In the Old Testament, the view was that God loved his people, Israel, and would cut off his enemies.
Psalm 59.10 says, “My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.”
Psalm 143.12 says, “And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.”
But, Jesus changes all of this. Instead of wishing for our enemies to be cut off or destroyed, Jesus says we are to love them.
Matthew 5.43-44 says, “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.”
Luke 6.27-28 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus was the image of God, the exact representation of God’s character. Jesus loved his enemies throughout his life, showing us that God loves his enemies as well.
So, we must ask ourselves what is required to love our enemies?
I just finished watching a documentary. Paraphrasing, there was a line that said, “You cannot truly love something if you do not completely identify with it.”
To love we have to identify with the thing to be loved. So, to love our enemies we must identify with our enemies. The Bible shows that Jesus did exactly that.
God never considered us his enemies. But, according to the NIV, Colossians 1.21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Even though we considered ourselves enemies to God, he wanted to show his love for us.
How did God show love to those who thought they were God’s enemies?
God identified with them.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” – John 1.14
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” – Romans 8.3
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” – Galatians 4.4
“Being born in the likeness of men.” – Philippians 2.7
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” – Hebrews 2.14
God was able to most fully and completely reveal his love to us when he became one of us. He experienced everything we experience. God was able to fully and completely show his love for us when he completely identified with us.
Therefore, in order to love those who are perceived to be our enemies but really aren’t, we must identify with them just as Jesus identified with us. Paul understood that identification was required to share the love of the gospel.
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to wind Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I share with them in its blessings.”
To identify with someone, we must understand their desires and wants. We must understand their motivations. We must understand their challenges, problems, and struggles.
This is hard thing to do with someone who is perceived to be your enemy. Instead, of identifying with our enemies, we typically magnify our differences. Just look at propaganda for war around the world. Every physical difference of the enemy is magnified. The enemy is different, not like us, and therefore worthy to be cut off or destroyed.
But, Jesus calls us to do the opposite. We must minimize our differences to love our enemies. As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3.28) It’s not that these distinctions no longer actually exist, but we minimize them in our minds so that we can identify with the other.
So, to love our enemies as Jesus commanded, let us focus on the one thing that is required – identification. As we identify with our enemies, love will naturally begin to flow.