Why Love Enemies?

Because of situations in my own life I have been repeatedly returning to the concept of loving your enemies. The best place to begin is with the words of Christ. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I think it’s important to first say a little about why loving your enemies is necessary. Jesus gives us the answer in verse 48. Based on everything that has gone before in this chapter (as well as the concept of loving your enemies), Jesus says you cannot be perfect without it. The word “perfect” in verse 48 comes from the Greek word “teleios”. And while “perfect” is a good translation, I think it distracts from the meaning here. Another way to translate teleios is “complete” or “mature”. So what I think Jesus is trying to say here is if you wanted to be a complete person, or a fully mature human being, loving your enemies is something that you have to do.

As we look at what the Bible says about loving your enemies, I think there are some lessons that we can learn.

  1. Your enemies are always close to you. We talk about “haters” a lot, and the picture of haters that always jumps to my mind are these people who you’re not really close to, or acquaintances who see all that you have and are just jealous. But the truth is that your real enemies are always close friends and family. When we look at the example of Jacob and Laban in Gen 31 we see an uncle and a nephew, a father-in-law and a son-in-law at odds with each other. In 1 Sam 24, we see David and Saul – a mentor and mentee, as well as a father-in-law and son-in-law – at odds with each other. The animosity between Jesus and Judas is told to us in Matt 26. Of course this is Jesus with one of the 12 people he shared his ministry with. How quick we are to forsake the love we once had and switch to hate.
  1. Sometimes you (or your people) are the problem. In the story of Jacob and Laban, Laban has a legitimate reason to be mad at Jacob, and Jacob doesn’t even know it. Jacob, as the leader of his family, is responsible for each member, and it’s his wife who has stolen Laban’s idols. Sometimes an examination of who our enemies are has to start with an examination of ourselves. How can we withhold love from someone who has a perfectly good reason to be mad at us?
  1. Sometimes it’s best to go in peace. Everything does not have to have this happy ending where everyone acts like nothing ever happened. Sometimes the best thing, the most loving thing to do for both parties, is to part company. Jacob and Laban reconcile, but then they never see each other again. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Sometimes situations are so damaging that things cannot be as they were. Sometimes you have to move on. But not in that move-on way where you just never deal with it. Reconciliation is necessary.
  1. Sometimes your enemies think they were helping you. This is the one that fascinates me. Some people posit the theory that Judas’s betrayal of Christ had good intentions. According to them, Judas never thought that Jesus would allow Himself to be crucified. So he betrayed Jesus as a way of boxing Christ into a corner so that He would have to take action. If he gave Jesus over to the Pharisaical/Roman coalition, He would finally tap into His power as the son of God and the revolution would begin. Now he was wrong. But how can we be so heartless and unforgiving in not realizing that some people really are trying to look out for us, as wrong as they might be? If we could look beyond our own pain, we would see that there is more love in these relationships than first appears.
  1. The hurt helps. Here’s the odd thing about the pain that are enemies cause us – God always uses that pain to benefit us. Judas does something that’s harmful to Jesus, but we are all saved because of that the hurt that Judas caused Christ. Christ’s mission is not fulfilled without Judas’s misguided action. I find myself in a better place because of the many hurts that I have had in my life. A friend of mine who is a songwriter once penned these words, “I cherish the heartbreak/ Cherish the tears/ Treasure the pain/ Cuz it all brought me here.” And while I am not always able to look back fondly on my trials, I understand the sentiment. Once I’m able to put myself in that frame of mind, I am better able to forgive, love, and accept the actions of those who have hurt me and made themselves my enemies.

By no means do I want to trivialize this subject or make it seem like an easy task. I am struggling with this subject now in my life and there are days when I am not sure that I will be able to do what Christ asks. But then I remember that I want to be mature – I want to be complete in Christ – and it changes my view. In the same passage of Scripture (Matt 5:43-48) Jesus says something else that I once thought was odd. Right after He tells the crowd to love their enemies He says, “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I wondered what this had to do with what He just said. Then it dawned on me. Regardless of the situations that we go through with each other, we all will face sunshine and rain, good days and bad days. We are all the same – struggling human beings who are trying to figure out what life is all about and/or what God wants from us. We would all be a lot better off if we loved everyone while we were here struggling, than to be looking for ways to hurt and harm each other. And it is still more useful for you to live that way, even when everyone else isn’t. Hating your haters will only harm you. We are all in this thing together, and so loving each other just seems to be an easier way of getting through life than the alternative.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9703

Hi Jason,

Your essay is timely and wise. I just read this prayer last night and will post an excerpt as it seems to be on topic with your thoughts.
A Prayer by St. Nikolai of Ochrid

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth
and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have
made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous
inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter
than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies,
found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your
tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have
spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me
as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people,
they have shoved me into the background. Whenever I have rushed
to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened
me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long
and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly,
enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out
my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, Ο Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them

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I can concur with this. However, I add something to it: Stay as far away from them as possible. Loving them does not mean you have to associate with them. You may be stabbed, and it would then be your own fault.


