Recently, we had friends visiting our place and we had good conversations about ministry and life in general. Somehow the topic of loving your neighbor came up, and one of them said that this is one principle he struggles putting into practice the most. I appreciate that he admitted it publicly and, even though I teach this idea everywhere, I have to say that this is also my struggle.
We define ‘our neighbor’ in different ways, but in general, we agree that they are people we encounter everyday, acquaintances and strangers. Interestingly, in the ‘Sermons on the Mount’ Jesus raised this truth to the next level. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:43).
Jesus defined our enemy as our neighbor. I thought loving people I know is hard enough already, now I must love my enemy? With Jesus’ definition, it’s almost impossible! His reason is surprisingly simple: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v 44). Jesus explained further: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (v 46-47). He concluded: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v 48). We love our enemy because we are His sons and daughters for He is merciful to everyone. We are no different than the worldly people if we conduct our life the same way they do. Instead, we are to learn His ways and become more like him. What choice do I have here? Do I want to be a son of the heavenly Father and be perfect as He is perfect or follow the easy route that the worldly people go?
Let me be honest, my enemy is my government and I hated them! I am living in a country where the government is for themselves, not for the people, full of corruption, and unjust. They persecute anyone who dares to challenge them. People are afraid to speak up about problems because they will be put in jail or sometimes even killed.
Maybe I am biased and prejudiced, but I see no good thing come from the government. When I say I hated them, I really did hate them. I wished bad things would happen to them, and when they did, I was so happy. I criticized all their work, whether good or bad.
Now if I take Jesus’ teaching about loving my enemy seriously, I really have a big problem. I have to think about how I can love my enemy, and I know I can’t do it by myself. One thing that helps me to do it, especially when I see bad things done by the government, is that I asked God to give me grace so that I can pray for them. It’s not easy, trust me. No cozy feelings. But my heart is softer toward them as I pray. I am reminded that I was God’s enemy, I was one of them and deserved His holy wrath, but He sought me and gave me grace to know Him and reconcile with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. I realized how much I need God’s grace to live a godly life and to love my enemy. Without His grace abundant upon us and the understanding of our status, we can’t love our enemy.
As I prayed, my perspective shifted. I realized I can trust Him, that He knows what He is doing by letting the current government have power. I believe God will intervene and change any situation for His own purpose. I also believe that God will judge them justly according to their deeds, whether they are good ministers of God or not.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know it’s extremely hard to love our enemy. But if we are called to do so, then we have to make the decision to obey His words and be different.