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Of course, for some of you, your thoughts went to your enemies. I understand. Those are the most annoying ones. If you chose one of those, that’s fine, but don’t forget the folks in your home. Disliking someone outside your home or in cyberspace is more straightforward than those living within the four walls. As you think about that person, will you reflect on this verse?
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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-48).
As you “ring the gospel bell” in your heart, the question is whether the sound is in tune with the Lord’s heart? If you’re unsure, there is another self-assessment you can make. When you think of that person, does your heart first feel pity or something like frustration or disdain? When I say, “pity,” I don’t mean, “I pity that person. So glad I’m not like them.” Perhaps you do rejoice because of God’s grace in your life, but I’m asking something different. Are you heartbroken for them?
Two primary groups struggle with obeying the “love your enemies mandate” (Matthew 23:37). Those who have experienced legitimate hurt, abuse, pain, and suffering from someone, and those who have Adamic and enculturated biases toward others. All of us fit into one (or both) of these camps.
The first group of hurt souls needs the Lord’s grace to help them walk through their real, objective, and painfully memorable past. Many of them do not lack the Lord’s truth. The problem is that the pain was real and residual. Suffering has legs, and you cannot get to a maturer biblical frame of mind quickly. It takes time.
Bringing them to the heights of what Jesus was talking about regarding an enemy is not something for the careless counselor to attempt. Some people need a long runway before they can lift off to soar with the eagles. You see a snapshot of this in Paul’s preamble to the Corinthians. Before he “trucked the challenging truth” over to them, he was careful to assure them of his affection (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Encultured is the effect of being affected by historical or modern norms that are outside biblical boundaries. Many believers believe things the culture promotes, but the Bible denounces, like Critical Theory. The enculturated group needs the Lord’s truth to see how their sinfulness is obscuring the love and power of the gospel.
Though they need grace and should receive it, they are blind to the lies and require careful, courageous, and competent exposure to God’s impeccable Word. Adamic fallenness is complicated enough, but when you add an enculturated layer on top of it, you’re not far from a case-hardening effect that will dull your conscience. Any Adamic person can hate another image-bearer. Then you add a prejudice or bias from the culture on top of that; it amps up the blindness.
For example, my father was a white-hot racist. Though he did not “evangelize us” into his bigotry, we knew where he stood. Mercifully, I’m not aware of any of his children succumbing to his racist venom. The same thing happens in black homes, too, or any home because prejudice is part of our fallenness. Of course, the problem of enculturation does not have to be about melanin. We can hate anyone.
The issue for you when talking to the victim or the enculturated is how you govern your heart. For most of us, the more natural lever to pull has “truth” written on it. We yank that handle and spill the truth over them “because God’s Word says so, amen!” A few of these quick-trigger truth-tellers have Twitter and Parler accounts. They are in our churches, too.
Jesus was the perfect example of a person who knew whether to lead with grace or truth, while never holding back either one (John 1:14). It’s not one or the other but the order in which you release these grace-gifts. Sometimes you have to overlook a few things in those “annoying people” while modeling some serious, others-centered love. The truth is that they are not able to handle the truth at this point.
The issue at hand is not withholding the truth but whether or not you have accomplished the prerequisite heart work inside of you to make sure that you are leading with the right need for the recipient of your care. As challenging as it can be to speak the truth at times, it is harder to govern your heart with love before you speak it—especially if “that person” annoys you.
The key for you to love those who disappoint you is whether you are willing to set aside what you want right now for a greater good that might not be your expected outcome. To set aside is yet another beautiful facet to the gospel. The Lord Jesus, who was God, chose to place His God-ness aside so that He could come to earth as a human to save us. Christ, the offended power, penetrated the enemy’s camp to rescue those evildoers.
You will have to decide if you are going to love those who are unlovable. You know, like you were before Christ penetrated your dark soul with the gospel. The most vital question is if you’re going to live out the gospel to a fallen image-bearer. Gospel work is for the humble, courageous soul.
