Loving Our Enemies—Tough Cases

Previously I shared my thoughts, based on Jesus’ teaching, about valuing people over property and personal rights, and I talked about the Father’s loving attitude toward all of us even though we are broken and hurt each other.

Yet, even if we embrace Jesus’ teaching here, we must wrestle with how to value others in varying scenarios because there is no clear standard to observe.

a bully

Jesus did not give us a rule but a principle, and none of us can determine for another how to apply it to real life. I can only raise questions and share some of my responses. I hope you will share your responses also.

Loving Our Enemies Isn’t Natural

In Luke chapter 6, Jesus told his followers:

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

For many of us this is not our natural response. Instead, we may want to hate our enemies, do bad things to those who hate us, curse those who curse us, and pray for revenge against those who mistreat us. We see people through our eyes of self-interest instead of the eyes of the Father and perhaps agree with the ancient Lysias who ‘considered it ordained that one should harm one’s enemies and serve one’s friends.’

Jesus also said:

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

What about Bullies?

Readers commented that some believers use this passage to keep people in abusive relationships. I’m sure we all know this is true. But should we continue forever to let abusers hit us or take our belongings? I don’t think so. Forcing someone to accept abuse is itself abusive.

Valuing abusers and seeking their good does not mean we must volunteer to be their victims. This is not seeking their good but feeding their brokenness. We should love them, do good to them, bless them, and  pray for them—outside their reach if possible.

School bullies, abusive family members, and sexual harassers should all be reported to proper authorities and dealt with. No one should tolerate repeated abuse. I don’t think Jesus says we should not escape; he says not to retaliate with hate.

What about Crime?

Should we simply forgive all criminals and let them continue in their crimes? No society can survive if criminals are not controlled. Government at all levels is responsible for the safety of its citizens, and I think we have the responsibility as citizens to support the justice system as long as it is just. We should report serious crimes such as assault, rape, and murder. We should cooperate with the law against predatory theft and property violations.

But what if the system isn’t just? If a hungry person steals an apple from us, should we prosecute to make an example of them? If a homeless person sleeps in a doorway or on a park bench, should we call the police? If certain groups are profiled and incarcerated for minor offenses while other groups are largely free to do the very same things, are we to remain silent and be complicit in the injustice?

I think the answer is No.

How do Jesus’ words impact your understanding of proper punishment for crimes? It is a sad occasion when a criminal is killed in action, but it sometimes cannot be avoided. However, if one is tried and found guilty, is there a limit to the extent of punishment? I don’t think the death penalty is ever a way to treat those who hurt us. It is not justice; it is revenge. Yet some Christians are among the most vocal in advocating it.

What about Politics?

Politics is a way to take care of the business of an organized society and avoid violent confrontation among people of differing opinions. I vote and pay taxes, and I sometimes discuss political issues with friends and family. But many people are so intent on their political opinions that those who disagree become enemies.

This can be particularly bad when believers try to use politics to dictate ‘Christian values’ to society. Much of the ‘Christian’ politics I hear sounds a lot like hate. Is politics a free-for-all? Disparagement, personal attacks, defamation, and mocking don’t appear to me to line up with the spirit of Jesus’ admonition for us to love our enemies and seek their good.

The same trends occur in private politics—businesses, clubs and societies, and even in churches and denominations. I don’t have a blanket answer, but I think all believers must consider the words of Jesus to love our enemies. We can’t just say his teachings don’t apply.

None of these are easy issues, but if we take these words of Jesus seriously we must incorporate them into our responses to those who oppose us. Perhaps the stickiest issue of all is loving our enemies in the context of war. We will talk about that next time.

What is your opinion on these issues?

Graphic Credit: Diego Grez via Wikimedia Commons
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24 Responses to Loving Our Enemies—Tough Cases

  1. sheila0405 says:

    You answered my questions about crime and self defense. I’m glad to see that you agree with me on the issue of capital punishment. Looking forward to the post on war, because i struggle with the notions of “just” war and “unjust” war. Seems to be subjective at times, to me, anyway.

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  2. Pingback: Do What to My Enemies? No Way! | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. michaeleeast says:

    I think that addressing the causes of crime and war is the key.
    Jesus admonition to love our enemies would remove
    much of the causes of crime and war.
    Then we would not have the dilemma of how to stop them.

    Like

  4. Phil Johns says:

    That’s a nice balanced approach regarding abusive behaviour Tim. In the grand scale of things, slapping a cheek or stealing a shirt is quite trivial. Like yourself, I have returned home to find the front door smashed and many irreplaceable possessions stolen. I’ve even had clothes stolen from the washing line – literally shirts! As annoying as it was, the pain was lessened by the fact that I had insurance. The problem for me with this scripture is in its triviality. When somebody rapes and murders an infant child I cannot accept that the same principle applies and that I have to forgive someone for murdering one of my kids in the most despicable way. I hate to be the odd one out here but I would see such a person go to the gallows – it is no more inhuman than incarcerating someone for the rest of their life. Murderers are usually repeat offenders. It’s also worth remembering that Jesus took a whip to the money changers – not much forgiveness there!