The nation of Israel had enemies galore - still does; and on a national level, lots of countries have enemies based on greed and power; however, on a personal level I can’t think of a single enemy. I think, again, we need to define “enemy” (the English teacher in me won’t let that go).


When we see Isa. 53 and what Christ endured for us, we have a starting point on how to forgive others as He has forgiven us. All of our stories are unique to us but none more extensive than what Christ experienced in our behalf.
He shows us true pure love. None of us possesses that.


Forgiveness is the easy part. It is the quality of relationship, the loss of trust and the amount of time to develop a meaningful relationship, again, that is crucial to forgiving. Forgiveness is not the problem. It is dealing with character flaws that matters. As our highly esteemed psychologist George @GeorgeTichy advises, stay away as far as you can from your enemies.

Forgiving does not change character flaws. Never has.


Don’t disagree with that. Part of that problem comes from the idea “we must forgive others who haven’t asked for forgiveness.” Someone kills another’s child in a school and there is a race to the microphone to say," I forgive you." Now that may be palative to some, but I as you, consider it deficient.
To those who have never made any attempt to reconcile in my life experiences, I say, “Lord, I am willing (an attitude) to forgive anyone you do.”…including me.:slight_smile:
Scripture says, “If you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive your sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness for our sins has been provided for at the cross in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection but the means of effectual application are prescribed in scripture. I think the same principles apply in our human relationships.


I agree. We need a clear definition of “enemy”. “Enemy” is how we relate to another, how we view them. They may see us as “friend”. Or vice versa. I think this is what Jesus was saying - love those that hate us, the people who see us as enemies. We should only view people in one way - asa child of God. (Though God has many “black sheep” in His family) If you love someone, you can’t hate them at the same time. How they view you is their responsibility.

If only the Church could love women the same way it loves men …


“Finally, Jesus says we have to love and recognize the divine image even in our
enemies. He teaches what many a thought leader could never demand of his
followers:-- Love of the enemy.
Logically that makes no sense. But soulfully it makes absolute sense, because
in terms of the soul, it is all or nothing. Either we see the divine image in all
created things, or we don’t see it at all.
Once we see it, we’re trapped.
We see it once and the circle keeps moving out. If we still try to exclude some
[sick people, blacks, people on welfare, gays, or whomever we’ve decided to
hate], we’re not there. We don’t yet understand.
If the world is a temple, then our Enemies are sacred, too. The ability to respect
the outsider is probably the litmus test of true seeing. It doesn’t even stop with
human beings and enemies and the least of the brothers and sisters. It move on
to frogs and pansies and weeds. EVERYTHING becomes enchanting with true
One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love. All we can do is
participate.” – pg 58,59
Richard Rohr, "Everything Belongs – the gift of Contemplative Prayer.

As Elmer says, STILL be Careful around persons with Character Flaws!


This is an appeal that one’s orthodoxy should be seen in ones ortho praxis. In once sense Adventism does a great job in outreach to a hurt and injured world. Yet it does so in an aloof superior manner. Yet it beats the Red Cross hands down. The best example of Christian ethos is the post presidency of Jimmy Carter.

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The admonition to “Love Enemies” is usually followed by “and Forgive.”
President JFK is quoted as saying "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
Perhaps his quote is to remind us of the valuable learning experience undertaken, thus providing strength for the next encounter.


Yes, you are right, that is a very practical and realistic principle. Enemies usually don’t become friends, except is some rare cases. But it’s better not to take chances!

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I’m not sure that Jacob and Laban ‘made up’ at any point. Rather, they separated once and for all to quell the hostilities. The wonderful, poetic “Mizpah” saying is often recited at partings - so sweet, so nice, so caring, right? I rather see it as two suspicious, angry Palestinian guys standing nose-to-nose on either side of a line in the sand, spitting the words at each other. “The LORD is going to WATCH you while we are absent one from another (so don’t try anything, pal)”. As others have said, keeping one’s distance can be protective. Practicing forgiveness is also sometimes more workable far away, and time passing helps too (Jacob and Esau).


I don’t understand one thing in that Jacob/Laban story: Why did Laban not keep his word and delivered the wrong merchandise* in the first place, and why did Jacob not fight for his right? After seven years waiting for a certain prize, having all kinds of expectations related to “that one beauty” and being fooled with another package*? I would have been enraged to a point of craziness!

*I am not being disrespect to women; it’s the way women were considered and treated at that time. The father would “give” or actually “sell” a daughter; like Laban selling a daughter for 7 years of work. Such a good deal that he sold a second one not even giving the usual 50% discount to the idiot…!!! He should actually have told Jacob, “7 years for first, and the second is freeeee”… :innocent: :innocent:

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I’m thinking that Jacob was such a sneak, if he got Rachel from the get-go, he would have found a way to take her off into the sunset, and Leah would never have made it to the bedroom. This way, Laban got rid of both daughters at once, got a great bride-price in 14 years of strong son-in-law/household labor. What a family…

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