8 minutes to read
Faith and love are the hallmarks of a Christian, and love stands out as a proof of our faith. In Luke 6:27 Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. Every Christian ought to have this truth deeply etched on the mind as this serves as the guiding principle in the way believers relate with each other and the unbelieving world. As Christians, if we had an innate ability to love those who hate us, there would be no need for an injunction to love our enemies. While truths and principles are easy to talk about, they become a challenge to live out even for seasoned saints. Loving enemies has been distinctive of Christians. However, this is an impossible ideal and no one can do this apart from God, who is the source of all true love. Only those who have experienced the true, transforming love of God will have the potential to love others. This is because we are vindictive by nature and even when we are powerless to act against those who hurt us, we tend to desire their downfall. In our minds we know that we are called to love those who persecute and oppress us but, in our flesh, we only desire their ruin. In fact, most of us must have experienced a smug sense of satisfaction to see things going wrong with those who have worked against us, though our consciences condemn such feelings. This is a struggle we must learn to overcome.
Loving is not always easy and becomes a challenge since some people make themselves unlovable by exhibiting the raw nature of a fallen soul which is bent on evil. However, before we brand anyone ‘unlovable’ we must realize and acknowledge that we too have this very same depraved nature that made us objects of God’s wrath. However, Jesus did something radically different by loving the unlovable you and me, which is why we as His children, called by His Name must learn to love the unlovable. We already saw that this is easier said than done. But Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon of the Mount help us take our first steps in loving the unlovable.
Do good to those who hate you (Lk. 6:27a): This statement comes like a slap in the face to the rational mind. But this is a kingdom principle which our King Jesus Christ demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane when he healed the ear of the man whom Peter assaulted in his impulsive rage. ‘Doing good’ to enemies is not second nature to any of us. But as we fix our eyes on Jesus and constantly remind ourselves of His example, ‘doing good’ can and will become instinctive.
Bless those who curse you (Luke 6:28a): The word ‘bless’ comes from a word which when translated means ‘eulogy’ which means ‘to speak well of’. Christians and gospel work is often maligned. When your work is misrepresented, your words misquoted and your actions misinterpreted, what should your response be? Jesus instructs His followers to respond to such false allegations by blessing the offenders. This is another hard pill for a Christian to swallow. An elaboration of Jesus’ command shows that we are to not only refrain from reacting with maliciousness but speak well of our persecutors. We see an example of such behaviour in the life of David when he fled from Absalom. A man called Shimei cursed David on the way. Interestingly, David did not react to these curses or kill Shimei though he had the power to do so. “But the king said, 'What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” (2 Sam. 16:10). This is another lesson we need to learn in loving the unlovable.
Knowing our weakness and inability to love the unlovable, God has equipped us with the weapon of prayer. How should we use this weapon? Is it to call on God’s help to destroy our enemies? Two martyrs of the New Testament show us what the content of our prayers should be. Stephen made full use of the tool of prayer, not to call upon fire and brimstone on his accusers who later murdered him but Stephen prayed for forgiveness, imitating Jesus’ prayer at the cross. “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60). Paul was another man who lived on prayer and used this powerful tool to plead for the conversion of his captors (Acts 26:28-29). We must pray for our offenders that God may forgive them and that they may know the truth of the Gospel. This is loving the unlovable.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’.” (Matt. 5: 38, 39). Here the phrase Offering the cheek should be interpreted in the light of witnessing. We see similar usage in 1 Peter 3:1 where the apostle instructs believing wives to be subject to their unbelieving husbands who would be won to the faith through the conduct of the wives. The emphasis here also is on witnessing. Offering the cheek does not mean recklessly endangering one’s life, since Jesus instructed His disciples to flee in the face of persecution.
“Offering the other cheek is not so much an active pursuit as it is a natural exposure when one reaches out to those who have contempt. Revenge is excluded, while doing good to the hostile is commanded. In the context of persecution, offering the cheek means continuing to minister at the risk of further persecution, as Paul does in Acts 14 and 16.”1
In our pursuit of loving the unlovable, we are called to strive and minister to those who hurt us and not give up. We reach out not because they deserve it but because we are called to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
Another unpalatable command to a Christian is to not hold on to rights. “…and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either” (Lk. 6:29b). Cloak refers to the outer garment while tunic refers to the innerwear. Under the Law, Jews had legal protection to get back their outer garment by sunset even when it was pledged. “And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge. You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.” (Deut. 24:12-13). The Jews had this right but Jesus sets this aside and tells them to part with their tunic as well as their cloak. In other words, Jesus directs his followers to not fight for their rights. Our enemies’ eternity is of more importance than our temporal rights. Joseph stands out as a classic example of one who would choose not to exercise his power or rights to take vengeance on his brothers even after Jacob’s death. Joseph was not bitter towards his brothers because He traced God’s fingerprints in everything that happened in his life. Joseph knew his God was bigger than his troubles and so he entrusted every step of his life into God’s faithful hands. Joseph saw God on the throne in every situation of his life and since his eyes were fixed above, he was not inclined to take revenge or vent out any evil to his brothers even when it was in his power to do it.
In our quest to love the unlovable, the clincher is fixing our eyes above, on the God who called us in love-to-love others the way He did. The more we lift our gaze up, the more we are fueled to love those who hurt, harm and persecute us. Look above and love the unlovable!
1 Bock. L. Darrell. 1994. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group; 1st edition (1 December 1994) Pg. 95 ISBN-10: 080101535, ISBN-13: 978-0801010538