Love Your Enemies

by Eric S. Love
podcast available

Love Your Enemies

First thing: who is our enemy?  The real question, I suppose is "what" is our enemy...

Ephesians 6:12
12 For our struggle is not against [e] flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

But let's face it: an enemy idea or concept is always attached to a physical fist or mouth. Thats the kind of enemy I'm talking about: people. First, let's read a little story about how Jesus taught us to deal with our enemies.

Luke 6:20+
20 And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “ Blessed are [j]you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are [k]you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22  Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. 23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to [l]treat the prophets. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. 25 Woe to you who [m]are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to [n]treat the false prophets in the same way.
Interjection: Jesus was a practical man, quite possibly the least religious man who ever lived. So what is he saying? That we should all suffer and be glad for it cause that's the way we know we are blessed? And that if we are successful or popular then we are damned? No. He's saying life is crap sometimes. If isn't crap right now, it will become crap soon enough. If you are already in crap, good news! It'll get better.
I don't think Jesus is telling us to beware of good times or of having plenty. He is telling us to beware of becoming dependent on good times and plenty. It's an attitude thing. Sure, luxuries can become idols easily enough, but so can giving up luxuries.
27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who [o]mistreat you. 29  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your [p]coat, do not withhold your [q]shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 [r] Treat others the same way you want [s]them to treat you.  [This, I believe, is the crux of what he is saying: treat others the way you want to be treated, not the way they are treating you.]32  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, [t]expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 [u]Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Interjection: I'd saying loving those who love you can be pretty tricky, although it sounds like Jesus is saying it means nothing. But that's not what he is saying. Loving the people we love and who love us may be the hardest thing in the world sometimes. But loving people who hate us is always the hardest thing in the world. The point: treat people the way you want to be treated. The golden rule. Pretty simple. Imagine if everyone followed it! Of course everyone won't. But that doesn't excuse you. I love this line: He himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Beautiful. If He wasn't, we wouldn't be friends.
37 “ Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; [v] pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will [w]pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
This is a simple principle. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Karma. And there is truth in it - but not absolute truth. Sometimes you do good and still get bad done to you. Sometimes life isn't fair and walks right up to you and takes a huge bite out of your hotdog and knocks the rest of it out of your hand into the dirt. Still, kindness is something that is always well spent, even if it doesn't seem like it. And I do believe in justice: do good and it will come around to you again. God is good.

