“Enemy” is a strong word choice. When we think of an enemy, we may think of superheroes and their nemeses, world powers and their adversaries, or even biblical examples of Israel and its opposing nations. We understand that Satan is God’s enemy. Yet applying the word “enemy” to modern-day relationships may feel a bit harsh.
Though our mouths may not apply the word “enemy” to our neighbor, our actions may communicate hate rather than love. Think about political seasons. Family members engage in heated conversations around the dinner table. An awkward tension builds between you and a coworker the closer you get to election day.
Or maybe it’s as simple as the hatred you feel towards an opposing NFL team. Or the cut-throat actions you justify “all in the name of business.” Or what about those in your community advocating for the rights you feel are wrong?
Suddenly the concept of “enemy” becomes increasingly clear.
We are not above Jesus’s teachings on “love your enemies.”
Jesus did not just teach about loving your enemies, He modeled what it looks like for us to love our enemies. Jesus loved His enemies so much that He died for them.
In fact, the hard truth is that we, in our sin, were too enemies of God. Scripture tells us that while we were still enemies, Christ died for us and reconciled us to the Father (Romans 5:10). Jesus’s enemies included you and me. Yet in humility and perfect love, He submitted His life for us.
So too when we stretch the bounds of our love to include our enemies, we are never closer to mimicking the love of our Savior.
But what does this look like practically? To gain our perspective, let us look to love incarnate Himself.
Below are three ways in which we observe Jesus modeling love for His enemies.
1. Jesus was humble.
Our inability to love our enemies well often roots itself in pride. We are quick to see the worst in others but slow to see the worst in ourselves. However, Jesus’s perfect love was perfectly humble. Though He was fully God, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6). Though He is King of kings, He humbled Himself to the form of a servant. Jesus’s humility to the Father led Him to obey His Father, even to the point of death.
How much more should we exhibit humility as sinners saved by grace? The heart of every human is tainted by sin, humbling us before our heavenly Father. We are all in need of the mercy of God. We are all in need of Christ’s compassion. We are all in need of the Holy Spirit’s renewing work within our hearts. Minimizing our pride allows us to identify with our enemies and extend the same grace we have received. The bottom line is that we love others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)
2. Jesus cared about the hearts of God’s children.
Throughout Jesus’s ministry, He was criticized for His close proximity to outcasts. He dined with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10). He healed lepers (Matthew 8:2). He fed four thousand Gentiles (Mark 8:1–9). Those who would typically be seen as an “enemy” to God were exactly who Jesus came to save. He affirms this when He says, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
The titles and mistakes of those He encountered took a back seat to His real focus, to bring salvation to mankind. Jesus came to give God’s people new hearts, to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, if we are to love our enemies as Christ loved His enemies, we are to care about their heart too. Your enemy is a sinner in need of the grace of Jesus. Or even a brother or sister in Christ. Their identity as a Republican or Democrat, Calvinist or Arminian, Green Bay Packers fan or Chicago Bears fan, matters far less than their identity in Christ.
A win against our enemies is not proving a point or justifying our cause. A win is the winning of our enemy’s heart to Christ.
3. Jesus kept close to God.
Over and over again in the gospels, we see Jesus retreating to pray to the Father. In fact, Jesus’s ministry itself was entrusted to Him by the Father. No one knows the Father like the Son, and no one knows the Son like the Father (Matthew 11:27). Though Jesus and the Father are one, Jesus submitted willingly to the Father’s plans. Why? Because He knows God. He knows that God is good, that His ways are perfect, that His love endures forever. He trusts God to the point of laying His life down for the good of His people.
So too, our knowledge and love of God equips us to surrender ourselves to our heavenly Father. Our growing love of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit inside us, equips us to lay down our pride and love our enemies as we would love ourselves. We can only love our enemies well by staying near to God in prayer and in our proximity to Scripture. Loving our enemies begins with the transformation of our hearts before it ever seeps into our actions.
As we wave the banner of Christianity, we are compelled to love our enemies—not with fake pleasantries but with authentic care. Pray for your enemies. Listen intently. Turn the other cheek if you must. The glory of the Christian is not battles won on social media or even in laws passed through Congress. The glory of the Christian is that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10–11). May heaven be full not only of our loved ones—but of our enemies too.
Additional resources on loving your enemies