Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:43-48, Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 6:36, Romans 12:9-21, 1 John 3:18
If you don’t have an enemy, you’ve probably never lived in the South during football season. When you declare devotion to a specific team or conference—or in my case, if this affection is delicately handed to you by a long, never-to-be broken-or-else lineage of family fans—you inherit the cheers, the players, the colors, the mascot, and of course, the rivals. You cannot root for one team without rooting against another.
Although I did not choose the college my family cheers for, I did choose to root against their rival school, so I could still show up to Thanksgiving dinner without remorse. When it was time for my brother to choose a college, however, he asked me to sit down and brace myself for bad news. Using a poster board and pre-written speech, he told me something I never thought I’d hear from my own flesh and blood: he had chosen to attend our family’s rival school. He had chosen to become my enemy. Suddenly, game days consisted of watching the game in separate rooms and raising a flag above our childhood home which read, “House Divided.”
Other than the fun and games of college football, I try really hard to be liked, and therefore, don’t have many “enemies.” And since I can’t name them, I don’t have to worry about loving them, right? But Jesus doesn’t ask us whether or not we have enemies. He does not give us qualifiers like, “If you have enemies… ” or “During football season…” Rather, He assumes we do have enemies and tells us to love them.
What if our reluctance to admit to having enemies is standing in the way of God working through us to bring Him glory? What if our “goodness” and pride are blocking the flow of His true goodness in our relationships? We must stop avoiding the fact that we have enemies and get to the hard, kingdom-building work of loving them.
In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus clarifies a way of following Him that goes above and beyond the law:
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:43-45
Gulp. Okay, so maybe I have a few enemies—and not just of the sports variety. But loving my enemies in my own strength looks like the half-hearted lineup at the end of a football field, exchanging handshakes and “good games,” then ducking out to head for the locker room.
But loving people the way Jesus taught means praying for them, and prayer requires more than a half-hearted intention. Prayer requires truly wanting good for someone else. Because Jesus did not settle for anything less than redemption in His love for us, we must do the same for each other.
I don’t think the point is to love our enemies until they stop being our enemies; I think it’s to experience God doling out grace in equal proportion alongside them in community. This serves as a reminder that if it weren’t for Jesus, we would all be eternal enemies of His and of one another.
There is no reason to keep score in our relationships. The Victor has already won. This means we no longer count someone else’s gain our loss, or vice versa, because Jesus is ours, and He is all we’ll ever need.
Praise the Lord, our constant companion, for His love. Amen.