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How To Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:44)
By David L. Goetsch
One of the most difficult verses in the Bible is Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This can be hard advice to take, but it comes straight from the mouth of God. Therefore, not only are we supposed to obey the message in this verse, we are supposed to do so gladly and with a happy heart. We are supposed to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. That’s a tall order for even the most righteous Christian.
We all have to cope with them — people who seem to delight in making our lives miserable; people who detest who we are, whose we are, and what we stand for as Christians. In some cases, they are co-workers and in other cases, neighbors. In a few cases, they might even be family members. Marxist college professors who delight in persecuting Christian students and anti-God ideologues who see it as their mission to rid the culture of Christ can also make the enemies list.
In spite of the misery, discomfort, and frustration these antagonists cause us, we are still expected to find it in our hearts to love them. Even when they cheat us, lie to us, steal from us, slander us, libel us, and harm us or our loved ones, we are supposed to love them. We are supposed to pray for anti-God ideologues who shut down churches, harass Christian college students, attack Christian businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, or vilify Christians on social media. Even those of us who want to comply with Matthew 5:44 find it difficult. Loving and praying for people who abuse us and reject our most cherished beliefs is a monumental challenge.
This is why I have developed a list of practical things you can do to show your enemies the face of Christ rather than responding in-kind to their maltreatment, hatred, and abuse. The following list is not comprehensive. Rather, it is provided to give you a start down a path that complies with the message in Matthew 5:44. The goal is to help you overcome your normal human desire to strike back at those who mistreat you by making loving responses your new normal.
– Observe the people in your life who treat you badly. They might be colleagues at work, fellow students in school, or neighbors. When you see that one of them is hurting or struggling with an unmet need, step in and help. This is the Biblical concept of heaping hot coals on the head of your enemy found in Romans 12:20.
– If you observe that someone who treats you badly is troubled and might need to talk, offer to listen. Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it and don’t try to solve their problems for them; just listen.
– Be willing to forgive others who have wronged you. When you forgive people who have treated you badly, you point them to Christ. Few things are more powerful in human interaction than forgiveness.
– Rejoice in and celebrate the successes and good fortune of others, even if they have treated you badly in the past. Be the first to congratulate them. Showing grace to people who know they don’t deserve it will show them the face of Christ.
– Support people who take a stand for what is right even if you don’t like them and even if they have treated you badly in the past.
– Be willing to sacrifice to help others who are in need, even if they have treated you badly in the past. Showing people Christ-like grace can make a powerful impression on people, especially those who know they have wronged you.
– Refuse to pile on, gloat, or join the chorus of criticism when someone who has treated you badly finds him or herself in trouble. Never take pleasure in the misfortune of others (i.e. avoid envy and jealousy), even if they have treated you badly.
– Refuse to participate in gossip about people, even those who have behaved like an enemy toward you.
Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you will never be easy. However, human behavior, if repeated often enough, becomes habitual. By applying the various recommendations contained in this blog, you can eventually make obeying Matthew 5:44 habitual. The more often you follow these recommendations, the easier it will become to do so.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.