How to be serious about loving your enemy

Loving your enemy? Impossible! Or is it? And who really has enemies anymore anyway? Everyone does! The Chief Apostle makes this clear—and demonstrates how it is possible to love one’s enemies. A divine service with more than one “Aha” moment.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, […] and pray for those who […] persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” The Bible text around which the divine service on 24 June 2018 in Passau, Germany revolved was taken from Matthew 5: 44-45.

Three reasons for enmity

“Fact number one: for the Lord Jesus it is apparently quite normal for us to have enemies,” said Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider.

  • While the admonition of Apostle Paul to live peaceably with all men—“as much as depends on you” (Romans 12: 18) still applies, this means: you must do your part, but you cannot force people to be well inclined toward you.
  • “We are aware of the fact that we are not yet so perfect in this respect either. One or the other may even have good reason not to be so friendly to us.” If Jesus—who was perfect—already had enemies, how could we “poor sinners” expect to be appreciated by everyone?
  • He clearly stated that His disciples would be exposed to trials and persecution (John 15: 20).

Three reasons to love our enemies

Jesus admonishes the people to love their enemies, to pray for them, to bless them, and to do good things for them (Luke 6: 27-35). This is not to be understood as mere rhetorical exaggeration intended to help drive the point home. “In other words, we must indeed take these words seriously,” explained the Chief Apostle:

  • “God can certainly expect the impossible of us, because He also gives us the impossible.” After all, “that which God offers us—the kingdom of God—is so sublime, so holy, and so great that it transcends all human barriers.”
  • “He does not require us to become spineless victims to the evil one. The Lord Jesus did not do that either. — We are indeed permitted to defend ourselves. We can certainly enforce our rights. But we are to love our neighbour when it comes to the salvation of mankind.”
  • “This is not a question of sympathy and antipathy. It is a matter of divine love. I am to love my neighbour, or even my enemy, because Jesus loves me.”

How Christ loved

“Now things are starting to get interesting! How does Jesus love us?” Asked Chief Apostle Schneider. His answer:

  • “Jesus loves me absolutely unconditionally and for no reason at all: even when I did not yet exist, He already loved me and died for me. He did not expect anything in return for this.”
  • “For Jesus, human beings are not enemies. They are victims of the evil one, and He desires to liberate them.”
  • Neither the humiliations nor the acts of violence that Jesus suffered prevented Him from pursuing His path. “He remained strong in His will.”

How Christians can practise love

“What does this mean for us in very concrete terms?” was the next question. The answers follow:

  • “We have decided for the good! We follow Jesus! And we will not allow ourselves to be taken captive by evil.”
  • “We forgive our neighbour because the peace of our soul, our relationship with God, is more important to us than the harm we have suffered.”
  • “We are to love our enemies as Jesus loves us. We simply regard them as victims of evil. They have simply been taken captive by the spirit of evil. Let us pray for them: ‘Let them become free!’”
  • “We also want to do our part to help them become free. For this reason, let us do good to them, just so that they may experience Jesus Christ.”

What can help us love in this way

“Naturally it is quite clear that this is not so easy,” conceded the Chief Apostle. “The Lord Jesus also suffered on account of enmity. But He repeatedly drew comfort from His fellowship with the Father. That is also the reason we come to our Father again and again. And it is from this relationship with God that we draw comfort and strength.”

And then there are also some dramatic situations in which a person is not able to forgive, no matter how hard he or she tries. “But it really comes down to that person’s effort.” After all, “God blesses the will and the effort, not the result.” For this reason, “Please never give up! Keep on wrestling! God will grant you grace, and at some point you will also have the power to forgive.”

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Andreas Rother
Chief Apostle, Divine service