Let’s be honest with ourselves: “love your enemies” sounds like an oxymoron. Sometimes it sounds downright moronic. Why on earth would we open up our hearts to someone who is out to harm us?

Yet, this is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” [1]. Though He preached a gospel of peace, Jesus’ teachings included an explicit assumption that His followers would be hated for His sake. 

In the end, Jesus provides us with only one way to deal with our foes. We do this with neither hatred nor retribution, for one day they may rise and attack us again. No, our ammunition is much more catastrophic. It’s the way Jesus Himself used. It’s the way of love. As Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote:

Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for our enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power. [2]

Jesus outlined the approach we should take as our foes’ hatred intensifies:

Their behaviourOur behaviour
They hateWe do good
They curseWe bless
They persecuteWe pray

We may think this passage is a mandate to start out strong but temper our reactions if our enemies’ antagonism continues to intensify. [3] Don’t be fooled. Physical reality is not always a reliable indicator of what’s going on in the spiritual world. As human beings, we often place more importance on things we can see than on things we can’t. That’s why we struggle to pray but find it easier to volunteer at a soup kitchen. The person who prays may seem more passive, but that’s only the outward, physical reality. In the spiritual world, a praying Christian arrays herself in armour and wages war against the enemy. Our reactions may become less visible, but they take the battle further into the spiritual realm.

Jesus taught that our love should be intense from the beginning, hoping to turn foes into friends. Like those of our enemies, our responses ramp up as conflict escalates. Since praying is the single most powerful thing we can do, when we devote our entire focus to praying in the final step, exciting things happen! We can only defeat hatred with love by being proactive, not reactive. Jesus provided the perfect example; the Bible tells us He died for us while we were still His enemies.

Sometimes, we may not be able to turn our foes into friends with love. Sometimes, our enemies stubbornly refuse to go after anything except our destruction. What can we do in this case? Next time, we’ll examine a case study from the Bible which illuminates the way forward.


[1] Luke 6:27–28, ESV.

[2] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981), 80-88.

[3] Bruxy Cavey, Powerpoint presentation emailed to me, June 30, 2016.

This article is adapted from Captive Set Free: How to Find Freedom Through Forgiving by Valerie Limmer.

[Click here for picture source.]