Are There Limits to Loving My Enemies?
I saw the following post on Facebook that came from the article “What’s So Complicated About ‘Love Your Enemies’?” written by Benjamin L. Corey:
“I’ve been trying to figure out why this is the case for quite some time. I must admit, out of all of the controversial topics I’ve tackled on the blog, I continue to be amazed at how infuriating the topic of enemy love is for people, and for the many ways folks will bend their theology into a pretzel to get around this requirement of following Jesus. I am growing more and more convinced that there is no teaching in all of scripture more offensive to American Christians as is the command of enemy love.”
Corey appeals to a number of New Testament passages in the presentation of his argument. He cites Matthew 5:44. I quote more of the context than he does:
“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:44-48).
Corey also references the great love chapter 1 Corinthians 13.
Jesus is correcting a misreading of Leviticus 19:18; He is not overturning the Older Testament law:
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
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Somewhere along the line, “hate your enemy” was added to the Leviticus command contrary to Leviticus 19:17 where we find, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.”
This means that loving our neighbor and not hating our enemy does not include tolerating everything and anything our neighbors or our enemies do. Reproving my neighbor and by extension loving my enemies does not mean being passive when I am confronted by evil.
Consider the following from the book of Exodus:
“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (22:1-4).
It’s not hate to act justly. Jesus did not nullify the law by His correction of those who added to the law. The law of God is still valid when all of it is taken into account.
I asked the following two questions in my comments on the Corey quotation:
“If someone threatens to cut off my head, am I to love that person and still allow him to cut off my head? If I oppose him from trying to cut off my head, is that unloving?”
As of this writing, I have not gotten a response.
Following Corey’s logic, if someone breaks into his house, steals his stuff, urinates on his floor, and rapes his wife, he should not protest or try to stop him because he is to love his neighbor in an unqualified way. Should he just pray for the criminal who did these things since this is the epitome of “loving my enemy”? Is this what Jesus had in mind?
All the Bible needs to be looked at when a general statement is made. There are often qualifiers elsewhere. For example, the Apostle Paul writes generally and with qualifiers in the following passage:
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY’ [Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; 1 Thess. 4:6; Heb. 10:30] says the Lord. ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD’ [2 Kings 6:22; Prov. 25:21-22; Luke 6:27]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21).
Is it “evil” to pursue justice? What’s wrong is to pay back evil (something immoral) with an equal dose of immorality.
Does respecting the right mean to disrespect the wrong? I believe it does. We are commanded to be at peace, but there are times when can’t be. While we are not to take personal vengeance, this does not mean that we should not pursue and seek justice in a righteous manner (13:3-4).
Loving my enemies does not mean that I should be naïve about what my enemies might do to me and my family. That’s why I lock the doors to my house and keep a watchful eye on my grandchildren.