Do What to My Enemies? No Way!

Jesus told the crowds that the poor were fortunate and the rich were not. It was about the way people relate to possessions and how people treat people. Jesus introduces an extreme set of relationships to make his point:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Turn the other cheek

Love Your Enemies

He begins with a series of statements about how we should respond to those who hurt us:

  • Love your enemies
  • Do good to those who hate you
  • Bless those who curse you
  • Pray for those who mistreat you.

This might indicate various types of adversaries.

Jesus had already said:

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Keep in mind that Jesus was building a group of followers to focus on him and his message as a guide to life, and this was contrary to the religious and political expectations of his time and place. He rejected much of the tradition of his society, and people often respond badly toward those who challenge tradition.

So how should believers react when people respond to us this way? Jesus says love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them. This is consistent with Jesus’ overriding principles of behavior: love God and love others as ourselves.

When it Gets Personal

General marginalization and ostracization is bad enough, but what about when it gets personal? Jesus continues:

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

This is the first example listed here to round out what Jesus is talking about. ‘Slaps on the cheek’ is more understandable to us as ‘hits you in the jaw’. What response does this personal assault usually produce? We hit back! If we don’t, we are wimps. We can’t overlook such an insult.

But Jesus says No—and there is no basis for the occasional comment: I will turn my cheek once, but if they hit me again they will be sorry.

Property vs. People

Jesus continues:

If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

Jesus speaks about those who take our property against our will, but it is not clear to me whether this addresses the entire range from religious persecution to criminal action. Among other things, it could involve a person stealing from us, someone winning against us in court, or perhaps a powerful figure exploiting us.

In any case, we have a strong tendency to protect our person and assets from anyone who threatens them. I think Jesus says No. Others are as important as we are and certainly more important than property. The principle to love others as ourselves has no place for valuing property over people, and I think these comments of Jesus are very relevant to our attitudes toward both property and people in any situation.

Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, even when they assault us or take our stuff, flies against every impulse we have. Loving enemies is not the spontaneous love we have for our friends, family, or romantic interest. It is love that comes from the will; it does not come naturally.

But it is not a law to follow just because it is a law. The key is to understand how much the Father loves us despite our brokenness and faults, and then to realize he loves all other people the same way. When we see others through the eyes of the Father, we can indeed love them and seek their good.

I Have My Rights!

A few years ago my wife and I came home and surprised a burglar. Our TV was setting in our doorway to be loaded, and he was collecting other items. As he came out of the house to escape, my wife was on the phone to 911 giving his description and tag number, while I tried to block him from getting to his car.

It was quite a drama. He escaped but was picked up later that evening; we pressed charges and he was found guilty.

Several friends and neighbors said they wished they had been there to shoot him for us. What?! Shoot someone for a TV?

Yet I heard a 911 call on the news not long afterward. A man reported someone stealing a TV from a neighbor’s house. The caller complained that he was getting away and said he would stop him. 911 told him not to do that, but then we heard a gunshot.

The man returned to the phone. ‘I stopped him,’ he said. ‘He’s dead.’ I learned the man was not prosecuted for killing the thief—for a TV. Some argue that the TV is not the point; it is our right to defend ourselves and our property against trespassers or anyone who threatens us. But this is exactly the point—people are more important than protecting our personal rights and property. Jesus still rejects tradition.

There is more to unpack from Jesus’ words about those who hurt us. What about bullying? What about crime? What about politics? What about war? The discussion continues next time.

Photo Credit: GregPC via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
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18 Responses to Do What to My Enemies? No Way!

  1. allegro63 says:

    You can replace a television, you cannot replace a life. The mindset of, “if someone comes to take my stuff, they’ll be met with lead” is quite common in my part of the world, which has helped my state to rank as one of the most violent in the nation. One recent incident had a guy killing to would be robbers before they even gained entrance to the man’s apartment. He was only charged for illegal possession of a firearm, himself being a former felon. Another had a couple shooting an unarmed squatter in a home they were renovating. He survived, they weren’t charged.

    I don’t think people ever stop to consider that the person they just shot had parents, siblings, friends, who loved them, I don’t think they ever stopped to think that insurance would pay for the loss of stuff, that the justice system actually does work, or that they will forever live with the memory of taking someone’s life for an item worth a few hundred bucks.

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  2. michaeleeast says:

    This is Jesus’ teaching.
    If Christians did this instead of all the other things they do
    the kingdom would be with us.
    But people seem always to find some other message.
    This is too hard!
    This is the core of Jesus’ message of love.

    Like

  3. Mere Dreamer says:

    Hmmm… These verses were used to keep me in an abusive marriage, so my reaction to “if he … then love anyway” tends to come with a few qualifiers.

    Yes, it is possible to love the one who hurts and abuses you….One can choose to see their perspective and act in a way that respects their status as “also created by God.” And if there is nothing to be done about it, then choosing to give is more healthy than being continually robbed. Because genuinely giving will heal us where having our belongings stolen will create bitterness.

    I choose to see the X as a human like me, who often “did not know what he was doing” and functioned out of a blind state brought on by believing lies about me, himself, love, and God. This understanding prevented me from becoming like him in feeling entitled to cause harm. But it isn’t love to allow someone to abuse. It isn’t love to believe or even superficially agree with insinuations that love can be shown through spite, using others, striking, taking one’s shirt, etc.

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  4. Pingback: How Terrible for the Rich! | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Phil Johns says:

    I’ve always been happy to skim over this scripture!! I’ve seen it used so many times as an excuse to bully and to exploit. As for thugs and thieves, they have to be shown that what they’re doing is wrong. Blessing them is absurd especially when they have scarred you or a loved one for life physically or mentally – sorry Jesus! I look forward to seeing your post regarding times of war Tim.

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  6. sheila0405 says:

    If someone comes into your home and threatens to kill you or your loved ones, is that a case where shooting the intruder is justified? There have been violent home invasions in my area, some with the victims seriously hurt. There are some victims in Philly, which is near to me, that have been killed for their possessions. What about self defense? Maybe the initial intrusion by the thief doesn’t raise a red flag that the thief intends to murder the victims afterward, but by the time the victims realize it, it’s too late. I do agree that it is better to just give one’s possessions to those who are attempting to steal them, and do everything possible to assist law enforcement in capturing and prosecuting them. After all, thieves deserve the opportunity to repent. By the way, I am against capital punishment for this very reason: one never knows how God can reach a heart and change it.

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    • Hi Sheila. Somehow I didn’t see this comment until this morning after the next article was already posted. I am glad I addressed some of your issues and that we agree on capital punishment.

      I expect to touch on some of your other questions in the post on loving enemies in the context of war and perhaps in one additional post after that.

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  7. Pingback: Loving Our Enemies—Tough Cases | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: Loving Our Enemies in the Context of War | Jesus Without Baggage

  9. Pingback: Taking Delight in Our Enemies’ Misfortune | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. lotharson says:

    This is an excellent post about the radical character of Christ’s teaching and as you well know, I’ve made the same experience with blogging .

    I realize that Biblical inerrancy can all too often get in the way of the unconditional love God wants from us, especially if it is coupled with a href=”http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/naked-calvinism-motivation-and-methodology/”>Calvinism .

    For surely if God hates enemies He has himself created as such, why the hell should WE love them?
    The scary examples I gave in the post are natural consequences of the TULIP belief-system.

    Cheers from Europe.

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    • Agreed Lothar. It makes sense that if God hates some people, then we should hate them too. The fact is: God does not hate anyone. This is part of why Jesus came–to share with us the love of the Father. He also came to teach us to love others as ourselves.

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