In the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels, Jesus has given His followers many distinct and difficult commands (humanly speaking). He has blatantly demanded that we “take up [our] cross and follow [him]” (Matt. 10:38; 16:24). Jesus demands that we not be anxious about daily life (Matt. 6:25-34). He expects us not to sinfully be angry (Matt. 5:21-22). He warrants us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, forsake our earthly treasures for heavenly treasures, and to make disciples of all nations (we struggle making disciples in all the neighborhood). However, in light of all these difficult demands of Jesus, the one that seems to me to be the most difficult (again, humanly speaking), is the demand of the Christ to “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). I feel quite confident that I am not alone in this thought. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Ouch. That is something very difficult for us to do or even fathom. Let’s examine what Jesus means by this and then draw some conclusions as to how we should love and pray for our enemies.
The first thing to notice from this demand of Christ is that we do in fact have enemies as redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled believers. Is this too obvious? I find that many times in my life I am shocked when people persecute me. I find myself saying, “Can you believe he said that to me?” “How dare he continue to shun and ignore me!” “It amazes me how he can continue to be so insincere with me and against me.” These statements that I make from time to time seem to indicate that I am surprised that I may have an enemy or two. Well, Jesus has some news for you and for me: We will most definitely have enemies if we follow Him! “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:25). Jesus had countless enemies and He was the most loving and innocent man to walk the face of the earth. As His followers we can only expect “much more [to be] malign[ed].” Our enemies will come in many different forms. They may affect us physically, emotionally, and/or mentally, but make no mistake, they will be there and their blows will be felt.
Okay, now that we have established the obvious truth that we have enemies, let’s take a look at how we can love our enemies. Before I go into detail as to how we are to pray for those who persecute us and love our enemies though, I would like to attempt to biblically put an end to the notion that all hate is unloving. I would like to state that Scripture actually teaches that there is hate which is indeed loving. Firstly, people who are our enemies will actually embody characteristics which are antithetic to the fruits of the Spirit in us as believers. If this is true, then with the many Psalms that drive home this very point, we must hate these characteristics of evil which in fact is the major reason they are our enemies in the first place. So, can love hate? Well, let’s see. It is loving to hate evil, since evil opposes God and eternal life. It is loving to hate eternal destruction (not God’s just judgment, but eternal destruction itself) and evil in a person warrants judgment before God and eternal death (John 5:29). In loving God and being jealous for God, the Psalms resound in an echo of hatred for enemies (Psalm 139:19-22). This does go a bit further than the phrase, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I understand this, yet I still believe it to be biblical and indeed loving in one sense to hate not just the sin, but the sinner as well.
Let me explain. I wholeheartedly believe God condemns any hatred of a sinner which desires for their destruction. Statements such as, “Look how that sinner opposes God! They deserve the fires of hell and it pleases me to know that is what they are heading toward!” Wow. This is definitely not the kind of “hatred” I am advocating. This kind of hate has no trace of love. Pure hate for hate’s sake is evil in and of itself. However, we must not be so naiive as to ignore the reality of the world in which we live. If we lived in a world with no evil, then there would be no need for hate. We obviously do not live in this world…yet (as born-again redeemed believers we one day will).
To further this point, I would like to spend a few minutes discussing the phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Again, in this post I am hoping to eliminate any notion that all forms of hate are unloving. This is not the case and in fact I would like to list a couple passages that show God’s contempt and hatred of sinners, not just sin:
“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” – Psalm 5:4-5
“The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” – Psalm 11:5
These passages are clear that God hates the doers of evil and not just evil. God hates the wicked and the one who loves violence, not merely wickedness or violence. I will also point out that all unrepentant sinners will face final judgment by God. At the point of Christ’s return, sin will be utterly eliminated in the Lake of Fire with the devil and all his demons. Death will be no more and pain and suffering will vanish with the rest. If we hold to the premise that God “hates the sin, but not the sinner,” should we not then assume that at the point of elimination of sin and evil, the sinner would not be punished? We would correctly be following the logic of “hate the sin, not the sinner,” but we would be wrong. God judges the sinner, the one who loves violence, and all the wicked for the character of their heart which is utterly depraved of righteousness. Justice will be served and they will perish with sin, evil, and their father the devil in the Lake of Fire. We must approach this reality with trembling.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” – Revelation 20:12-15
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
It is the sinner who sins and the evil nature of his character which is judged and punished. Sin is punished either on the cross or in the lake of fire and it is the sinner who is either justly forgiven and redeemed through faith in Christ or justly punished for unrepentance and sin.
