How Do I Love My Enemy?

How do two porcupines hug? Very Carefully.  How do we love our enemies? With divine guidance and power.

Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies. What did He mean? What does it look like to love your adversary? 

We associate love with feelings. I love chocolate chip ice cream, sunsets at the beach, and the gal I just met. What do I mean when I toss love around these dissimilar objects like a good dressing? I love how ice cream tastes, sunsets inspire, and how my new acquaintance shares similar interests.

Biblical love is not based on how someone makes me feel. Erratic behavior can’t squash biblical love. It is as steadfast as the character of the lover, because it flows from God. 

Why Should I Love My Enemy?

While refraining from vengeance is wise, it’s not enough. We “overcome evil with good,” not neutrality (Romans 12:19-21). Doing good crushes evil, heals our souls, and radiates Jesus.

Hate is the typical human response to wrong. That’s why showing forgiveness, like the members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, stuns the world. After tragically losing nine members in a hate shooting, these church members forgave the killer. Their actions freed themselves from the torment of bitterness and beamed God to the world better than any sermon.

Who Benefits When I Love My Enemy?

Notice who benefits from love (italics added).

  • “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm” (Proverbs 11:17 NASB).
    .  
  • “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35 NIV).
    .
  • “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40 NLT). 

Loving our enemies blesses Jesus, transforms us, and reveals God’s grace to a hurting world. God rewards us when we do good to our enemies. When people see our love they see Jesus. 

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” (Matthew 5:44-45 NIV).

What Does Love for My Enemy Look Like?

When God tells us to love our enemies, He isn’t asking us to manufacture warm feelings. Godly love seeks a person’s eternal best. Love is displayed through action. Christ demonstrated ultimate love on the cross by dying for us while we were still enemies.

Love does what’s right. It seeks what’s best for all involved. Praying for the offender is one way to do this. Stopping to help when they experience trouble is another.

God told the Israelites to return their brother’s stray ox or donkey when they found it (Deuteronomy 22:1). If they found their enemy’s lost animal, they were to return it, too (Exodus 23:4). In other words, they were to always do what’s right. 

If you return your brother’s lost property, you might stay and share a meal together. However, when you return your enemy’s stuff, you probably won’t stick around to socialize.

What Loving My Enemy Is Not

Loving your enemies doesn’t mean seeking a close relationship with them or tolerating evil. The second greatest commandment says to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Biblical love isn’t about placing ourselves in harm’s way anymore than shoving someone we love there. God calls us to be loving—and wise. 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 NIV).

Unsafe people put kind people in awkward positions. It’s uncomfortable to live guarded. But we must practice caution with those who manipulate, deceive, and back-stab. We don’t do anyone a favor when we protect wrong-doers.

A young woman told me she felt guilty because she told her principal about a young man who kept bullying her. “I should have been able to shrug it off. He got into trouble, and it’s my fault.”

This woman had warned this bully many times to leave her alone. Yet she felt responsible because he blamed her when he reaped the consequences of his wrongs.

The instruction to love our enemies does not mean to tolerate sin or abuse. Permitting sin is not good for us or them. Love and boundaries go together. Real love hates wrong.

  • “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NLT).
    .
  • “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 NLT). 

This young woman practiced biblical love when she revealed this young man’s dark deeds. Our enemies don’t define what love looks like. God does (Revelation 3:19).

Can I Set Boundaries and Still Love My Enemy?

Love sets protective boundaries and motivates me to say, “Your raging is not good for either of us. I’m going to my bedroom. When you’ve calmed down, I’ll hear your thoughts.” The Holy Spirit produces love and self-control. 

David hid in caves to keep King Saul from killing him, even after King Saul confessed his wrong and asked David to return. Saul’s actions didn’t match his words. Yet, David refused to retaliate or curse Saul when the opportunity arose. 

Jesus demonstrated the firm and soft sides of love. He blasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and refused to speak to Herod who had beheaded His cousin John the Baptist (Luke 23:9). Yet, He wept over Jerusalem and went to the cross for all of these men (Matthew 23:37). 

Where Do I Find the Power to Love My Enemy?

God is love, and the Holy Spirit produces love through us when we submit to Him. With Christ ruling our hearts we no longer love based on how others act. We love based on who we are in Christ. Nobody can rock that.

