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Love Your Enemies: What It Means And Examples On How To Do So

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Has anyone in your life constantly annoyed you or upset you in some way? Maybe there’s someone who you resent or even feel hatred toward? 

Almost everyone has those kinds of individuals around them at some point in their lives. Often, there’s more than one person who has caused us anger, hatred, or resentment in the past. 

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There is something in the teachings of Jesus that is worth considering regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not. 

It is the belief that you should love your enemies.

Why is this message an important one? Today, the hatred we feel for other people is a universal problem. 

Humans have feelings of hate, motivated by an idea that another person has harmed us in some way. However, in the end, we must come to accept one another as children of God.

So, let's talk about what it means to love one's enemies, as well as some examples of how to do so.

Loving your neighbor vs. loving your enemy

Before we dive into examples, let’s go into the difference between loving your neighbor and loving your enemies.

As many Christians already know, in Matthew 22:36–40, there was a question that was asked of Jesus as to which is the great commandment in the law? 

Jesus responded by saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

A man wears a hat that says "Love your neighbour"

Interestingly, Jesus considered this the second-highest commandment in the law. He believed it was nearly as vital as loving God with your whole heart.

It's fascinating that to love one's neighbor is the second commandment. Yet as Jesus implied, it's similar to the first. That makes it fundamental to our very existence. 

But, as we all know, there's a huge difference between loving your enemies and loving your friends. And Jesus knew this when he gave his sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew. 

On a mountainside, Jesus gave a long sermon on a number of topics ranging from adultery to murder. But one of his most notable teachings was his thoughts on loving your neighbor. 

It’s easy to remember Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

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What does the Bible say?

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First, in order to understand why Jesus said this, we have to go further back into the Bible, to the Old Testament. 

In ancient times, there was something known as the Lex Talionis, or the “law of retaliation.” It was basically “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” type thinking. There was such a big problem with escalating vendettas that this law of retaliation was a way to limit those crimes. 

The Bible, open with a crucifix on top

The sentencing was carried out by a court of elders, who assessed the damage done and distributed a monetary punishment to the guilty party. 

In the Old Testament, there is a verse in Leviticus 19:18 that states, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people.”

In the New Testament, quite clearly, Jesus is not presenting a new ethic. And he’s not demanding something new.  But instead, he’s demanding more than most people were willing to do at the time.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says, “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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

What does it mean to love your enemies?

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Jesus said that when we love our enemies, we resemble our Heavenly Father, who is perfect and merciful. 

The word perfect, in the original Greek, means complete. It comes from a central word, meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. When Jesus said to love your enemy, he’s asking us to make it our goal to love as our Heavenly Father loves.

A statue of Christ against the evening sky

Today's climate makes it easy to harbor feelings of resentment toward others or toward a specific group of people. This is especially true regarding social media and how we use it. 

But we need to watch out for feelings of resentment because resentment can turn into hatred if we’re not careful. 

Since we are so divided, it can seem impossible to love your enemies. However, we need to stop hating one another because hating one another is the easy way out. To become more like Christ, we need to harness feelings of love and acceptance.  

Many times Jesus was betrayed and persecuted, and time and again, he chose forgiveness and understanding. Even when the Romans nailed him to the cross, Jesus said in Luke 23:34, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Loving your enemies may seem difficult on the surface, but there are many ways to incorporate loving our neighbors into our lives

Examples of how to love your enemies

Despite all of this information on what loving your enemy means, it’s still hard to implement in everyday life. Now that we’ve gone over what it means to love your enemies let’s look at some examples. 

1. Show genuine respect

Show your enemies the genuine respect that every human being deserves. Learn to think of them with compassion and not contempt.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek justice if someone does you or your loved ones harm. It simply means you can’t let bitterness and hatred grow in your heart. Responding to evil with more evil does not solve the problem. And Jesus knew this when he said, “Forgive them, Father.”

