The Lord Jesus calls His disciples to love their enemies. This is a very important doctrine for us because it keeps us from the biases we have. The world at large has been filled with such biases against one another since the beginning of time. One race or nation hates another, and this nation turns and hates them in return. One group or “type” of person discriminates against another according to the flesh, and this group returns the same hatred.
Man is prone to imagine there are distinctions according to the flesh, rather than seeing that all of mankind is in sin, and this sin is the problem. And this has been the issue from the beginning. People judge and distance themselves from others according to skin color, gender, nationality, age, upbringing, politics, etc and say that these things are the factor, the variable of difference between good and evil, rather than sin itself in each person. We accept and enforce tribalism as reality, and consider good and evil within that framework, rather than the plain reality of sin within all mankind. And within these things, people make their enemies according to the flesh.
People direct their opposition towards these things rather than the true evil in the world. Do we not see this in full swing today? People trusting in their politics and judging people according to these—while both sides think their politics are divine. Or we have racial injustices, and yet how do we seek to correct these? With more racial injustices. All our efforts are according to the flesh, and it is precisely why the Bible teaches clearly that our enemies are not according to the flesh but spiritual powers (Eph 6:12). This is why Jesus teaches us to not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). He shows us that man’s instinct is to fight evil according to the flesh. He shows us that none of man’s efforts in this regard ever get at the true issue, which is the sin in every single person.
I. Hate and Love
One person reviles another and the other returns such hate. Indeed, the Lord tells us in Titus 3:3 that all of us, outside of the redemptive work of Christ, are “passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Hate is central to the sin in mankind, hating God and hating one another (Mark 12:30-31). We justify our hate because we think we solve problems with it, but only the Lord’s work can bring true justice and restoration—our methods simply create more wickedness. And maybe we aren’t “angry” and openly spiteful towards others, but we're diving into selfish and worldly living—and these too are rooted in hate, because hate is indifference, hate is lovelessness. Passivity in hate is still hate.
Therefore the Gospel teaches us to break away from this hate, even when it comes to our very enemies. We are instructed not to be overcome by the evil people do (taking the evil into our own hearts and responding from it), but to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). By this, we break out of this circular effect of sin, and contend against our true enemies. And what is the good with which we overcome evil? We love the souls of our enemies the same as we love our own: doing good to them as we can, and praying for them, most especially.
Christians are especially in need of understanding love for our enemies because Christ knew what would come about for the Christian. The world is in enmity with God. He knew that those who are renewed in Christ would find themselves facing the world, who is arrayed against God in battle, and against all who stand with Him. Christ’s enemies would become our own enemies. And Christ also knew that the Christian still battles against sin, therefore we are prone to allow ourselves to hate others even though we ourselves were once in rebellion against God.
Titus 3:1-8 speaks to this exact issue:
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”
We are meant to remember in Christ that we too were once in rebellion against God, and that it is only by God’s grace towards us that we are saved and brought into the righteousness and holiness of God. Only by His grace have we turned from sin toward the salvation of God.
This love in Christ is meant to control us, to keep believers from handling situations according to our own inclinations and to instead rely on Christ and keep our eyes on eternity. However, often the believer hears this call to love our enemies and falls into opposite inclinations. We often misinterpret “love your enemies'' to be a command to pour ourselves out on an altar—any altar, neglecting the diligence of inquiring of the Lord and merely pouring ourselves out so we can feel a sense of purposeful sacrifice, even if it is on the altar of sin in others and for our own pride. Or we take it to mean that we should try to be Jesus, rather than pray people into the care of Jesus—again, serving ourselves more than we are serving Him. We also take this to mean remaining in harmful conditions when it’s wise and godly to leave—why? Because of our wrong desires and fallen thinking which we misinterpret to be love. But we also are empty of the true degree of this love and we allow ourselves to substitute it with a vague, passionless kindness towards people that is absent of the abiding truth of eternity. Indeed, there are many ways we go wrong.
Seeing all of this, it becomes clear how important it is for us to discuss loving our enemies, because this doctrine is often misplaced. It is often emptied of the great love it is meant to hold, and it often appears in areas it does not belong. And sadly, when many of us seek to correct where we fail in regards to loving our enemies, we only correct one area and not all. It is essential that we correct all areas in which this doctrine goes wrong in order to restore health and vitality to it. When we correct all errors, we finally have this wonderful, life-giving doctrine. And that’s really needed in order for us to relish it.
