Love your “enemies”
The Apostle Paul, a terrorist turned Christ-follower, wrote, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).”
As scary as it is to admit outloud, in the world that we live in, it is not a far-fetched concept to think that there may come a day when you have a terrible situation before you where you could help save another person by sacrificing your life. The person who would otherwise have been the victim of the crime, in this situation, would be helpless. Unless you stepped in and died on their behalf, they could have done nothing to prevent their demise. This is the frightening framework for Paul’s argument.
In this hypothetical situation, there are most certainly people for for whom you would be willing to lay down your life, but there are others for whom that would be a much more difficult decision.
For a good person - that hard-working mom with four kids at home, that young student with his whole life ahead of him, that benevolent neighbor who always is willing to lend a hand to anyone who crosses his path - you might be willing to die.
But rarely would we be so incredibly compassion and sacrificial for a “just” person, meaning someone who isn’t a criminal but isn’t anything special, either. You might be less willing to sacrifice your own life, starve your kids of their mother, for someone who isn’t evil, but also isn’t someone to get excited about. It might not sound very compassionate and thrilling, but Paul is being honest.
We might sacrifice our lives for a good person and probably less likely for a ‘meh’ person. But what about an outright bad person, a vile person, someone who has wounded others, or worse - wounded you!?
Jesus, Paul says, died for helpless men - men destined to die - and these people weren’t all that great. Actually, they were rotten. More precisely, they were at enmity with him. But while they were his enemies, Christ died for them. Oh, and by them I mean us.
He didn’t wait for us to get our act together, to apologize, or to make things right. No, he died while we shook our fist in rebellion at his right to reign as King over everything.
In his death, God, who has lost his son, offers to adopt us in his place and welcome us into his family with all the rights and privileges given to the original heir. This is extravagant love - a love that knows no equal. This is how God loves us and how he put his love in action on the cross.
It should not be a shock to us, then, when Jesus says, paraphrasing, “I know that people always say that you should love your friends and hate your enemies, but I tell you to love your enemies and pray for the ones who wish you harm.” Of course Jesus can make such a bold and brash statement. He plans to do that very thing! What amazing love that God has shown us, and what audacity he has to command us to go and love likewise.
Friends, if we are honest, it is hard to love our loved ones with that kind of love, let alone neutral parties, and definitely not our enemies. But Jesus’ words have no addendums or qualifiers, If we are called to love our enemies, then there is no one we are not called to love.
And here is the thing: the people you may think are your enemies, the people you may perceive to be your enemies, or the people who perceive you as their enemies aren’t actually your enemies. Most likely, they aren’t trying to destroy you, kill you, or harm your children. Most likely they are simply rude, standoffish, or nasty. Perhaps you disagree with them politically or sociologically. You are called to love them too.
We don’t repay evil for evil. We repay evil with love. How different our world would be if we understood this kind of crazy love!
But how can we love like that if we don’t understand that love for ourselves? Jesus’ best friend, John, made such a statement when he said that we know love only because God first loved us. God’s love for us teaches us to love, but in order to understand God’s love we first must come to grips with the love story. What is the love story?
Christ Jesus died for sinners, enemies, and that includes you and me.