I recently wrote a post on the blog of The Well Community Church titled “How To Love Your Enemies,” which you can read here. I felt it necessary to add some thoughts lightly playing devil’s advocate, or at least, to clarify when there may be a time for justice rather than what many might feel would be serving as a doormat.
In the article, I argued four main points: 1) on a cosmic scale our real enemies are not flesh and blood but Satan and sin, 2) loving your enemy means preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance to them, 3) we, as Christians, were once enemies of God, so we need to be careful how we treat current enemies, and 4) loving your enemy does not include staying in an abusive relationship or ignoring obvious atrocities. For the latter, see Russia with Ukraine (and others), China with the Uyghurs (also here), and Nazi Germany with the Jews. Don’t forget our own domestic examples either, though that be a loaded gun of a thought exercise.
I naturally hold a grudge, keep records of wrongs, distrust many authorities, and am generally defensive. All unloving things that need to be repented of often and put to death through sanctification. It is hard to forgive someone when they committed an unjustifiable offense against you, and that is pretty universal. That is what makes Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-48 so radical.
If “Love thy neighbor” is speaking softly, then “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord” is carrying the big stick. These two scriptural truths may be our yardsticks here, the buoys of navigating through these difficult waters. Regarding governmental enemies, such as the examples above, I’ll tackle that in a different post. I’m still processing that and working on how to think about it biblically so I can speak to it faithfully.
By his providence, God has given civil authorities that should protect its citizens and be a blessing to them, including a working justice system. While imperfect due to sinful human influence, it can and does provide justice and protection in these situations. Use it.
Let’s use some case studies. The obvious place to start is thinking about our “everyday” enemies: that one guy at the office who is dismissive and belittling, that jerk that just cut you off in traffic, speeding through lane changes while you have a baby in the car, or the proverbial Mean Girl. In the grand scheme, these enemies are just petty and annoying, but in the moment they might become sudden arch-enemies. If you can’t get over yourself and your own crap long enough to even just whisper a quick prayer for them and yourself, then we have a much larger issue at hand. Are these offenses really worth hating them in your heart, a sin Jesus says puts you under judgment (Matt 5:21-22)?
Take an abusive relationship for example. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) says 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience “severe intimate partner violence” and other examples of domestic abuse, making that an unfortunate relevant thing to think about.
Loving your abusive domestic partner is not letting them continue to beat you, manipulate you, or use you in some violent way. It is preaching the gospel to them and calling them to repentance, hopefully from afar in a safe place. But trusting in God’s vengeance on your behalf is trusting that God sees everything and will pay it back. It is trusting in true justice.
By his providence, God has given civil authorities that should protect its citizens and be a blessing to them, including a working justice system. While imperfect due to sinful human influence, it can and does provide justice and protection in these situations. Use it. Make the abuser be accountable for their crimes. Friends and family members of the abused might have to step in here to protect their loved ones. The abuser is an enemy, but they are also in need of the same grace you received if you are a child of God through faith in Christ alone. So loving the abuser is calling them to stop their sin and turn to God, but if that fails then it is time to call upon justice to be done.
Here is another one. I am no fan of ANTIFA and BLM. I think they are enemies to society and communities (see the many riots, looted stores, and scorched downtown Portland as examples). My response as a child of the one true God should not be one of violence against anyone that holds those beliefs, but to preach the gospel of repentance to them. If that doesn’t work, I’ll love my neighbor by protecting them (or my community) from that enemy (which may require violence, though God forbid). And either way, I’ll also trust that God is good and in control, and even in the firestorm of their violence know that they will get theirs and that justice will be done.
We could keep going. Justice itself is a gift from God because rapists, abusers, murderers, thieves, pedophiles, poachers, and plagiarists should all be held accountable for their crimes and sins. I really hate the latter three, the Three Ps I call them. As I said in the other article, it is not loving your neighbor to allow crimes to go unpunished, but it is not loving your enemy to wish them to hell either.
If “Love thy neighbor” is speaking softly, then “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord” is carrying the big stick. These two scriptural truths may be our yardsticks here, the buoys of navigating through these difficult waters.
I’m not saying any of that is easy, nor do I deny nuance. I am painting with a broad 2 inch Bob Ross paintbrush here. What I am saying is that there is a time to love your enemy by remembering you too were an enemy of God at one point, and also a time for accountability, justice, and protection. Threats must be ended (correctly and in a God-honoring way) because it is not “doing unto others” to be a doormat to sinful humans, nor is it loving to your neighbor who may be the next doormat.