“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies . . .” (Matthew 5.43, 44).
This week I want to share with you what I consider to be one of the core elements of Jesus’ Kingdom teachings—enemy love. Enemy love was central to the hope that lay before Israel and the events that led up to A.D. 70, (See The Final Eight Prophecies of Jesus begging at https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/09-09-2013) and it is just as central to Jesus’ followers and the world around us today.
As we have also covered elsewhere, everything within the Jesus movement began to change when the Christian church embraced Constantine. A new theology that enabled the church to embrace the ethics of the Roman Empire (which in turn was a rejection of the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount) entered the scene through Augustine. It’s perfectly acceptable, Augustine taught, to kill your enemy, as long as you love him while you are doing it. Augustine presented the dualistic possibility of our bodily actions being radically separate from our “inward disposition” (see Augustine ch.75, The Ante-Nicene Fathers).
Enemy love, the power of enemy blessing, of enemy forgiveness, is the root out of which Jesus’ teaching on non-violence is but the natural growth. They do not end in greater violence only justified for a redemptive purpose. Nonviolence is the outward expression (bodily action) of the enemy love (the inward disposition). It’s difficult to imagine how one can have the inward disposition of love, while expressing that disposition in killing the object of such affection.
Enemy love, enemy blessing, may seem counter-intuitive to many people, but remember, we are called on to display what this world changed by the reign of Christ (earth’s new King) looks like and to invite others to embrace Christ as their new King and step into this beautiful new way of life in the here and now. Enemy love is most likely the greatest, most significantly radical, element of what it means to submit to Jesus as earth’s new King.
It means to love those threatened just as equally as those who are doing the threatening. Think of the story found in John 8. Jesus loved the Pharisees and teachers of the law just as much as the woman caught in adultery. As a matter of fact, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were committing the sin of accusation (see Revelation 12.10). Jesus loved all present equally and sought not to simply save the woman’s life, but also to save the Pharisees and teachers of the law, seeing them as victims as well, victims of a systemic evil. He did not see the woman as needing to being saved from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He looked at the situation and saw the woman, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law—all three of them—as victims being used by, and in need of being saved from, the real enemy (see Ephesians 6.12).
Notice, Jesus did not differentiate between the woman and the men accusing her. Jesus saved the woman from them, yes, but he also saved the accusers by reminding them of their own shortcomings and moral failures. We are in this together, so to speak.
What does this mean for us today? It means that even when threatened, whether it is our loved ones or ourselves, we are to see those who threaten as victims too. They are not the enemy. They are simply victims of the real enemy. And as Jesus’ followers, we are to endeavor to save them too through the power of enemy love, enemy forgiveness, and enemy blessing, in non-violent, yet non-cooperative ways (see Matthew 5.39–42).
Today the phrase “saved by grace” is thrown around so loosely. I want to ask you what you really mean by those words. Do you mean that we are saved from some punitive retribution from God by grace on God’s part as a result of his punishing his son in our place? Or could it be that we are saved/healed through grace on our part for our own enemies, rather than demanding punitive retribution in retaliation. Let me explain.
Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not respond to an evil person in retaliation” (Matthew 5.38, 39, personal translation from the Greek). Jesus also said that he was sent by a loving God so that the world might be “healed” (see John 3.17, the word “saved” is also translated as “healed” in the New Testament). We were on the path of retributive justice. Of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus clearly tells us that this is the path that ends in death (see Matthew 7.12–14). An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Retribution only escalates. Jesus came to teach us the way of grace, the way of enemy love, and the way of God. He came to turn us from retribution to grace, from punitive justice to the restorative justice of His Kingdom.
So are we saved by grace? Absolutely! But not in the sense that implies we are saved from violence on God’s part by grace on God’s part because he has got his pound of flesh somewhere else. No, no. We are saved, we are healed, from a path of violence and retaliation by embracing the new way of love, of grace, toward our enemies, of enemy forgiveness and blessing. We are saved from the intrinsic, ever escalating, and ultimately self-inflicted annihilation, the end of our violent path, through learning to practice grace on our part for our own enemies through faith in the ability of love to heal the world. Are we saved by grace? Absolutely we are. The path of grace is our only hope. As I’ve said before, the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal son was not excluded because he could not embrace the Father’s grace for himself, he was left in utter darkness that night because he could not embrace grace for someone else he believed should be excluded. We are not saved by grace from imposed penalties, we are saved by grace from the intrinsic end of the path of retaliation rather than grace. Learning to embrace and practice grace, even for those who have hurt us the most, is the way home. It’s not just a means of salvation. It could be salvation itself.
1. This week I want you to ask yourself, who is your brother or sister? Is it only those who share beliefs, ethics, lifestyles, or behaviors with you? Or could it even include your enemies? Prayerfully contemplate the following two statements from the early church:
“We used to hate and destroy one another, and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people, and pray for our enemies” (Justin’s first apology, ch. 11).
“If we all derive our origin from one man, whom God created, we are plainly all of one family. Therefore it must be considered an abomination to hate another human, no matter how guilty he may be. For this reason God has decreed that we should hate no one, but that we should eliminate hatred. So we can comfort our enemies by reminding them of our mutual relationship. For if we have all been given life by the same God then what else are we but brothers? … Because we are all brothers God teaches us never to do evil to one another but only good—giving aid to those who are oppressed, and experiencing hardship, and giving food to the hungry”—Lactantius (Divine Institutes, book 6, ch. 10).
2. Go back and reread Matthew 5.38–48 and ask yourself, in as much honesty and humility as you can muster, what God is saying to you in these passages. Write down what Jesus is saying to you in both #1 and #2.
3. Share whatever insights Jesus gives you with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.
Do you want to learn how to love your enemies more fully, more deeply? Here is a word of wisdom that I’ve found invaluable since it was shared with me. Don’t focus on loving or forgiving your enemies this week, focus on how much God loves and has forgiven you. The more you dwell on this, the more loving and forgiving you will become, for by love is love awakened and by forgiveness is forgiveness set in motion.
Keep living in love, loving like Christ, and putting on display what the world changed by the reign of Jesus looks like. It’s radically beautiful, even if only we can see it, till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.
I love you guys; see you next week.