BRADY COLUMN: Learning how to love our enemies
Published 9:00 am Friday, June 18, 2021
My subject for this article is so much easier to write about than to put into practice. Culture says we are to love our family and friends. If we do that, we think we do well. But here comes the bombshell! Jesus says, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). No doubt, Jesus is talking to his followers, but this is a message the whole world needs to hear and heed. “As a culture,” Bishop Joe Pennel, Jr. states, “We commonly practice retaliation and revenge instead of forgiveness and reconciliation. We believe that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the best method of justice.”
However, the teachings of Jesus challenge us to a different ethic. Citizens of God’s kingdom are expected to love all people in the same way that God loves them. But the way God loves them is quite different from the way we might love a family member or friend or something else. Before proceeding, we need to understand the meaning of the word “love.” The Greek language in which the New Testament is written, gives us four distinct words for love: “storge” (family love), “eros”(passionate, sensual love), “philia”(shared love by friends and family members) and “agape”(unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill to all others). Agape is the word used for God’s kind of love. This is the kind of self-sacrificing, self-giving love that caused God to give his son to die on the cross for our sins.
Now, loving your enemy does not mean “liking him/her; nor does it mean blinding yourself to his/her faults. But we can love people whom we do not like. As difficult as it may be, Jesus is urging us to have a humble servant demeanor toward the people who are our adversaries. We are not being asked to approve of what they are, what they’ve done, or how they conduct their lives, but we are to love who they are-people who matter to God, as we matter to him.
Right here, I need to stress that this kind of love-loving our enemies-is not possible without God. The more we surrender ourselves to God’s grace, the more we are made to love everybody, including our enemies. Besides Jesus didn’t mince any words when he said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 5:5).
So let’s get practical. Here are four quick helps for loving our enemies:
1) Decide to love them! Loving our enemies is not an emotional thing; it’s an intentional decision of the will.
2) Learn more about them! We have to begin to put a human face on our abstract enemies if we are to love them and see them as fellow human beings who are hurting as we are.
In the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Paul Baumer is speaking: “Comrade, I do not want to kill you.
If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible, too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response.
It was that abstraction that I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your life, and your face and our fellowship.”
3) Begin praying for God’s love to permeate our hearts and their actions. Jesus made it clear in scripture that we are to pray for our enemies and for ourselves. It is inconceivable that we could even attempt to love our enemies without the acknowledged presence and power of God.
4) Hear God’s command to adopt a sustained and unbreakable good will toward them. It helps us to realize that our actions and our person are not always the same thing. Sometimes we do something of which we are not very proud and explain, “That’s not the real me” or “I was not myself.”
In loving our enemies, we have to do the same thing. Abraham Lincoln set an example for us at the end of the Civil War. Many were arguing for a swift and terrible retribution upon the South.They wanted their enemies destroyed. Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and Abraham Lincoln understood.