Today’s mailbag question comes from an anonymous emailer who asks how it is possible to love our enemies as Jesus commands in Matthew 5:43-48.
To understand how it’s possible to actually love one’s enemy, it’s important to understand that what the Bible considers love and what most Americans today call love are by no means the same. In popular culture we tend to think of love as a feeling, but in the Bible love is to a great extent action.
In Luke’s gospel (6:27-36) this active side of love is a little easier to see in Jesus’ command: “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (NASB).
The New Testament’s so-called “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, gives an even clearer picture of love in action:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NASB)
Those are all practical expressions of love, actions we choose or choose not to take.
I saw this side of love in action at a prayer meeting with the Highland View Church of Christ in Oak Ridge on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. It was a special, called prayer meeting after the highjacking attacks that morning on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Church members gathered and prayed for the nation, for families of those who had died, for those who had been injured, for rescuers and medical staff, for those who might still be trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings in Manhattan.
But the one prayer I still remember specifically was spoken by a former elder, Herb Mowery, who prayed for blessings on those who had commited these horrible outrages. Herb’s words sounded more than a little forced, and as he asked that God would bless the terrorists it wasn’t hard to tell that his natural inclinations were somewhere far different. But he was being obedient to our Lord, and however much God may have blessed any member of al-Qaida that evening, I know for sure he blessed the members of Highland View Church of Christ who took part in that prayer.
At the same time, love is more than simply deciding to take an action. In the deepest sense, when Christians really love we are sharing in the very nature of Almighty God, whom the apostle John described as Love Himself (1 John 4:8). It’s a deep mystery, I think, how we can share in God’s love, and how that love could empower us to desire blessings for someone trying to kill us or do us harm. But if we trust God’s Word, we can be sure that we can.
I serve as sports writer for the Manchester Times and preacher and elder for the Church of Christ at Fredonia. The ideas expressed here, however, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of either the Times or the church. I welcome your questions or comments and will try to respond to them in a future Monday Mailbag. Please send your thoughts to email@example.com. Thanks for reading.