II. Indifferent Lovelessness
One of the prevailing reasons the church fails to fulfill the command to love her enemies is the attitudes in the church. Plainly, we are often loveless towards our enemies, and yet we allow ourselves to keep denying the truth about this and covering it up.
So many of us don’t possess the true love for others that we are meant to have. And let’s be clear: this love is not merely an affectionate feeling—the love that Christ produces is an awareness of others, of the reality of their souls, and a care for their personhood. We fail to understand that if we are actually walking rightly with Christ we will have this love for other people’s souls.
What we fail to understand is that there is a direct correlation between our unsurrendered lives to Christ (our devotion and obedience) and the lovelessness at the root of our lives. This lovelessness is meant to be a large red flag over our spiritual life, warning us of just how weak our walk with God is. Perhaps we are too busy with the objective intellect and are neglecting the work of pressing in personally for true love in the heart, through prayer. Perhaps we’re just not applying ourselves to Christian duties at all, or the cares of the world or our own inner cares crowd out the love of God, as we remain “babes” in our faith. Perhaps we’re caught up in much serving and are not sitting at Jesus’ feet. Whatever the reason, we need to face the lovelessness in our hearts: towards God, other believers, the lost, and our enemies. And contend before God for these very things by prayer.
This lovelessness takes the form of emptiness. We have no substance, no spiritual bread or water to give to others. It is not a felt emptiness—rather, it is paired with a deep self contentment, thinking we have that which is good, when in reality we are far away from it (Rev 3:17). Because of this, we are indifferent to others. Maybe not all others—perhaps we have some people we are attentive to, but this merely keeps us from acknowledging that we have no true concern for those outside our circle. We are not “ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1), as is the conditioned spirit of love for God and man. We are blind to the true needs of others around us and we only shell out a petty kindness at best. We might certainly be hungry for something more! But we don’t have it, and this is precisely because we are not giving ourselves to Christ and His sanctifying work as we are called to. You cannot have the love of God if you do not give yourself to Christ.
III. Cruel Lovelessness
The other form of this lovelessness is that many Christian today are cruel and they call it “speaking the truth”. Christian often mock and fight and are ready to give offense with no regard for others. We are empty of love for the fallen world, and often think of things with this objectivity, as if it’s all just a game. And by this, we reveal just how empty we are of love. The Lord teaches us in several places in Scripture to be particularly careful to give as little offense to the world, for the sake of the Gospel, as we possibly can: 1 Pet 2:13, 1 Cor 10:32, 2 Cor 6:3, etc. And yet blindness and lovelessness fills so many believers so that we fail to understand the significance within many such passages in Scripture. We fail to see the great call of submission for this very purpose.
Why? Because these things are spiritual. Love and submission are things that are spiritually discerned. Only those who give themselves to the Lord and His work will discern these things. Those who fail to give themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit become hard and brutish, forming a knowledge of right doctrine yet without discernment of its true intent.
The church is meant to be powerful in the truth and yet bending in great mercy. The principle of submission is so important because it is part of the great love we are meant to have—so we may come to all people in meekness and true love, seeking the truth of God and their souls. And yet how many people run to give offense to the world today? And they call this duty! This is no badge of honor.
No, we are meant to keep God’s Word while doing as much as we can to give no offense. This certainly isn’t tiptoeing or people pleasing. For certainly the world walks in deep sin, and we must speak the truth of the Gospel (Acts 17:30-31, Rom 1:18-31). And yet, Jesus clearly teaches in the Scriptures that we are to run to do our utmost to give no offense, for the very sake of the Gospel, for the sake of love, for the sake of goodness, for the sake of rebuke (1 Pet 3:1), and so that we can truly love others as best as we possibly can. Are we anywhere close to this desperation for other’s souls? Or are we empty? Are we anywhere near this great submission of love? Or are we cruel? Do we love our enemies for the sake of the Lord and for the sake of the Gospel?
In truth, many Christians hinder the way to the Kingdom of God by giving great offenses to the world. Many call it “standing up for truth” and are entirely unconcerned with the hate that is in their heart. These fail to realize just how greatly their offensiveness bars the road to God’s kingdom and makes great obstacles for others to enter it (Matt 23:13).
Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, and in doing so we are to avoid this very offensiveness. We’re meant to have a true love for people, being ready to do all we can, within love for Christ and the Gospel, for them. Jesus was a servant to us, and—like Him—we also should have a spirit of submissiveness and a heart to do good. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)
IV. “Love” Without Salt
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10)
And now for an opposing trouble. Often we see these things of lovelessness and hate towards others, and we’re very right to stand against such sins, but often we wander into a different type of sin in the name of such things. At the root, this comes from not acknowledging the distinction between loving our enemies and loving the world.
What is most central to this point is our failure to keep Christ and our love for Him first and central, before all our love for mankind. Many people are prone to say we are loving mankind and only trying to give no offense, when in reality, we are slaves to man’s opinion. What many of us call “loving others” and “ministry” is nothing more than friendship with the world, and opposing God’s Word.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)
These believers often see how wrong the aforementioned Christian is in their offensiveness and hate, and yet they just run headlong into friendship with the world in the name of resisting those believers’ wrongs, with no regard for how this is treacherous to Christ. While we are right to resist such great sins from others, we very often try to use these sins of others for our love of man’s opinion and friendship with the world (James 4:4). We fail to see that other people’s failure to love rightly is in no way permissible for us to fail to love (God and man) rightly! We blend in with the world and lose our “saltiness”, as if this were a virtue instead of a great loss. We accept the world’s remedies to these sins rather than Christ’s.
Mankind swings from one extreme to another, going from devilish scrutiny to being watered-down, and then back again. Neither of these things correct the other, and yet we are so prone to only search out a new place within our flesh, rather than outside of our flesh, in the righteousness of Christ, to correct such sins. We try to use sin to correct sin (we are overcome with evil, rather than overcoming evil with good).
The sad truth today is that many believers are overcome by the evil in the world precisely because we allow it to drive us into judging according to the flesh, judging by appearances. We go only from one “type” to another. We dig our heels in, and give all our effort to these fleshly “groups” (John 7:24). We allow it to drive us into our own narrow views, failing to realize that this is a great portion of the hatred we are warned away from. Much of our hate is rooted in this “superiority” and “inferiority” of these “groups”. It is an evil hatred we allow ourselves to justify.
We believe that one “group” is worse than the other, failing to see that there is much sin within all groups, and that we need Christ to lead us out of our groups into Him. Keeping these biases is holding onto a hatred that blinds us. Hatred is holding onto anything according to the flesh. This can be race or wealth, but it can equally be our politics, idealisms, personalities, job choices, clothing choices, and even experiences. It doesn’t matter which “side” or type we originate from. We only come out of hate when we are truly willing to forsake all our “superiority” or self pity according to the flesh. Keeping these ultimately keeps us in a hate for others, because we elevate ourselves according to the flesh (Gal 3:28), either by pride or self pity.
In all places, what is needed is that we truly forsake our sin and bias and go on to obey Christ completely. This disobedience to Jesus is what divides us, even within the church. One group may be wrong, but our refusal to deal with our own sins is equally what divides. Does this mean that we just all accept each other as we are and allow in everything? Certainly not! This is another great error we make, saying that all people should be accepted in their differences and in their sin. It’s saying, “You keep your speck in your eye and I’ll keep my log”, rather than calling both people (ourselves as well as others), to deal with our sin. This is where “judge not” goes wrong—using it to permit sin rather than deal with all sin.
This false “judge not” is in fact just another “group”. We boast in what we feel we can do according to our own ideas, our flesh. And here is the problem, we trust in ideas according to what is within us, rather than going outside ourselves. It doesn’t matter if this idea is one in which offensiveness to the “enemy” is a virtue or is one that is willing to twist God’s Word in order to serve our definition of love, both are sin.
We are not to allow in any sin, and we must always oppose it in every single person. Rather, the error is in refusing to accept that there is nothing superior or inferior according to the flesh, and to forsake all our little groups. If we want true remedy to sin then we must go outside our little groups of hate, and go outside the camp to be with Christ.
Christ reveals to us the perfect remedy. That we are to turn away from judging others according to the flesh, and yet we are to judge according to what is sin and what is not. We must obey both of these if we are to live righteously.
