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Learning to Love the Unlovable and Your Enemies (Luke 6:35)

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great…” – Luke 6:35

I can easily love my wife. She is precious to me. So are my kids. They have no problem getting and receiving my love. Others who treat me well? Same thing.

love your enemies

Let’s face it, some people are simply more like us – in appearance, in personality, in cultural heritage, in matters of faith, etc. We are attracted to this familiarity and sameness. It gives us comfort and calms us, knowing there are people who we can always rely on and identify with.

When we develop a natural, positive connection with our kind of people, showing love towards them is not difficult. It’s easier to act appropriately around them and demonstrate love to them because we see the world as they do. For our people, we would sacrifice much. If they were in need, we’d come to their aid without hoping for or expecting anything in return.

After all, not only do we like them and treat them well, they like us and treat us well. How could you not love someone like this?

I expect those in Jesus’ day felt much the same way. So it must have shocked their system when Jesus told them to love your enemies” and show acts of love to those they considered unlovable. Can you imagine the expressions in the crowd when he said these words?

You mean, love those people? They are not anything like me. Love your enemies? That’s even harder than loving those who are not like me. Why would I love those who hate me?

Jesus Taught and Lived This Out

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the reaction of the crowd. The statement love your enemies makes us squeamish some 2,000 years after Jesus said it. There are many ramifications to this line of thinking that stops us in our tracks, feeling like we would be unable to answer the calling. To love those who are not like us, or take advantage of us, or yes, even hate and persecute us, is next level living.

But Jesus left some positive teaching that showed us this may not be as hard as we think. A story he told in Luke 10:25-37 where a Samaritan man helped a Jewish man who had been beaten and left for dead near the roadside by some thieves serves as a practical example.

The Jews and Samaritans did not like one another. There were deep and long-standing ethnic divisions. For all intensive purposes, this Jewish man was in the Samaritan’s unlovable category.

Yet here we see the Samaritan showing love and compassion to someone unlike himself. It may have felt uncomfortable to help but the Jewish man’s life was literally on the line. All it took was recognizing a need and taking some small steps to meet that need. That’s the most practical thing we can do to begin to learn to love those we consider unlovable.

Taking it a Step Further

It’s one thing to meet the need of someone not like us. But it’s tougher when we know people actually do hate and despise us. Yet, here again, we see Jesus live this out. He took his teaching to the next level.

When Jesus said love your enemies, these were not hollow words to him. He did follow through on loving those who sought his harm, right down to the Roman leaders who ordered soldiers to carry out his execution. We know this because as Jesus hung on the cross about to breath his last he uttered these remarkable words,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

That is the ultimate expression of love – requesting forgiveness to those who are taking your life.

But realistically, in that moment, could that expression of caring and love actually result in a measure of return in someone else’s life? To us it doesn’t seem so. But that is not what happened.

Related Content: 8 Bible Verses About God’s Love You Should Never Forget

The End Game of Love Your Enemies

Why did Jesus live out this revolutionary teaching to the very end? For what purpose did he tell us to love your enemies?

Because of the chance that in some circumstance where we show love, one of our enemies will be turned. 

Near the cross that day stood a Roman centurion. He probably had given his soldiers the order to drive the spikes into Jesus’ hands and feet. For three hours he and others watched as Jesus suffered through excruciating pain.

But he also listened. He heard everything that Jesus said. He saw Jesus’ mother and closest friend weep nearby. And as the skies grew dark in the middle of the day and an earthquake rocked the countryside moments after Jesus died, the centurion had these words to say,

“Truly, this Man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

No one could convince me otherwise that Jesus’ expressions of love and forgiveness did not affect this man’s thinking and thus, alter his entire life going forward. That’s the end result of loving your enemies – that they may be turned. It seems unfathomable. But one who once was an enemy, seemingly was one no longer.

Love Your Enemies Challenge

Every year during a special holiday in February, we shower expressions of love on people that are lovable. It’s easy to connect with people who are similar to us or who like us and, in turn, express our affection for them. In the grand scheme of things, that level of loving others requires little effort.

But love’s actions are put to the test when applied to those we see as unlovable.

And love is really tested when displayed to those who view us as the enemy. This type of love requires next level thinking and personal sacrifice.

So ask yourself, Are either of these two groups worthy of receiving your love?

Jesus thought so. Which is why he gave us the teaching to understand and the lived out example to follow. I’m not saying it will be easy. In fact, it will probably be the hardest love you ever show. But that is what Jesus called us to do.

So find a way to make this type of love happen. The end result could be something you never imagined.

Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: What person do you need to show love today? Do you find it hard to love the unlovable? How do you find the courage to love those who mistreat you? Do you think this is even practical in today’s world – that we should show love to those who hate us?

Image by Leland Francisco at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. It is not easy to love people that mistreat you or hate you. I try my best to practice forgiveness and kindness. Even if someone dislikes me, I am not going to be mean or rude to them, but treat them as I would treat anyone else. Life is to short to get caught up in the petty things.

  2. I don’t think I need to love those who treat me badly (fortunately I can’t really think of anyone), but I can practice forgiveness and move on. I try not to dwell in people who have wronged me in the past, but I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings for them either. I think Jesus might be OK with that. 🙂

  3. What I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that the ‘wrongs’ against you committed by your enemies or people that you see as against you probably have very little clue as to the impact that they’ve made in your life, and that anger and hatred and all the other baggage actually makes it where you’re causing more impact on your life than they actually are. Many of the perceived slights or insults are not intentional, or done so with very little afterthought.

  4. A truly profound sentiment that I really would have to work on to achieve. I must admit I do hold a grudge and tend to allow grievances to linger. Most of those I don’t love are primarily political big-wigs whom I believe are actively working to undermine this country. Only a couple of people who I believe to have wronged me individually. This is definitely something to ponder and work on.

    • “…I really would have to work on to achieve.” It is really tough Kathy. I’m not capable of doing it alone – with my own power. An inner strength is needed for this kind of love that I think only God can provide.

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