As you already sense, the need to arrest your heart and examine the affection that you have for a fellow image-bearer is the first and most crucial examination you can make. Sometimes the disappointing people in our lives can weigh so heavy that we never see the crouching lion of frustration ready to pounce. The first place folks typically discern this problem is with their tone: how they sound to the difficult person.
Because of the difficulty of the task and your lack of human ability to accomplish the “love your enemy mandate,” you must take yourself back to your example: Christ. Jesus would not withhold the truth from you, but it would not come out of an annoyed heart. Perhaps it would be wise to consider confessing your sin to that annoying person. (I don’t recommend this all the time, but it could prove useful if genuine brokenness does not govern a sinful attitude.)
There have been many occasions where a family member was sinful to me, and my response was sinful, too. Rather than starting with them, with a demand to change, I began with myself. You could say something like this to get things started: “I have had an angry heart toward you, and I am asking if you will forgive me. Will you forgive me?”
You can talk later about their role in the relational dust-up. The primary thing is for you to clean up your dust before vacuuming the “other sinner’s side of the room.” When the most vital things in your life are what you want, like, prefer, or bend toward, you will entangle your soul in a blinding web. An example of this is the parent of a disobedient child, and the parent complicates the child’s sin by sinning against the kid. It could also be the spouse who responds wrongly because they feel as though they are drowning in marriage disappointment.
While the wayward child and hurtful spouse should change, neither one should have so much power over you that you sin in response to their failures. When this happens, you are succumbing to the first wave of idolatry. Christ came into the world to save sinners, which means, in part, He came to untangle fallen creatures from sin’s entrapments.
One of those entrapments is when a desire, even if it’s a good one, begins supplanting what He can do and provide for you. I know that what I’m saying is hard to apply because I live in the same body that you do, a fallen one. I’m not speaking to you as a disembodied flesh and blood humanoid who has no connection to Adam, Christ, or reality. I feel your pain, and I do not mean that in a sarcastic way.
This idea about “loving your enemy” was not something that I made up, but an imperative that Jesus gave with the expectation that His followers apply it. I’m am one of those fallen followers. The gospel empowers us to do many things after our regeneration. I want you to press into the call to action while asking the Spirit of Christ to do whatever He needs to do to bring a few changes.
Would you read through three of the themes that I covered in this article, asking the Lord to bring Spirit-illuminated, gospel-transforming change that is specific, practical, and transforming?
Enemy Loving – What is your genuine “heart of heart attitude” toward the person you thought about when I asked you to “pick an enemy” from your mental index? Think of what I’m asking as a spectrum: if hate was on one end and love on the other, where would you land with this person? Remember: there is nothing that a person can do to stop you from loving them, even if you reduce your love to sadness because of their lack of change. Though they may never love you in return, they cannot stop you from biblically loving them.
Setting Aside – What desires do you need to set aside so that you can be Jesus to that person? I’m not suggesting that you will ever experience reconciliation or be the best buddies. Loving your enemies does not mean your enemies will change or reconcile with you. I trust you have a broader definition and application for love. My questions are less about reconciliation and more about being Jesus to someone.
Speaking Truth – Are you ready to speak the truth with love? How do you know? It is when you are living out the previous two aspects that you are ready to speak the truth in love. If you do not authentically love the person while setting aside your desires, no matter how hard you try to mask your disappointment, you will botch-up what you say. You cannot fake legitimate hurt, and when it lingers too long in the heart, sin will cling to the walls and eventually take over the mind. It will come out in your tone. What if you pray this prayer.
Dear Spirit of God,
Will you help me to work through these questions honestly, transparently, and humbly? Will you give me the grace and courage to address my heart in the way it needs addressing? Will you change me?
As I read this passage (below), will you show me what I need to do? Will you lead me to someone who can help? I want to be a balanced Christian, who speaks the truth in love, but first, I need a heart change. Will you help me? Make what Peter said real to me.
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:20-25).
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).