With Christ ruling our hearts we no longer love based on how others act. We love based on who we are in Christ. Nobody can rock that. #LoveYourEnemy Share on X

Since our worth doesn’t come from what people think of us, our love doesn’t depend on how people treat us. We love them for their good—not to avoid feeling guilty or to win their approval.

God uses awkward relationships to turn us into awesome lovers. This love from God transforms us into people that can’t be manipulated by fear or guilt. As we obey the Romans 12:14 command to bless those who persecute us, power shifts from our enemy to us. They don’t control us; God does.  

C. S. Lewis said, “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” Let’s allow God to make us people who really love. 

Share your thoughts here.

Blessings,

Resources

The forgiveness blog series begins here.

Little Women, Big God,

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Melissa Henderson

    Loving our enemies can take time and patience. I am thankful God guides me on paths to forgiveness.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Me too, Melissa! We certainly need His strength and perspective.

  2. Ann Musico

    Debbie this is awesome. You really made this so perfectly clear. Jim Richards talks about forgiveness being the sending away of the offense – then using wisdom in whether to have a relationship with the person or not. We confuse this issue and make is so much more difficult than we need to. God is so gracious and anything He tells us to do is always for our ultimate good, including forgiving others.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, you are right. We do complicate matters when God gives us wisdom. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Pam Ecrement

    So very well thought and taught, Debbie! Thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Pam!

  4. J.D. Wininger

    Ms. Debbie, allowing Christ to complete His work in us is a difficult and sometimes lifetime journey. Thank you for showing us the goal of forgiveness with God’s love ma’am. I appreciate the examples you used in protecting ourselves from their sins. I pray I never again use a weapon, but I carry concealed not in anticipation of having to use a weapon again, but as a means to defend myself and those I love from this world. Thank you for this post ma’am.

    • Debbie Wilson

      J.D., evil people put us in tough places and force us to take uncomfortable stands. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and Paul both were identified by their scars. Being a peacemaker sometimes puts us into battles. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Debra Jean

    Well said! It seems like a delicate balance until we simply let God lead us in it. We don’t have to allow other to walk all over us to love them with a Godly love. Many Thanks 8)

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Debra Jean! God does lead us.

  6. Hadassah

    A great post! We need definitely to understand and accept God’s definition and example of biblical love. And of course, we need to be willing to practice it empowered by His Spirit. Always choose and do what is right and pleasing to God – this should be our main motivation!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Well said, Hadassah! Do what pleases God in His power.

  7. Katherine Pasour

    Loving our enemies is something we all struggle with at times. Your message gives us hope, that with God’s help, we can love those who persecute or mistreat us. Thank you for inspiring us.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Katherine, this is certainly one place we need God’s help and wisdom. And we have it!

  8. Stephanie

    Thank you for this biblical reminder….so well written Debbie!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Stephanie!

  9. Anastasia | MightyMemos.com

    Oooh this is an interesting one for me – thank you for writing on this! I’ve had to set boundaries with an in-law who has been manipulative, sabotaging and horrible in her behaviour… I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt for no longer choosing to have a relationship with her, but I’ve learned that the best way for me to love her is from afar, forgiving her for her actions but not allowing her behaviour to infiltrate my life and marriage again.

    It’s tricky, but God guides the way. Thank you for this!

    Love and blessings, I really appreciate your insight on this! x

    • Debbie Wilson

      Anastasia, it is very difficult when our”enemy” is part of our family—literal, church, or work family. But His wisdom applies there too. God bless you as you persevere!

  10. Ashley Rowland | HISsparrowBlog

    You got me with this one today: While refraining from vengeance is wise, it’s not enough. We “overcome evil with good,” not neutrality. Usually that’s my response. 😐

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ashley, that one gets me too! 🙂 That why we need God’s power and definition of love.

  11. Amy Irvin

    A really hard one for me! But such a great post. Something I have been praying about and working on for years. Thank you. God bless you.

    • Debbie Wilson

      God bless you, Amy. May we enjoy Jesus as our High Priest sympathizes with us and helps us in our need.

  12. Lady Nova

    Forgiving some one who hurts you is not easy but when we think of our sins which are forgiven , we ought to forgive and loves our enemies. Lord help us to forgive one another.

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