Love, without salt, is no love at all. This “love” is one where we continue to excuse our own sins and call it love. Where we profess to hate man’s lovelessness and offensiveness, but we actively oppose the doctrines of God. We oppose the truth of God’s judgement, wrath, and hell; we oppose God’s commandments for repentance (Act 17:30), we oppose the truth about sin, the truth of God alone being God, the inerrancy of scripture, and many similar things. And we claim that doing this is loving others, loving the lost, loving our enemies, and giving no offense, when in reality is friendship with the world and enmity against God (John 5:44, 12:43). This is not love, it is just another system of morality we set up to serve our own agendas despite how it conflicts with the ways of God. It is hate, and it is just as evil as the sins we want to oppose when we take this up.
Oh, how we deceive ourselves by our fleshly, fallen ideas of love! The pathway forward, it turns out, is the same pathway for loveless indifference, loveless condemnation, and love “without salt”: we must turn to the Lord to have our definitions of love conformed to His. We must repent for our stubbornness and sin, and seek the Lord of Love to fill us with His love for our neighbor, and love for our enemy.
V. Submission but Separation
In all these things, we need to understand that God calls us to love our enemies while obeying God. A great many claim to be loving God while giving great, needless, offense to the world. These use any opportunity for rebellion rather than submission. They run to take offense and to give offense. And at the same time, people claim to be loving the world and seeking to give no offense, when they are doing nothing more than seeking permission for sin and the praises of the world. They are ashamed of the Gospel and apologize for it while professing to apologize for the church’s sins (Mark 8:38). They walk in rebellion against God and His Word.
In answer to this, the Gospel gives us the duality of two things: submission, yet separation. When we are resisting either one of these things, we expose the lovelessness in our hearts, both against God and man.
We are called to give no offense, while also holding completely to the Word of God. We should not be quick to take offense!—dying on every hill and calling it martyrdom. Rather, we are to remain true to God’s Word, unafraid to offend man when it comes down to it—“We must obey God rather than men.” (Act 5:29) We must understand that this is the command of God, and yet it is never a license to run around and offend people! The Lord commands that we hold true to God’s Word while giving no offense whenever possible.
Man will be offended, but we had better triple check it’s because of their sin and not because of our own.
We need to understand today that the “ability” to offend people without conscience or fear is not virtuous! We can do this very easily out of our flesh, and we seemed to be deceived into thinking this is somehow the opposite of the fear of man. In reality, it’s trusting in one sin over another. Again, we go from flesh to flesh, rather than from flesh to holiness. We must understand that sin wants the praises of man and yet it also often “escapes” man’s opinion with contempt—by elevating our own opinion and living by it. It’s not “faith” to think nothing of the opinions of others, it’s lovelessness. And it's not faith to throw God's Word and judgement and rebuke behind our backs for the smiles of mankind. It’s faith to not be controlled by the opinions of others while still loving people and listening for the truth. And this is the fight that both “types” of people face.
We must fight for the balance within giving no offense and holding to obeying God in all things. We must truly put off all love of man’s opinion and all fear of man, and yet we must also put on great compassion and feet that run to do good to the souls of all. When we make out the “other side” to be the enemy, we fail to realize that both “sides” are needed—that both have some things right and some things wrong.
The Lord knew this division and hatred would be an issue. He knew that the world would judge the Gospel based upon His believers. And so He teaches us to not live under man’s opinion, and yet we should still care about it, because we care about people. Let us do everything, especially in prayer, for the souls of mankind. Let us love their salvation as much as we love our own. Let us love their true good even as they don't love it! And let us realize within this that God's wrath and judgement is approaching. Removing the truth of this does nothing but deepen mankind's danger! We are to love like Christ, who loves us into repentance and obedience. This is the love of God, and we should be filled with it.
The true task for us is learning how to love God and man, and how neither of these are in contradiction. One says they are loving God but they are not loving man. The other says they are loving man, but they are not loving God. In truth, learning how to walk in both of these things actually aims us correctly at a balanced, godly love. (Mark 12:29-31).
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children
of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Loving Our Enemies
Why Lovelessness, Contempt, and False Harmony Are Wrong Even Towards Our Enemies
I. Hate and Love
II. Indifferent Lovelessness
III. Cruel Lovelessness
IV. “Love” Without Salt
V. Submission but Separation