Perhaps there is nothing in this world more unique and unexpected than someone who chooses to love the people that mistreat them and someone who chooses to pray for those who hurt them the most. The world can hardly comprehend this kind of love because it seems so irrational and unreasonable. Extending love to people who don’t seem to love or respect us goes completely against our natural instincts and our natural inclinations.
So there must be some sort of hidden meaning when Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, right? Surely, there has to be some exceptions to this command, right?
Sometimes it can be beneficial to begin with what Jesus is not saying before we try to discern what exactly he is intending to say. Jesus is not saying that we should all just be doormat disciples and let the world walk all over us. Some of us read this commandment and think, “Well it sure sounds like that’s what he’s saying.” But Jesus is not against self-defense or running away to avoid evil.
If someone goes to punch you in the face, it’s not a sin to duck.
Let’s give Jesus a little more credit than that. Jesus' own life doesn’t depict being a pushover or someone who runs from confrontation and never resists evil. And so he’s not calling his followers to live a life of weakness and passivity either.
So, what is he saying?
Jesus does not ask us to pretend that someone is not evil or by any stretch of the imagination to condone someone’s evil behavior. Jesus does not prohibit a proper administration of justice. Jesus is perfectly just so he is certainly concerned with the administration of justice.
However (and this is the key), Jesus does forbid us from taking justice into our own hands. When we are mistreated, Jesus does not give us the permission to satisfy ourselves by getting even or taking revenge. Self-defense is one thing, but self-vindication is something else, and our Lord forbids it!
You see, retaliation is the natural way of this world. Payback is a natural instinct that we possess — If you mess with me then I’m going to mess with you. If you take care of me then I’ll take care of you.
But Jesus says, “No. That’s not how my people are going to do things. Anybody can flex their muscles and try to show off their strength by getting even. But true strength is found in a man who shows incredible self-control and loves others so powerfully that he refuses to take the easy path of revenge and retaliation. A real man of God only concerns himself with giving people what they need and isn’t caught up with trying to dish out what they might deserve.”
Typically, the reason we often seek revenge is because we feel like someone has forcefully gained control over us.
And we hate that!
If an organization mistreats you during arbitration, then you want to stick it to them when it’s time for free agency. If a manager gives you a role that you disagree with then you’ll try and stick it to him by rebelling against his authority and doing your own program. Either way, it’s an effort to regain control that you feel like you’ve lost.
Jesus was falsely arrested and mocked. Romans soldiers stripped his clothes off leaving him naked in front of everyone. They spit on him. They slapped him. They beat him. They put a crown of thorns on our King’s head to mock him, and yet Jesus declared “No one takes my life from me, but I give it up on my own authority.”
Our Lord willingly chose to hang on that cross. At the very moment in Jesus' life that it seemed he had lost all control, he was actually the One in complete control.
Jesus wasn’t a doormat; he was an anvil. And as the hammer of evil kept pounding down on him, he remained still and steady until at last, he shattered those forces of evil.
You see, the anvil almost always breaks the hammer.
There is incredible power in a life that remains strong, still and steady in the midst of being pounded on.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he is simply saying that we ought to extend the same extraordinary love that God has extended to us. We were enemies of God, and yet he willingly died to save us. Praise God that he chose to give us what we needed and not what we deserved!
So how are we supposed to do this? How do we love those that seem impossible to love?
Well, we will never learn to love those that are hard to love until we are captivated and motivated by God's love for us.
God's extra-ordinary love for us has transformed us from being his enemies to being members of his own family. Until we embrace our identity as adopted sons of our Father in heaven, our love for others will be no different than the rest of the world.
A strong awareness of how much God has loved us should humble us enough to help us love those that we feel are unloveable. Our love for our Father in heaven should lead us to love others because we want to be just like him.
You see, as a father, my children’s love for me leads them to imitate me and to try to be like me.
And so, as children of God, who are we imitating? Who do we want to be like?
Are we imitating the way of this world and desiring to get even and get control in this world, or are we imitating the way of our Father in heaven and desiring to give grace?
In the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
“If only we all might begin to love like this, and every Christian in the world were loving in this way! If we did, revival would soon come, and who knows what might happen even in the whole world.”
The world will only begin to see our God as extraordinary when the world begins to experience an extraordinary love from God’s children. This is the way of Jesus and our mission in this world. There's nothing ordinary about our Father in heaven, and so may there be nothing ordinary about those of us he calls his children.