On Sunday morning at Capitol City, we sat under Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:43-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Like all of Jesus’ teaching in this great sermon, these are challenging words. We aren’t just to love those who love us back, those who earn or deserve our love. We are to love even our enemies, those who are most likely to reject and despise our love. Why? Because God loved us when we were his enemies, when we were against him in our sin: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In the gospel, God loved us when we opposed him by our sin; therefore, we are to love others who oppose us.
But how? How do I begin to love those who have hurt me deeply, those who have insulted me and persecuted me? How do I love those who seem so unlovable? The answer is the gospel. When the degree to which we are loved in Christ truly sinks in (and this sinking in is ongoing, it needs to happen every hour of every day), we will be free to love those who don’t return our love. Christ’s love for us fills us so that his love in us overflows into our love for others, whether they love us or persecute us in response.
But then we’re still left with the step of loving those who persecute us. We still have to do it. On that note, I have always found C. S. Lewis’ words on the topic helpful. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis writes:
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…
“The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity’. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.”
Basically, he says try loving those who hate you…and eventually you actually will love them. I’ve found this to be true, many times, in my own life. I hope you do, as well.