Love Your Enemies

August 22, 2014 — 10 Comments


As I watched the atrocities of ISIS unfolding on the news feed, my heart broke for the religious minorities of Iraq.

In my prayers I cried out for comfort, peace, and perseverance for those being mistreated in Iraq. Yet, I also called out for God to break ISIS down forever (Ps 52:5). I knew that it was right and biblical to pray both prayers.

​My heart was so filled with disgust and a thirst for justice that my desires didn’t seem in line with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt 5:44)

Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you. (Luke 6:27)

Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…for he (the Most High) is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:35)

With the rise of ISIS, the word enemies was no longer abstract but had grown flesh. So many times in my life I have read over the command, “Love your enemies” and I could think of very few true enemies of mine. But now this command came to life. In solidarity with the Christians in Iraq, I too now had enemies.

Yet Jesus was calling me to love them, to pray for them, to do good to them.

What did that mean? How was I to do so when my heart cried out for justice? What was I supposed to do when the Psalms showed me one biblical way to pray, and then Jesus seemed to present another?


Thankfully, I am not the only person who has been wrestling with this conundrum. Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God blogged on the topic, and so did Derek Rishmawy, and Mich Murray.

Parnell argues love must include hate, for that is what true love is.

In fact, if the love is real, it must include hate. We’ve seen or experienced something like this before, though it might be more complex than we first thought. Love that rightfully includes hate needs to navigate between the two ditches of unhelpful generality and selfishness in disguise.

Love for our enemies means, fundamentally, that we hate our enemies for wholeheartedly joining in the evil that will ultimately cause their damnation (John 5:29).

Murray argues that when love and hate can be used so interchangeably, your theology has effectively rendered the word “love” meaningless.

Rishmawy argues for more complexity.

Part of the problem is that we have trouble thinking about God having anything more than a strict, black or white, love or hate relationship with creation. We have trouble thinking of him in more than one role at a time. We are people with flat imaginations and so we try to come up with a flat God that suits us.

Thing is, the Scriptures give us a multi-dimensional God, with multi-dimensional relationships to the world and his creatures….God made us in his Image and so he does love us. And yet, there’s a point where it makes sense to say he hates what we’ve made of ourselves.

Let the Command Simmer

There is one more point in supplement (not contradiction) to these writers. The danger exists of theologizing the command which skirts the hard mandate. We see this a lot from the Pharisees. They wanted to debate the niceties of the law, but Jesus wanted their hearts.

It can become easy to comfortably side-step Jesus’ difficult commands. But if they don’t strike some uneasy chord in us then we probably are not hearing him correctly. After all, Jesus was killed for what he said and did.

Therefore we need to let these commands simmer on our hearts, until it hurts, and not quickly run to reconcil​e​ this with our theological system.

I too want to understand how the Scripture can have Jesus’ command yet also contain imprecatory Psalms, but it is probably easier for us to pray those Psalms than to wrestle with what it means to love our enemies.

John Howard Yoder said concerning Jesus’ command to love:

The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right….The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.

I think Yoder is essentially saying we need to die to ourselves, we need to take up our cross in the hard commands of Jesus.

What I am not arguing for is pacifism, or even a specific political response. What I am saying is that we should not attempt to get out from under the command to love our enemies and do good to them, but rather seek to walk in the footsteps of our Savior.







Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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