By Jason Hiles
Dean, College of Theology
“Love” is an incredibly flexible term used to describe feelings as different as loyalty to a football team (“I love the Cardinals”), enjoyment of food (“I love pizza”) and affection for others (“I love my spouse”). But the Bible insists that Christian love is a particular sort of love rooted in a deep and absolute commitment to the God who lovingly made us in his image. Moreover, when one truly loves God, he or she will inevitably love their neighbors as well, whether friend, family member or foe.
While the average person can envision some value in loving one’s neighbor and may even strive to do so, generally speaking, the idea that a person should extend this love to his or her enemies seems to defy common sense. Yet Jesus insisted that the Christian life must be marked by a more radical kind of love than people typically imagine. This unconditional, no-string-attached, unlimited way of relating to others is perhaps the defining characteristic of Christian love.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28), Jesus taught. If you only love and do good to and lend to those who will be loving and good and will give back to you what you have given to them, it will be of no benefit to you (Luke 6:32-34). Instead, “love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” In short, “be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
The final part of Jesus’ admonition is key to understanding why he insists on a love that knows no boundaries. This sort of selfless and sacrificial love is of the same quality as the Father’s love, and Jesus was intent on teaching his followers to live and love like his Father in Heaven.
Indeed, when Jesus found himself in a situation in which his enemies rose up against him, mocked, cursed and ultimately crucified him, he responded with kindness. From the cross he prayed for his enemies, asking his Father to forgive them because they did not understand what they were doing. He called on God to be merciful to his enemies even as they withheld mercy from him. By doing so he demonstrated that his love was of the same quality as that of the Father in heaven, and by doing so he demonstrated that he is truly the Son of the Most High God.
The call of Christ to follow him entails a call to love everyone, including our enemies. This is not a call we can answer in our own strength. Rather, it is a call that can only be answered through dependence on the power and provision available in Christ. For those who trust in Jesus as Savior and follow him as Lord, God provides the strength to follow and obey, not only when it is easy, but also when it is impossible.
For with God, nothing is impossible.
By grace alone,
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