Love Your Enemies
Devotional 3 of 10
by Randy Petersen
Lord God, give us the courage to love, truly and thoroughly. Help us love our enemies as well as our friends. May we shine with your blessing to our communities.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.”
It was a political event for a political cause, but somehow Reverend King made it spiritual.
African Americans were rallying for voting rights. Nearly a century earlier, the Fifteenth Amendment had kept the states or the nation from denying the vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” but many communities, mostly through the South, imposed poll taxes, unfair literacy tests, and other restrictions that effectively kept ballots out of the hands of black residents.
Twenty thousand people showed up at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on May 17, 1957, to protest this state of affairs. This included a number of notable figures in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the final speaker of the day.
“Give us the ballot,” he called repeatedly, as the crowd cheered him on. His keen political analysis challenged both Democrats and Republicans, but King was first and foremost a preacher—and it wasn’t long before Scripture references filled the air.
“There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you’ [Matthew 5:43 KJV].… That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: ‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matthew 26:52 alt.]. And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations that failed to follow this command. We must follow nonviolence and love.”
This was still early in King’s public career. Over the next decade his commitment to nonviolence and love would become a powerful force in America. King made it clear that he wasn’t pushing a “sentimental, shallow kind of love.” There in the nation’s capital, he taught his hearers a term from biblical Greek—agape, which he defined as “the love of God in the hearts of men … a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.”
In today’s argumentative atmosphere, it’s easy to get caught up in political debate. Commenters on social media set out to “destroy” opposing viewpoints with the perfect comeback. Those on the other side of any issue are the “enemy,” and we try to humiliate them through name-calling, “gotcha” arguments, and unproven hearsay.
“Love your enemies,” said Jesus. Bless those who curse you. Bless and curse are words about words. We need to pay attention to how we speak, how we pray, and what we post online. Jesus challenges us to use our words as balm rather than bombs.
Questions for personal thought or group discussion:
1. Are there good ways for Christians to talk about political issues these days, or is it best to avoid them entirely?
2. How can we show love to those who disagree with us on important social issues?
3. What can we learn from Dr. King’s message of nonviolence that can help us navigate modern tensions?
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