But back to enemies: what do we mean by "enemy" - and make no doubt, Jesus was not talking about loving the rulers, powers, and world forces of darkness. He was not suggesting we do good things for the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. He was talking about people who, in one way or another, become our enemies. So what is an enemy?
In a nutshell, anyone who works against you. There are more elaborate definitions, but what good are those when this one suffices? An enemy is someone who works against your good. There are several kinds:
1. The regular, run-of-the-mill enemy - the guy who just doesn't like you and wants to see you suffer. The easiest to spot.
2. The most painful kind of enemy is the one you love, and who probably loves you too - for any number of reasons (valid or invalid), they oppose you and it hurts. It hurts far worse because they actually matter to you.
3. The hardest one to beat: you.This is the trickiest to spot because we are usually working in cahoots with our enemy self.
We are going to look at each of these three and try to figure out a way to LOVE THEM. But before we do, does anyone find it strange that Jesus said "love your enemies" instead of "get along with you enemies?" Later on, Paul says "to the best of your ability, get along with everyone." Okay, that I get - but love your enemies? Did He mean that literally and was He exaggerating to make sure we got the point? All I can do is tell you what I think.
Something needs to be said here about what happens when someone does indeed hurt you in some way. It is really important to not develop a victim mentality. If you do, it may you self-focused, particularly on your hurt. And it will fuel you anger, disappointment, bitterness, fear, etc. It feels so justified, but here's the problem: it becomes a cyclical problem that self perpetuates the issues, both the immediate effects of the hurt done to you as well as the effects of the thought and attitude issues that you respond to the hurt in. There's no excuse for that. The long term effects of that are far more damaging than the original hurt.
So having said that, let's look at loving our enemies:
How do you love this guy? First, let me ask a simple question: why is the guy in your life? Maybe you work with him. Maybe your kids carpool to school together. Maybe you married him.  Here's the deal: if there are people in your life who hate you and you don't HAVE to be around them, then don't. Simple as that. You DO NOT HAVE to love the whole world. That's not your job. So if you can live life without this person around, feel free to do it guilt free.
On the other hand, if you have to work with him or see him next door or whatever the case may be, then you can't just exorcise him from your life. That is unfortunate, but not the end of the world. So what do you do?
Well you don't set out to love him all at once. That will overwhelm you and lead to some potentially awkward moments. Start small: just try to respect him as a fellow human being. Treat him the way you would want to be treated. Chances are, you wouldn't want him hanging out at your cubicle six or seven times a day commenting on how cool your tie is or how great you raise your kids. And you certainly wouldn't want him posting sticky notes on your windshield with encouraging Bible verse written on them. So don't do that to him. Respect him this way: if he does a good job, tell him so. He may react snobby - not your problem. If he doesn't do a good job, then don't lie about it and say he did - but don't criticize him either (unless it's your place to do so - and then do it respectfully).
Look for something in him that makes him a human being to you. Knowing someone's story is often a great way to get a little understanding in why they act the way they do. That isn't always possible in the real world, so if you don't know someone's background then just assume there is a good reason why they act the way they do. Cause there is. It is NOT and excuse for them to be a jerk, but it is an explanation.
Find something to respect about them and focus on that while focusing also on their humanity. And treat them with respect. Just be nice. Don't be a push over, but be nice.
Given enough time, you may actually come to kind of like this guy. You may actually grow to love him if you aren't careful. Now to enemy number two.
Step One: figure out what part of this is your fault. Some of it is. Has to be. So figure out how you are contributing to the problem and fix your part. You can only fix your part.
Step Two: ask yourself why they are opposing you. They may be trying to help you. And sure, they may be going about it completely wrong - but are they doing what they are doing because they love you? If they are just being mean to you, there's a good chance they don't realize it. It's easy to be mean to the people closest to us because they are the easiest to take for granted. And we typically have no problem letting them see the real us.
Step Three: talk to them. But don't talk to them to prove them wrong or make them look dumb. Don't try to vindicate yourself. Remember, you love this person. If two people are in a relationship and they have a fight and one of them wins, they both lose. So approach this the same way you do with the idiot in Enemy Number One: respect them.
So how do you do that when they are driving you crazy, or worse hurting you deeply? For starters, you remind yourself that you love this person. Then, you remind yourself why you love them.That will help you connect with their humanity. (Do you notice the pattern? Connecting with someone's humanity is the best way to begin respecting them, which can lead to more personal emotions like affection or love.)
Then you talk to them respectfully and with love. And if they give you a hard time, don't listen, or end up being mean some more, then you remind yourself all over again why you love them. You may have to say to them, "Alright, until you can talk to me respectfully, we aren't having this conversation" and leave it. But you want to talk it out. You need to. Explain to them that it is important to you to get this straightened out, because they are important to you. And whenever you start getting angry, remind yourself that you LOVE this person.
Step Four: keep walking it out. It may take time depending on how deep the problem goes. So show a little grace. Or show a lot of grace. And when it gets even harder, don't just remind yourself why you love this person, remind yourself how important it is that they remain a part of your life and make up your mind to do whatever it takes to fix this. (And never forget Step One.)
Now, the worst enemy of all.
Alright, let me simplify this process a smidge. You need to essentially do the same thing with yourself that you've done with the others. Give yourself a break: you are a human being. Connect with your own humanity. Know there's a reason why you act the way you do. It is not an excuse to be an idiot, but it is a reason. Have a little self-respect. Becoming insecure or hating yourself is NOT going to make you a better person. It's going to exacerbate the issues you have.
Now, what kind of enemy are you being to yourself? If you do something that hurts yourself or hurts people you love, then YOU have to change that. No one can change it for you. A good first step is to realize that no matter what you do alone, you have not done it alone: it affects everyone who loves you. A drug addict may say they are only hurting themselves, they aren't making others take drugs - but that's not true. If you've ever loved someone with an addiction, then you know that addiction becomes a part of your life. It eats at you just like it eats at them, only in a different way. And should they completely destroy themselves, their suffering is over. It's the people left who have to deal with that.
No. Do not ever live under the lie that what you do only affects you. So if you are hurting yourself, you are hurting everyone you love.
Just like insecurity or self-loathing, getting angry and frustrated with yourself isn't going to solve anything. So here's what you do: figure out what the problem is and get a plan to fix it. But do this one step at a time. Get someone in your life to help you. You don't have to confess your sins from the roof top, but confession is a healing thing. Being able to be completely honest with someone you trust can be the difference between life and death. Literally. So talk to someone and get a plan.
Then do what you got to do. There are no short cuts. You just have to do it. Look at the bigger picture: what greater goals and dreams are you putting at jeopardy because of this? Who are you hurting besides yourself? Attitudes likes insecurity or depression can be just as harmful as drug addiction or some other obvious heinous problem.
But when you set out to "do what you got to do," do so with the understanding that you will fail some of the time. Just get back up and keep going. Hopefully, your failures will not last as long and will begin to happen less frequently. Another person can help you get perspective on this. If your failures continue to persist, then you aren't doing something right. Re-evaluate your plan. Find a different strategy. Bottom line is this: if you are going to beat this thing, it has to be you who beats it. You need other people. You need at least one person who you cna be real with, but they can't fight what's in your head. Only you can do that.

Eric Love, 5/28/2012