“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. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs form you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But, love your enemies, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
– Luke 6:27-36
I think these may be some of the hardest words Jesus spoke. Even as I typed them out, part of me wanted to skip some parts. Part of me wanted to change my mind and not write about this at all. What Jesus says here is radical and, in many cases, may seem impossible. How can Jesus expect us to love people who hurt us? How can He tell us to turn the other cheek when we are struck? What does He even mean by that? Are Christians supposed to be pushovers? Are we supposed to let people abuse us and hurt us and just sit there and do nothing about it?
Loving Your Enemies and Setting Boundaries
Well, I want to start by saying, no. Jesus does not expect us to be pushovers. If you are in a situation where you are being abused in anyway, Jesus does not expect you to just sit there and let it happen. You are a child of God, He loves you, cares for you, and wants to set you free. And if you have been in a situation like that or have just been hurt by other people, whatever that looks like, what Jesus says here does not mean that Jesus doesn’t care.
In fact, He cares very deeply. If you read through the Gospels you will see how much God hates sin. His love and grace don’t excuse sin or make it ok or no big deal. He hates sin, all sin. When other people sin against us and hurt us, He hates that. It is good and right to set both legal and personal boundaries. It is possible to love your enemies and still have limits. You can forgive someone for what they did to you without continuing to have a relationship with them.
One example I think of is one summer a few years ago. I was volunteering at a summer camp for children in foster care. At one point in the camp we asked the kids to come up and say one thing they wanted to pray for. Almost every kid in that camp asked to pray for their parents. Many of these kids came from abusive situations. Their parents had hurt them, and yet in spite of that they still loved them and prayed for them. Of course, for most of those children it would never be right or safe for them to return to their parents. Most of them had to stay in foster care or be adopted into another family. For their safety boundaries had to be set. But, in asking for prayers for those who had hurt them so deeply, they showed the kind of love Jesus asks all of us to extend to people who hurt us. Loving your enemies can be as simple as asking God to have the same mercy on them that He had on you.
When God calls us to love our enemies, He does not call us to take their sin lightly or to treat ourselves poorly by staying in an unsafe situation.
Love Your Enemies: Look to Jesus
Loving our enemies is hard. And there is only one way we can truly love our enemies the way God calls us to.
We look to Jesus.
One thing God has shown me as I have read through the Gospels is that Jesus never gives us a command that He has not accomplished Himself. Here when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do something that He doesn’t know anything about. Jesus is not just some teacher who gives vague commands without understanding the depths of what He is asking. He knows even better than we do what it means to love enemies. As Jesus hung from the cross, He prayed for God to have mercy on those who killed Him. As He died the most horrific kind of death in all human history, He cried out for forgiveness for those who murdered Him.
And, He loved you and me. I sometimes forget that I at one point in time was an enemy of God. Romans 5 says that even though we were enemies of God, because of the death of Jesus we were reconciled to Him. God had mercy on us and extended forgiveness to us even though we rebelled against Him. I don’t deserve mercy any more than anyone else who has sinned against me. Jesus knows how hard it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. He knows what it is like to be sinned against. He knows what it is like to be betrayed, to be hurt by people. So, as He calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, He is not doing so without any understanding of what He is asking of us.
If we want to know what it looks like to love our enemies, to love difficult people, we need to look to Jesus. We can’t do what He is asking on our own. And, He doesn’t expect us to. He shows us how to love others in His death and resurrection. And He comes alongside us to help us love others, even those who seem impossible to love.