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What it Actually Means to Love Your Enemies

Digging into Jesus' most unreasonable command.

How much do you love the members of ISIS?

Or the latest person who shot up a school or church or movie theater?

That question may seem absurd. And maybe it is. I think “love your enemies” is the most unreasonable thing Jesus says.

And that’s saying something, because it’s coming from a guy who also says stuff like “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” “hate your mother and father” and “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor” (John 6:56, Luke 14:26 and Matthew 19:21, respectively).

But love your enemies? Come on.

And this is more than just the inconsiderate jerks who pop up occasionally in your life. We’re not just talking about the guy at work who keeps stealing your lunch, or the lady who cut you off on the highway and then gave you the finger.

I think “love your enemies” is the most unreasonable thing Jesus says.

Jesus and His audience lived under an oppressive occupying Roman government. The Romans employed torture and murder to keep people in line. Everyone listening to Jesus talk about this “love your enemies” stuff had plenty of opportunities to experience “I hate you with every ounce of my guts” enemies in the soldiers and prefects that carried out this daily social domination.

Not Just Monsters

As I read about the latest shooting, or the latest beheading, my natural response is to dehumanize the people who do these things. I think of them as monsters. Or demons. Or something else that allows me to pretend that they are not fellow humans.

But that’s not true.

Each one was born. Each one has a mother and a father. They eat. They drink. They have personal stories and experiences full of pain and joy.

They are human. And if I take the narrative of the Bible to be true, they are fellow children of God. They are loved by God.

I want to be very clear: I’m not supporting or accepting of terrorism or mass shootings. I’m also not arguing against legal consequences for those actions.

But if I hate the people who undertake these actions, I am not hating monsters or demons. I’m hating fellow humans.

Some are suffering from mental illness, or from personal anguish or from religious manipulation. In the midst of grief and anger for those who suffer, can I not spare some compassion for those who have missed out on the life filled with grace and hope that Jesus has called all of us to live?

We like to live in a binary, black and white world, where everyone is basically “good” or “bad.” But life isn’t so cut and dried. Someone can be guilty of terrible things and still deserve compassion.

The Hope of Humanity

I’m not seeking to humanize terrorists and murderers because they deserve it or because I am ignoring their actions.

I’m seeking to humanize them because it’s true.

It is also the only way we can hope to stem the tide of terrorism and shootings at schools and malls and workplaces and houses of worship.

Because if these actions are the work of monsters and demons, I am powerless to stop them. I can only shake my head and feel sad that such beings cannot be stopped.

But if I’m dealing with humans, I can have hope. Hope that messages of love and acceptance and peace can be heard. Hope that God can redeem even the worst of sinners. Hope that God can redeem my deep, dark sins, too.

I look to examples like the Civil Rights movement, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, where I see clearly that only when we treat our adversaries as humans—no matter how flawed—can we hope to prevail in our cause: the cause of ultimate justice. The belief that God will eventually set all the wrongs to right.

As Miroslav Volf says in Exclusion and Embrace, “If you want justice and nothing but justice, you will inevitably get injustice. If you want justice without injustice, you must want love.”

Much more could be said on the topic of justice, but that is perhaps for another time.

Praying for your enemy opens you up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.

If you’ve been willing to go with me this far, perhaps you’re willing to ask the next question: How do I love my enemy?

Pray for Your Enemies

I’m not talking about “please give that person what they have coming to them” prayers. But I also don’t mean that you need to spend an hour each night asking God to pour blessings upon them. There’s a way to pray both for justice and for the hearts of those committing injustices.

If you have hate in your heart for somebody, maybe it starts with “God, I hate that person, and I don’t want to.”

As C.S. Lewis has said, “[Prayer] doesn’t change God—it changes me.”

Praying for your enemy opens you up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.

Forgive Your Enemies

Martin Luther King Jr. in Strength to Love posits that forgiveness is the decisive factor in how much you can love your enemy. I fully agree.

When Jesus looks at His executioners from the cross and offers forgiveness, can there be any doubt of His love for them?

When relatives of the victims in the South Carolina church shooting offered forgiveness to the young man who murdered their loved ones, could anyone doubt that they were seeking to take Jesus’ words and example seriously?

Loving your enemy does not mean you have to add them to your Christmas list, or make them your best friend. It doesn’t mean you excuse their actions. It means you forgive them, with the knowledge that God is both merciful and just.

Jesus faced grave injustice with sacrifice. Through prayer and forgiveness in our hearts, let us go forth to conquer injustice in our time by the courage not to demand retribution, but rather to repay injury with blessing and hate with love.

Top Comments

Deb Shaw-Martin


Deb Shaw-Martin commented…

I think this article really begs the question...Do you believe?...and if you do...what are you prepared to do? Jesus lived His life by example...telling us that true freedom comes in loving eachother as He has loved us. When He offered forgiveness to the men who killed Him...asking His Father to have mercy on them because they no not what they are doing is quite an example to follow. The families of those who lost loved ones in South Carolina...followed the example lead by Jesus. When the death row inmate is given forgiveness from the family members who are left to live their lives without someone...they are leading by His example. We need to take the faith we have in Jesus and lead by example...even if it is just in our homes, around our children or in the work place or while you'reshopping in Walmart...don't be so quick to judge...there is a story behind that scowl...behind that nasty comment...behind that blank stare...behind that tear and smile...the path we Christians are called to walk is narrow...NOT impossible.



Amy commented…

The watchword of Christianity is love. As Jesus prepared His disciples for His departure, He said, A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).

The love required of Christians goes beyond loving one another, however. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, 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; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus knew He was saying something radical. He knew that the world's standard was and is to love our neighbors and hate our enemies. Jesus wants more of His followers, however.

Amy from


Peter Broderick


Peter Broderick commented…

Jesus after giving us the admonition to love our enemies, then gives us this command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).And we sons of our Father (Matthew 5:45), must be perfect, even as He is perfect. This is impossible for sinful man to achieve. So how can Jesus demand the impossible? He later tells us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). That which God demands, only He can accomplish, including the demand to love our enemies. What is impossible for man becomes possible for those who give their lives to Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts.

Peter Broderick from

Karl Casias


Karl Casias commented…

God is Love, and the healing of every human woe begins and ends with God who is Love. Darkness cannot live in the presence of Light, as hard as it seems be light!

Nikhil Sharma


Nikhil Sharma commented…

love is super natural power,even god always says love everyone because it is the most dangerous weapon by which we can do anything in this world.i strongly believe in love.

Savannah Chamberlain


Savannah Chamberlain commented…

1. You took Luke 14:26 way out of context.

"Jesus is not teaching a new commandment of hating people. He is teaching about the cost of following Him.
The clue is in Luke 14:33 when Jesus says:

'In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.'"

2. Those who dont believe in God are not children of God.

John 1:12 "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—"

Jeff Doe


Jeff Doe commented…

Enemies challenge us to become better people. Except that, when you blame an enemy, you lose the oppurtunity to grow as a person. Hating your enemy destroys you and drains you of any energy. To love your enemy means to let go of the pain, hurt, and anger and to feel something real for once. Humanizing your enemies is important because they are infact human and not monsters Hatred does nothing for anyone. It doesn't lay to rest when you have exacted revenge. It only causes more harm and more hatred.

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