The hate I am referring to is not one that desires destruction, but indeed it is a hate that is desiring salvation and moral repugnance. This analogy from John Piper is very helpful:
“You may hate spinach (because of its taste) while affirming its worth and desiring that it have its beneficial effect. So it is possible to hate a person in the sense of finding his character loathsome (say, a cannibalistic murderer and child-abuser) while being willing to lay down your life for his salvation.”
The kind of hate which Jesus forbids is such that wills and desires for a person’s destruction. A hate that is loving is a hate that would lead you to lay down your life for the salvation of your enemy. It is not unloving to hate one’s divine-defying character if you are desiring their salvation. This kind of hate is very loving indeed, but then again…not easy. So hear me out: I am not advocating you to hate people for the sake of hating them in order to take pleasure in their destruction. I am saying that hate which despises the character of an individual and desires for their salvation is indeed loving. Love begins with hate. Despise them for salvation’s sake and if you cannot, then give it no more thought.
This kind of righteous hate followed ultimately by God with divine judgment for all who do not repent is thankfully not left to our fallible mind and will. While I have sought to defend a righteous and even loving kind of hate of enemies (in other words a love for enemies), the last thing I want to do is to lead others to hate enemies in the ungodly and forbidden way I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say, leave ultimate judgment and concentration on righteous hatred to God as He sovereignly, wisely, and justly deals with His enemies. Bottom line: hate the evil which leads a person into destruction.
The biggest reason I point out this love/hate relationship is due to the culture and society in which we live. People are overly-sensitive and politically correct. If you do not tolerate all views as being valid and “right,” then you are labeled as a bigot. Therefore, I feel compelled to boldly state that hating is loving (or not unloving) when done properly. We know as believers that all worldviews do not lead to life. In fact, any worldview absent from Christ Jesus leads to eternal destruction. No questions asked…Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). To “tolerate,” in the modern definition of the word, all worldviews is to hate the adherers to these worldviews destructively. We must therefore hate these worldviews and those who hold them “salvifically” so as to joyfully display Christ as worthy and as the only way to find true satisfaction for the soul. Anything contrary to Christ must be hated by us so as to glorify Him and lead others to Him. If we condone what destroys, we do not love. Evil destroys and we must stand against all such evil in loving-hatred of it.
In closing, I pray that I have broken through all of the sensitive “lovey” talk that typically comes up when speaking of loving enemies. Loving enemies begins with a hate for their very nature. You hate the evil that is in them because it is leading them to death. Guard your heart against patronizing and compromising with your enemies, for this is hating them. Love them by hating their evil heart that is set against God. This is where we begin in talking about loving our enemies. This is not the end. How do we practically love our enemies? I will examine this deeper in posts to come. For now, we must begin at the starting line of love for enemies: hate. Hating evil is full of love as you desire for this evil heart of your enemy to be regenerated by the grace of God so they can see the beauty and worth of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. If this thought leads you into self-righteousness, by all means, drop it and move on. However, I pray that you would allow this hatred of sin and the sinful nature of your enemies remind you of your own sinful nature which was liberated by the cross of Christ and your faith in Him. Lovingly hate them with salvation as your heart’s desire for them. We have seen that God clearly hates sinners and we know that God abundantly loves sinners. We should do the same. Hating what kills a man is loving even if it is what is within the man that is killing him. How will this thought concerning love/hate fuel our prayers? We will see this played out in the next couple of posts.
By His Grace — In His Love — For His Glory — For our Joy