Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 11, 2015


Is it really possible to love your enemies?


        Jesus makes a hard demand of his followers. He says, “Love your enemies.” Is that really possible? I want to explore that with you today.

Life is about choices. We can choose how we shall live. We may live as citizens of our culture and embrace its humanistic behavior. Or we can choose to live within the kingdom of God and follow the teachings of Jesus. The latter is a tough assignment because of this requirement to love your enemies.  

Citizens of the kingdom are expected to love all people in the same way that God loves all people. But the way God loves is quite different from the way we might love a brother or sister, a friend, a car or banana pudding. So what do we mean by “love”?

We use the English word “love” in a hundred different ways. Fortunately the Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, gives us three distinct words for love: eros, philia, and agape.

Eros is the word used for passionate, sensual love. Philia is the word used for the love shared by friends and family members. Agape is the word used for God’s kind of love, the self-sacrificing, self-giving love that caused God to give his son to die on the cross for our sins.

The Bible teaches that God loves us with agape love. When the Bible says God is love, the word used is agape. When the Scriptures admonish us to “love one another,” the word agape is used. When Jesus instructs us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, he is using the word agape. There is no way to escape the fact that God expects us to love others, even our enemies, with agape love, God’s kind of love.

Think about how God loves. His mercy is astonishing. He not only forgives our sins, he even forgets our sins! Look at Jesus on the cross, asking the Father to have mercy on the very people who are crucifying him. Look at the way the forgiving father loved his prodigal son; instead of demanding a pound of flesh the father threw a party. That is agape love, the way God loves.

Actually loving our enemies is more than a tough assignment, it is absolutely impossible without divine assistance. What we must admit is that we cannot love like God loves – unless God helps us. Loving those who hate us seems ridiculous outside the kingdom of God. But inside the kingdom there is no alternative. The only way to live as subjects of the King within the kingdom of God is to practice agape love. 

But what kind of God are we talking about?  Some people worship a God who directs them to kill themselves and innocent people in suicide bombings. Others speak of a God who is either dead or uninterested in human affairs. Clearly this is not the God of whom Jesus speaks. The God Christians worship is different. If we take Jesus seriously, we find ourselves – despite our wickedness – forgiven and loved by a God whose tender mercies are never exhausted. No wonder the Psalmist cried, “Thy loving kindness is better than life”!

Given the fact that God has called us to do the impossible – to love like he loves – what are we to do? The answer: embrace the truth as Jesus explained it. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”

There it is: offering agape love to our enemies is impossible unless Jesus abides in us. But turn it around: if we live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, we can love our enemies, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who abuse us.

To live in Jesus one must surrender to Jesus – not superficially but fully so that he is Lord of everything. If Jesus is Lord he will give us the grace to resist the temptation to hate those who hate us. He will help us to live by kingdom standards rather than the world’s standards.  

The world says, return hostility with hostility. Jesus says return hostility with agape love. We cannot do it without him. With him we can love like God loves – not perfectly but well enough for our Lord to be pleased.

If Jesus can equip us to love like God loves, to want the best even for those who hurt us, should we not put aside our anger, hostility and the desire for revenge, and ask Jesus for help? When we choose the way of Jesus, we have chosen to live in the kingdom of God. Nowhere else is the practice of agape love possible.

When any one of us makes that choice, the world soon has a little more evidence of the true character of the God of Jesus. So may it be. + + +