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    • Phil, I don’t think you are the odd one out. Many people believe serious crime should be punished harshly.

      I don’t think loving enemies means not punishing them, but rather not hating them and wishing them ill-will. I don’t think justice is the same as revenge, but I don’t claim my opinion on capital punishment is the only appropriate understanding of Jesus.

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      • Phil Johns says:

        Thanks for this Tim. I think we might have had a similar conversation elsewhere. I simply think that some people put themselves beyond the pale. At the end of the Nuremberg trials many top Nazis were sentenced to hang for their crimes against humanity. Had the war not ended these same men would have continued their mass slaughter of millions of innocent people. Neither were they sorry for what they had done. I’ve never seen their executions as revenge. It was something that humanity required of a group of people that committed the worst crimes in history. Slaps and shirts just doesn’t doesn’t cut it in my opinion. Such people are unlovable and beyond forgiveness. I’m sorry if I’m going against the grain here. I think the slaps and shirts teaching has put many into bondage and guilt due to their life experiences in the same way that Jesus’ sayings on divorce has done – but that’s another issue! Sorry everyone!

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        • I do not argue that the state (or world courts) have no authority to execute the worst criminals, but I am glad than many nations no longer use execution and I hope that one day the USA will abandon it.

          Perhaps I was unclear about execution and revenge. I was speaking on a personal level; I think many victims seek execution for reasons of revenge. I cannot do that. In the case of the Nazis who were guilty of the greatest crimes against humanity, I do not dispute the choice of execution, but were I involved I could not have participated in any way in the decision or process of execution.

          Is anyone beyond God’s love and forgiveness? I try to see people as much as possible the way God’s sees them.

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  5. jessedooley says:

    You write about a difficult topic. It is probably the hardest teaching to really embrace: to truly love your enemies, to bless those who curse you, to pray for them, to wish them well. Indeed, it’s easy to preach it but do any of us really live it? And I believe that is at the heart to the spiritual journey, which is really the human journey. Scripture has Jesus doing just this on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” In Jesus we have God’s idea and example of love personified. Thanks for making me meditate on love. Thanks for spurring me on to live it out.

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    • Jesse, thanks for sharing the point that Jesus himself lived out his teaching. He was beaten and killed for no good reason, yet he asked for their forgiveness instead of revenge and retribution.

      I wish I had thought of that when I wrote the post!

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  6. Tough post Tim. I think it has a lot to do with our heart. If I know that one person is abusing another. Notifying the proper authorities could be the best way to love them. Not only is the person being abused protected but it also creates the potential for the abuser to get help. However, I need to be in a place to forgive the person and pray for them in a positive way. Again it has to do with my heart.

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  7. Tim Ay says:

    Good post, Tim. I agree wit all you said. Loving our enemy does not mean putting ourselves in a position of ongoing abuse, but it does mean forgiving others. Sometimes tough love also means assuring that appropriate punishment is applied by the proper authorities in the hope that the person reforms. Their response to our forgiveness is not our concern. Our concern is our response, and then leave the outcome to God.

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  8. michaeleeast says:

    In preparation for your post on war
    you may be interested to read John Churcher’s Rememrance Day sermon
    on Redemptive Violence at Permission to Speak.

    Like

  9. Phil Johns says:

    I enjoyed reading the sermon Michael until I got to the last sentence. It’s the kind of vacuous sentiment that John Lennon might have put into one of his songs. People like Hitler don’t care about ‘lessons of history’. He came within twenty miles of our borders here in the UK and if we hadn’t stood up to him goodness know where we would be now. Preachers are still free to preach whatever silliness they like. Hitler would have had other plans for them!

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  10. Good post and great comments here. One of the things I love about the teachings of Jesus is how they often make me realize how inadequate spiritually I am! I totally agree with this verse, and I am generally against the death penalty. But something happened to someone dear to me and the jury sentenced the criminal with the death penalty. I felt conflicted, until appeal after appeal showed how criminals can game the judicial system for technicalitites – and maybe even go free again only to commit the same or worse crime. Then I found myself hopeing that death penalty stuck… I also agree with turn the other cheek, but somehow if someone treatens me, or especially my familiy, with violence, I think I know how i’ll react, and it will fall short of Jesus. I love Jesus for that, he sets a standard that I know I will at times not be able to live up to.

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    • Eric, I often feel inadequate when I read the words of Jesus, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. He causes me to change from within. And even though I don’t measure up fully to what I understand from him, I am still a changed person.

      Like

  11. sheila0405 says:

    Come here often. We have wonderful discussions around here! It’s nice to see you!

    Like

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