We live in a time of political polarization, online vitriol and constant online outrage.
It’s easy to read about Jesus healing the ear of the Roman soldier who arrested him, but putting that into practice—actively wishing peace, goodwill, and love on your very worst enemies—is not just radical, it’s also radically hard.
Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels. (Matthew 26:53)
This is the superior martial power that Jesus wielded, an army that could’ve easy annihilated the Romans and everyone who opposed Him.
Instead, Jesus instructed His followers to lay down their weapons, and eventually Jesus was brutally murdered in the most torturous way imaginable.
Not only did Jesus have the moral high ground, the superior military power and the divine authority of God, but He also had the emotional hesitancy necessary to avoid putting Himself through one of the worst nightmares anyone could possibly image—but in the end He willingly sacrificed himself.
Jesus was following the will of His Father. Despite all logic, reason and rationale, Jesus obeyed.
Likewise, the will of God should always be our first priority, and it’s painfully clear that God’s will for us is to love and forgive our enemies.
I realize that this isn’t easy and even broaches levels of absurdity, especially if we believe we hold the moral high ground and really are facing a battle against immorality and evil. Additionally, practicing the discipline of loving our enemies can seem naïve and counterintuitive in a society that idolizes shame, hateful rhetoric and viral vitriol.
The best example of this incredible love is Christ, who loved the entire world—even His enemies—to the point of sacrificing Himself for our sake. It was Christ’s love that defeated evil.
Right after this epic victory on the cross, the very first Christians—the early Church—took His teachings to heart, and gave up everything to follow Jesus. If anyone had an excuse to take up arms and vengefully fight against an unjust enemy, it was these very first Christ-followers.
These faithful communities were ruthlessly persecuted, tortured, mocked and killed in the most horrific ways possible, yet they were willing to die, even loving their enemies in the process, while being martyred in droves for their stubborn refusal to deny Christ.
Their foolish devotion to love caused the Gospel of Christ to spread throughout the world.
Today, this doesn’t mean people who wrong us or political leaders who do things we don’t agree with gets free pass or that we’re required to support their actions.
No, loving and forgiving your enemies doesn’t take away or downplay the importance of actively resisting evil, corruption and oppression.
We must still seek justice, defend truth, march in solidarity for those who are mistreated, protest against wickedness and even oppose government authorities and actions if they contradict the teachings of Jesus—it’s just that everything we do must be rooted in love.
Practically, for Christians who aren’t fans of certain leaders or authority figures, this means we must pray for them, must always return any sort of hate with love, must avoid falling into the temptation to dehumanize and must always remember that they and their supporters are divinely loved by God—made in God’s image.
In the end, we’ve been promised that love wins. But do we really believe this? Because it’s easy to get sucked into the hate, fear and sinful battle tactics of a fallen world.
It’s also vitally important to recognize that our war isn’t just carnal, but rather spiritual, and in spiritual warfare, love is the ultimate weapon against Satan.
So when I hate, I’m losing the spiritual war and allowing sin to triumph over holiness. God forgive me. God forgive us.
Fortunately, Scripture shows us that we can trust in the revolutionary tactics of loving our enemies, and we can put our hope in the fact that a person like Saul was transformed into a person like Paul. Love transforms not just our enemies, but it transforms us—making us more Christ-like.
As Jesus was being ruthlessly murdered, He gathered up the very last of His physical strength to utter the words “Father, forgive them …” (Luke 23:34) And the first martyr ever recorded in the Bible, Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, cried out these similar last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts: 7:60)
May God help us to forgive and love generously—even in the face of death.