Come on now, shouldn’t you love your enemies? Definitely. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can unity with them.
Interpreting the Bible is not as easy as some of us would like to think it is. There are so many
underlying presuppositions that are rooted in anything but the truth that we often have a difficult
time sorting out what the Bible says from what we want the Bible to say at any given time. One
example of this difficulty is seen in how people interpret and apply Jesus’ command to love our
enemies. This is difficult because it has two really important considerations that have to be
carefully worked out. First, who is my enemy? And secondly, what is love?
Recently I was accosted on social media for expressing my disbelief and utter contempt at the notions of the political left who in the hopes of a Biden presidency are calling now for
nationwide unity. Aghast at the sheer absurdity of such a call, I thought to myself, “Surely no one has forgotten the ridicule, antagonism, and spite that the left has been pouring out upon
conservatives over the past four years.” We all know how tirelessly they have made themselves enemies of a solid half the country (likely more) and fought tooth and nail to delegitimize and
undermine every one of our attempts to press forward despite political and religious differences. But now, the cry is for unity.
When Jesus says to love your enemies, we must reckon with the reality that we have actual enemies. This is no mere trifle of theology, it is rooted in the very foundations of redemptive
history. In Genesis 3:15 Satan is informed, and Adam and Eve both hear God say, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed.” Immediately there is a declaration of war that is born out in the first two sons of Adam and Eve, (Cain kills righteous Abel) and seen in the history of the world ever since. We have enemies, and that enmity is rooted not so much in opposing political theories, as it is in our spiritual identity.
So how do we love enemies?
I think of this in the realm of parenting. Parenting is a battle, where my wife and I both agree,‘This is war, and it’s us against them.’ (Please note my slight sarcasm) We love our children completely, we care for them and sacrifice greatly for them. But every parent knows that it is a battle. This parenting battle serves as a great illustration for loving our enemies in the world.
Godly parenting insists on godly principles such as truth, discipline, and separation. This certainly is not the totality of parenting principles, so just calm down and follow the illustration. Truth is a core and irreplaceable component of love. Speaking the truth almost always requires us to say hard things that people don’t really want to hear. When I was a child I watched outdoor documentaries about bears and had a strong desire to be a bear when I grew up. The life of a bear really appealed to me; bears fight other bears all day, (according to the documentaries) and forage on berries, and catch fish. Who wouldn’t want to be a bear? I had dreams about the color of my fur, whether I would be a fat bear or a tall bear, how many other bears I would fight during the
day…. and on and on went my dreams. The hard truth came when I informed my Dad one evening about my ambitions to grow up and become a bear. My Dad, not in the mood for silliness, shot my dream to pieces by telling me simply, ‘Boys can’t grow up to be bears, they have to grow up to be men.’
That may sound like a silly story, but in our modern culture that could get CPS sent to your door
for not participating in childhood folly by encouraging children to be whatever they want to be.
But the reality is that real love speaks the truth. And the truth is that boys cannot grow up to be
bears, bananas, or bicycles. Boys only ever grow up to be men.
The second aspect of love in parenting is discipline. This consists primarily in saying ‘No!’ 8 million times a day. Loving our enemies, like loving our children, most often shows expression in our negative responses to their wrong assertions and practices. My parents said ‘no’ so often my brothers and I thought it must have been our names. Yet we never once doubted our parents‘ love for us. Our enemies are enemies of truth and righteousness, and we are forced to act in love when we firmly stand in the truth and assert ourselves against unrighteousness. Simply put, to truly love someone, we must say no to the things that are opposed to truth and goodness.
Finally, loving our enemies often means separation. My children are all currently quite young so
I’ve yet to experience this, but after a decade in the pastorate, I can tell you that parenting an adult child is likely the hardest and most painful stage of parenthood. Young adult children who are living at home and persisting in their own way without any semblance of a desire to work together with their parents, need to be thrown out on their insolent butts. The story of the prodigal son is so powerful because it is a common experience of parents. As such, loving our enemies is sometimes best done by letting them go their own way and taste the fruit of their poor decisions. But we don’t have to participate in those consequences if we refuse to cling to the idea that we cannot separate.
Can there be unity between the two reigning religious/political ideologies in our country? Not
likely, and not really. But there can be love, and yet love is never separated from truth, discipline, and a separation that allows people on the wrong path to feast on the consequences of their erroneous decisions.
In the meantime, go to church, love the truth, and help your neighbor.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Pastor Matt Davis at Reformed Baptist Church in Helena, MT]