon when confronted by an enemy. While Jesus warned against resisting evil with evil, Paul said to overcome evil with good. In other words, overcome our enemies through the love of our enemies.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.[53]

God is love, God’s love is made complete once we love like God loves, God loves His enemies, and therefore we must love our enemies. Living such a life could lead to a meek life full of suffering and persecution. The suffering a Believer encounters does not have to be overwhelming, however. No Believer should have the attitude of a defeatist. We already have the victory on our side. By living a loving life full of peace and forgiveness, we have all the tools necessary to overcome evil with good. Live a life of peace:

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,[54]

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.[55]

“And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.[56]

Live a life of forgiveness:

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.[57]

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.[58]



[1] Matthew 22:36

[2] Matthew 22:37-40

[3]Romans 13:8-9

[4] 1 John 4:7-11

[5] 1 John 4:12-20

[6] Matthew 5:43-45

[7] Luke 6:27-28

[8] Luke 6:32-36

[9] Matthew 5:38-39

[10] Matthew 5:38-42

[11] Luke 6:29-31

[12] Luke 6:27-28

[13] Matthew 26:52

[14] John 18:36

[15] Matthew 26:52

 

[16] 1 Peter 2:21-23

[17] 1 Peter 4:1

[18] John 13:34

[19] John 15:12

[20] 1 John 2:6

[21] 1 John 4:17

[22] 1 Cor. 11:1

[23] Ephesians 5:1-2

[24] 1 Thessalonians 1:6

[25] Philippians 2:5

[26] John 17:14-18

[27] Acts 7:60

[28] Matthew J. Truitt, The New Testament Produces Love, www.harmlessasdoves.org

[29] Romans 12:14

[30] Romans 12:17-21

[31] 1 Thessalonians 5:15

[32] James 1:20

[33] 1 Peter 3:9-11

[34] Matthew J. Truitt, The New Testament Produces Love, www.harmlessasdoves.org

[35] Matthew 24:9,13

[36] Mark 13:9-13

[37] John 15:18-20

[38] John 16:2-4

[39] 1 Peter 2:19-23

[40] 1 Peter 3:13-18

[41] 1 Peter 4:1

[42] 1 Peter 4:13-19

[43] 2 Cor. 11:23-26

[44] 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

[45] 2 Timothy 3:10-11

[46] 2 Timothy 3:12-14 

[47] Romans 8:16-17

[48] Romans 8:35-36

[49] Philippians 1:29

[50] Romans 5:3-4

[51] 1 Corinthians  4:10-13

[52] Romans 12:17-21

[53] Romans 13:10

[54] 2 Timothy 2:24

[55] Romans 14:19

[56] 1 Thessalonians 5:13

[57] Ephesians 4:31-32

[58] Colossians 3:12-15



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