As part of Jesus’ final message to his friends, he said this…
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:31-35)
“Love” is a strong word. A passionate one. When we say it, we mean it.
I love my wife. I love my son. I love this church. I can say those words without hesitation.
But Christ’s call for love is not just meant for those we favor. Christ also said this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-48)
For some of us, saying we love our neighbor might be a stretch. Caring for people we barely know is tough. But Jesus is clearly pushing us beyond our comfort level.
Jesus urges us to love those we might hate. Anyone that make us uncomfortable. Anyone that might make us feel angry or sick to our stomach thinking about them. Even those that hurt us mentally, physically or spiritually.
Loving our enemy? “Impossible,” we say. But Christ demands it.
Consider the dilemma the apostle Peter was in (Acts 11:1-18).
While in Judea, he and his fellow apostles felt great joy as a group of Gentiles accepted the word of God. They broke bread together. Jew and Gentile alike, eating with glad and generous hearts, praising God and showing goodwill with one another.
But as Peter entered Jerusalem, he faced immediate criticism from his fellow Jewish Christians. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men—those Gentiles—and eat with them?” “Those people aren’t like us.” “Stick to your own kind, Peter!”
In a previous life, Peter would’ve conceded to them out of fear. But here he stood boldly and explained himself.
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
When his fellow Jews heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Through sin, we too were once God’s enemies. But through the love of Christ and our acceptance of this love, we are saved. We are redeemed.
When Christ calls us to love our enemies, we are simply modeling what Christ has done for us. We do this so that they too may find the repentance that leads to life.
So go out and love your enemy, just as Christ loved you. By this everyone will know that you are Christ’s disciples, if you have love for one another.