There are a lot of verses in the Bible that leave much to interpretation. Is it meant to be literal, or a metaphor, or a story, or poetry, or prophecy, or a handful of other writing styles?
And then there are the other verses that are shockingly simple. Yet those don’t tend to be any easier for us to understand or apply. Consider the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew.
“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…” Matthew 5:43-44
That’s about as straightforward as it gets. But like another guy who heard Jesus teach about our neighbors (Luke 10:29), we tend to wonder which of our enemies he’s referring to? Sure, I’ll love my theoretical enemy, but surely this has limits right? The typical Christian in America today might have this list of exclusions to Jesus’ enemy policy:
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they are trying to bring harm to me.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they are trying to bring harm to someone else.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they speak a different language than me.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they are not American.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if I’m a part of the US military.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they are a part of a group named ISIS, or the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda, etc.
- I don’t have to love my enemy if they are trying to break into my house at night.
Here’s the deal: as uncomfortable as it is for me to write this, and as uncomfortable as it is for you to read this, anytime we have an “if” clause in whether we love our enemies we are choosing to disregard Jesus. (click here to tweet this)
American Christians tend to rely more on our culture than our faith in living this verse out. My heart aches whenever I see a Christian post on social media about the spiritual “rightness” of our military or celebrates when a targeted national enemy goes down. We have a right to defend ourselves and an obligation to defend others, don’t we? Yet consider that we follow a man who allowed His accusers to humiliate Him, torture Him, and publicly murder Him. He had the ability to stop it at any time. And as for the people who originally followed Him…well, most of them were slaughtered. It even became a cultural pastime to murder Christians for entertainment. The difference is that the early Church didn’t have the same temptation to defend themselves or live out their faith in light of Roman dominance.
Yet the Church lived on.
There’s no easy way for us to live this out today. It’s more a commitment to asking tough questions than it is finding great answers. Yet we who call ourselves Christ followers must soberly check ourselves whenever we find reasons to self-select out of how Jesus very clearly instructed us to live. I’m grateful for the freedoms we have in America but I’m also aware of how easy they cloud this issue for us. We don’t just need to establish peace in the Middle East. We need peace in our own homes first. I pray we wake up each day with a fresh commitment to die to ourselves and live out this simple, yet utterly profound command.