Loving Our Enemies

Question #18

How must we understand the words of the Lord when He commands us to love our enemies?


Answer #18

The one who asked this question is concerned with the false teaching so very common in our day that God is said to “love all men,” and the accompanying teaching that therefore we “must love all men,” with the result that it is taught we must no longer speak of sin, but must find the good in all men, etc. At the same time the questioner is aware that the Psalmist prays, “do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee,” which is spoken of the enemies of God, and which the psalmist counts as his enemies and whom he hates. The questioner is concerned that if we do not understand the Lord’s words to love our enemies in a proper way, the whole of the antithetical walk of the Christian will be destroyed.

In our answer we remark in the first place that we could write volumes on this subject without over doing it. The reason for this is that the Lord’s command to love the enemy is intimately related to the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus says in Mark 12: 31 that there is no greater commandments than the commandments to love God, and to so love your neighbor as yourself. Thus we find the principle of the law contained in the answer of the question above.

Nevertheless, we will try to answer the question without a series of sermons, and thus attempt on this page to point out several main points as one considers this question. The first thing we must point out is that we are speaking of the enemy who is our neighbor, that is he is not someone we do not know, but an enemy upon our path, placed there by God for our trial and for His purpose to save or condemn. The very idea that he is our enemy means we know him as such. Jesus indeed teaches us that we must love our enemy, as we read in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:43-44 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Also we read in the companion passage from Luke the following: Luke 6: 27-28 “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” So we must surely conclude we must love our enemies.

Now in the first place to define this love for the enemy we point out that our enemy is our neighbor and we are to love him as ourselves.

The love for ourselves in the correct and good sense is to keep ourselves right before God. That is, a love for ourselves is, in all of our lives to love God and to serve Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. That love for ourselves is to keep ourselves from all that would prevent this service of God in pure love. So that the love of ourselves is to keep all the commandments of God, and to flee all sin. To hate ourselves in this sense is to separate ourselves from God and His Word and to give ourselves to the walk of iniquity. John says that this is love to keep His commandments, (II John 1:6) This of course is possible only by grace and in the way of prayer and being bound to the Word of God in all of our walk. To love oneself is to seek God in all things, to find our only joy in that which is in harmony with His will, to live out of Christ being led in all of our lives by His blessed rule as He is our Lord, and all that is implied by such delight in the things of God’s kingdom and its righteousness.

So that to love the neighbor also if he is an enemy means that we love Him in the same way we love ourselves. And this means that we are witnesses of the truth before our enemy. It means that we call our enemy’s attention to his sin, and admonish him to repent of it. It means we cannot countenance in our enemy any deviation from the truth of the word of God, and must do all that we can to point out the destruction that will come in the way of disobedience to the word. It means we expend our efforts to bring the gospel to bear upon the heart and soul of our neighbor that he too may come to know the salvation that there is in Christ. It means as we pray for grace to see our sin to flee it, that we pray that if it be God’s will that also our enemy may come to see his sin and repent, that he too may taste the blessedness of belonging to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. It means that we call upon that enemy to come up to the house of God that He may be fed and nourished and led to become not any longer an enemy, but a friend in Christ.

Now to keep all the commandments of God means also if we love ourselves we will do no harm to ourselves, we will not curse ourselves, nor persecute ourselves, etc. We will take care not to do anything to ourselves that would place us in jeopardy of hell fire or judgment. So also are we to behave toward our enemies. This is how we understand also the instruction of our Lord in this connection. When Jesus says in Matthew 5:44 “bless them that curse you,” that is speak well of them that speak evil of you. “Pray for them which despitefully use you,” as we have explained above. And thus we understand when we read the words of Christ in Luke 6:35 “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;” Two things may take place when we so love the enemy, both for the glory of God. First it may be that by your good works, the works of faith done by grace alone, the enemy may be brought to humility and to inquire of your faith, and be led by grace to know salvation in Christ under the gospel. Thus too he shall become your friend and no longer be an enemy. And the angels of heaven shall rejoice. Or when you give him no ground for his evil against you, and give him no occasion for his sin by unjust acts on your part, he shall be held accountable before God. This is why we are admonished by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:19-21 “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but {rather} give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance {is} mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We conclude to love our enemy serves then the glory of God, it may serve the salvation of our enemy if God is so pleased to use our love to lead His own to repentance and the cross and God’s name shall be glorified. Or it may lead the enemy to harden his heart without excuse unto greater damnation, revealing himself to be an enemy of God, as well as our enemy. But this too will glorify the Name of our God in His just judgment of the wicked.

May God grant us the grace to love even our enemies as ourselves!! This is really a rather brief study of this love we must have of our neighbor, enemy so if you have further questions, make sure to send them in.

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