When we show respect to our enemies, we allow ourselves to become more like the Holy Spirit. This separates us from those who have evil and hatred in their hearts.

This also means we don’t necessarily have to stay in contact with people who have wronged us. The act of respect can often be expressed by simply saying, “Peace be with you,” and walking away.   

2. Put yourself in their shoes

Putting yourself in your enemy's shoes is one of the most effective ways to show love for them. This is a worthwhile act of empathy that anyone can do in any situation. 

First, seek to understand their side and try hard to understand where they're coming from. Is there an underlying reason for their attitude and actions? If possible, take a look at their history and try to understand how they ended up the way they did.

You may even be surprised at what you find out. A simple way to look at it is everybody’s got something. Whether it’s a loss of a job, a loved one, self-esteem, or their own health, there are plenty of reasons people do what they do.  

The next step is to accept where they are in their life. God has a different plan for everyone, and sometimes that means your path in life doesn’t match with someone else’s. The lessons for their life might not be the same as yours, and that’s okay.  

3. Find common ground

There's something we have in common with everybody if we look closely enough. You may have similar interests or similar experiences while growing up. You could also have similar jobs, common friends or family members, or similar personality traits. 

One surefire way to find common ground is by acknowledging your differences. When you acknowledge that there are differences between you, you can open the door to commonalities. 

Talk about small things, like hobbies, or films you enjoy — even food you like to eat. 

If you come across a topic that you disagree on, try your best to listen without judgment. Surely you’d want the person to do the same when you voice your opinion.  

4. Forgiveness is always an option

Can you truly forgive an enemy for what they’ve done in your heart? 

Jesus makes it clear many times in the Bible that we must model our forgiveness of others on God's forgiveness of our sins. 

Scrabble pieces spelling out Let It Go

In Matthew 6:14-15, the Bible says, "If you forgive others the wrongs they've done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you've done."

As stated previously, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to invite the person to dine at your table. It simply means moving on from the past. What happened in the past cannot be changed. Either you can hate what happened in the past and not change a thing, or you can accept it and move forward. 

5. Reach out to them first

It’s one thing to feel love for someone, even if you consider that person to be an enemy. But it’s quite another to express that love. 

There are many ways to express love, even for an enemy. One way to go about this would be to address them directly. Say nice things to them, have an open discussion about what’s happened or your feelings — give them a hug, do something nice for them, smile, make a joke. These are just a few ways to go about it.

Typically, they’d expect hatred in response to their hatred, and when you respond to an enemy with kindness, it throws them off their rhythm. 

The adage, “hurt people, hurt people,” is not far off. Often our most profound need as humans is the love of God and to be appreciated by others. It’s human nature. 

When you provide someone with that basic need, you can often help thaw their cold heart.  

6. Pray for your enemies

When in doubt, pray.

A man kneels in prayer in a church

We can always pray for our enemies because praying is an act of mercy. Praying is loving, as our Heavenly Father loves. When all else fails, you can always look to God for guidance. 

There are many teachings from Jesus in Bible verses that touch on loving all of God’s children. Turn to these in moments where forgiveness seems too difficult to manage.  

In 1 Corinthians 13:4–5, the Bible says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it isn't proud. It does not dishonor others, it isn't self-seeking, it isn't easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."

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When it doubt, love thy enemy

When Jesus said we are to love our enemies, He was creating a new standard for relationships.

“Your enemy” doesn’t just mean some outside force that you fight with bayonets and swords. 

Put simply, loving our enemies means seeing them as human beings. 

To love your enemy means to try and understand them and behave toward them as you would like them to do to you. You don’t have to love them like you love your parents or children or best friend. Just have loving feelings toward them and, if possible, express that through words, by doing something nice, or even with a smile.

Now more than ever, we need to implement these teachings into our lives. Not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our communities, countries, and all of our fellow human beings on God’s green earth.

For more insight, daily prayers, Bible stories, and more, download the app on the iOS App Store and Google Play.

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