Jesus taught us the value of loving our enemies

Gabriel Chan outlines his philosophy on life.

I waved to my neighbour across the road. "Hi, I’m Gabe". "Mike," he called back, smiling. It was the fourth time we’d simultaneously walked out our front doors to wave the kids off to school, during the strange days of the first national Covid-19 lockdown. Schools were open again, but the adults were still encouraged to work from home. We hadn’t yet met any neighbours, having moved in three weeks before lockdown. This was cool. Other people. A few weeks later he asked, "Wanna walk round the reserve? Gotta get my steps in". Our social calendars? Empty. Tomorrow lunchtime? Sweet as.

After about 100m uphill and already short of breath, "So Mike, what do you do?" "I’m in special needs education, innovating the ways we help learning with technology." Awesome answer. What a rewarding job! "And you?" It’s the obligatory reply, but the answer can kill a conversation. I sometimes give a smart answer about inspiring people, nurturing relationships and social justice. Not this time. "I’m a pastor." "Oh cool! (three-second pause). Well, I believe that everyone can believe what they want. What do you think about that?" I smiled. "All good, I hear that a lot." We carried on and soon got talking about the mental health experiences we shared of being men and in lockdown. Both of us had experienced challenges with motivation, putting on weight and keeping it fun with our children when we weren’t feeling amazing ourselves. Lockdown was hard on us all. It felt healthy to just talk and joke.

Given we were well beyond talking about the weather, I soon asked, "So, Mike, what’s your philosophy on life then?" "I believe in loving people, man." "Oh really, what does that look like?" "Oh, you know, doing good for others." "Who are those others?" "Everyone man, everyone. Even my enemies." "Oh, so you’re a Christian like me then!" He stopped suddenly, smiling at me sideways. "No bro, why would you say that?"

"Well, Jesus was the first man in history to teach people to ‘love your enemies’. So, it sounded like you’re one of his disciples." "I did not know that man ... That’s cool." He nodded, suddenly wrestling with whether it might actually be good to be one — a Christian, that is.

I have this type of conversation a lot. It’s characteristic of a culture swimming in Judeo-Christian heritage and teaching, but with people claiming genesis on their own philosophies and ideas under the expressive individualism of our day.

In the history of ideas, the following is Jesus’ intellectual property: "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" (Luke 6:27-28 ESV).

Jesus’ pinnacle expression of love, right before his "turn the other cheek" teaching, inspires and challenges humans all over the world. In some way, we’re haunted by the mystery of this call to love someone when they let us down, take advantage, speak badly of us, betray our trust, are downright rude, physically or emotionally abusive, or make some kind of war against us. The dignity of living from our values, independent of others’ treatment, is a noble endeavour to be celebrated. I’m not saying we should embrace abuse for the sake of love. That’s a different conversation. But whenever we think about "loving your enemy", the reference belongs to Jesus.

His idea. Not ours. We can’t claim it independently with the language of "I think" or "I feel". If we’re to be intellectually and legally consistent, we must say, "Jesus taught, love your enemies".

In the extensive body of Jesus’ teaching on love, he not only encapsulated the idea, he put definition to it, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13 ESV). Love looks like sacrificial service in the context of connection.

And ultimately, Jesus followed through: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 ESV). His love is greater than any experience we may have of Christian judgementalism. If ever you’re in doubt of whether someone loves you, Jesus showed his love in real, hands-on, terms. Jesus loves you. He died for you, so that you can meaningfully experience the Father’s love and forgiveness. It’s worth experiencing. The Father’s love is so powerful it raised Jesus from the dead!

If ever you wonder what loving people should look like in the midst of our myriad perspectives, it looks like sacrificial love. Let’s serve and love those who wrong us and hate us too.

Mike and I kept up with the walks.

 - Gabriel Chan is the senior leader at Elim Church, Dunedin.


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