I preached the book of Jonah on Sunday. The big idea of Jonah’s story is that Jonah couldn’t manage to love his enemies. He wanted to receive the mercy of God, but he was not willing for his enemies receive mercy. He would rather die than see his enemies forgiven.
Of course, Jesus did exactly the opposite. Jesus died for his enemies. And we were his enemies, and He made us His friends.
And so, likewise, we are then called to follow Jesus into this same calling. To preach repentance to the world, so that they might also be reconciled to God.
And we are called to do this, perhaps especially, to our enemies. This is what it means to love our enemies.
What I didn’t get to talk about Sunday is how to do this. It isn’t easy. Loving someone you hate is an enormous feat.
Love Your Enemies
Maybe you don’t think you hate anybody, which is fine. I won’t quibble that point. But I’m sure there are people you have a serious dislike for. They may be very dislikeable. The Assyrians in Nineveh were certainly unlikeable. God didn’t like them much either. That’s why He was going to destroy them.
This is my first point.
1- Loving someone doesn’t require them to earn it. If they could earn your favor by being great people, you would need to learn to love them.
You have to let go of your need to have other people earn your love towards them. It isn’t how Jesus loves, and it’s not how we are called to love. Earned, easy love is an inferior kind of love. It’s cheap. We are called to something more costly.
2- Loving your enemy is not the same as excusing your enemy. We are called to forgive. The need to forgive implies that an injustice has been done. Otherwise why do you need to forgive? Forgiveness is about releasing your right to justice to God. It means letting go. It does not mean diminishing the injustice in any way.
Jesus loved us, despite our sin against Him. We love others despite their sin against us. We love through that pain, despite the pain, because we ourselves have been loved the same way.
3- It is pride that tells you that you would never do that to someone. Often we hold judgements against people by saying something like, “Well, I would never do such a terrible thing to someone.” Oh, but you would. Given the right circumstances, you might.
We are all sinners with proclivities towards wicked things. It is the grace of God that keeps us from burning our lives down, not some special inner quality that others don’t have. Not thinking yourself more highly than you ought is essential to learning to love your enemies.
4- Loving your enemy doesn’t mean welcoming toxicity into your life. Some people are toxic to us and should not be welcomed into our lives. A drug dealer to a drug addict. An abusive husband to his wife. A sexual predator. A gossip. Etc, etc. Perhaps these sorts of people need to be confronted, but not necessarily befriended by you.
Paul advocated disfellowshipping such people for the purpose of bringing them to repentance. That can also be the most loving thing to do.
5- If you have Christ in common, that’s enough. Don’t buy into the worldly idea that you need to have a lot in common with people in order to be close to them. It isn’t true. Again, that’s a cheap kind of love. The truth is, that if you have Christ in common you can have an eternally fruitful relationship with that person.
If you’ve never had the experience of becoming dear friends with someone that you initially didn’t like, then you probably haven’t really gotten this truth yet.
I hope you are willing today to begin moving towards people that you know you are called to love, but have a hard time feeling it. I’m convinced that if you will just take some steps towards them, open your arms to them, God will take the rest. You may find that God has supplied more community and ministry for you than you first thought. It just might come from your enemies.