For a short time early in the life of Antioch, we put a yellow stress ball in each of the visitors’ welcome bags. Designed for squeezing as a way to relieve tension, they had the simple phrase “Love your enemies” written on them. We envisioned the irony of people who were frustrated (likely with the behavior of someone else) squeezing bright yellow stress balls with the reminder on them of Jesus’ command (in Matt. 5:44) to love one’s enemies.
One Sunday morning, a family describing themselves as Bible-believing Christians visited. The kid argued with his Sunday school teacher about the Scripture teaching, and the dad made a fuss to the Associate Pastor on his way out of church. It wasn’t until the following day that we realized both circumstances involved the same family; at that point, one of the pastors called the family in an effort to disarm the situation and extend grace and care. During the phone call, the dad got increasingly worked up and animated. He finally blurted out, “Then to top it all off, when we got in the car to drive away my son took a stress ball out of the welcome bag. Love your enemies!? What a ridiculous phrase-that even contradicts the Bible!”
We didn’t know whether to be shocked or amused by the absurdity of a so-called Bible believing family’s inability to recognize the command to love-even our enemies-as one that comes from the Bible.
So adamant about his commitment to Scripture, this guy missed the very heart of Scripture. He was so committed to his idea of the Bible that he missed one of the things it mostly clearly commands us to observe.
We’re to love our enemies and pray for our enemies.
We have a King in Jesus who died for his enemies.
One of the saddest experiences I’ve had in ministry is when people become legalistic-focused too much on sin management-they actually develop a blindness to the explicit and primary commands of the Scriptures, such as the command to love others.
My friend, Marcel Serabungo, is a pastor in the Congo and works for World Relief. Once when he was visiting Oregon, I invited him to sit in on a staff meeting at Antioch to share a bit of his experience with us. As he shared his heart with us, he began to plead with us, as passionately as anything I’ve heard, to forgive each other of the slights, misunderstandings and ways we may hurt each other, to pursue unity at all costs, and to learn to truly love each other as a church team.
Marcel speaks in a methodical cadence and with an accent that comes from English being his second language. I found myself being entranced by his exhortation and wasn’t ready for the final point he was driving toward. He abruptly changed direction and gave this concluding remark:
“If all of you can’t learn to forgive and be reconciled here, with relatively minor and petty offenses, how can you ever hope to have anything to say with regard to forgiveness and reconciliation to the brothers and sisters in Congo and Rwanda who have suffered genocide, murder, rape or the pillaging of their land?”
Loving like Jesus is hard work.
True forgiveness and reconciliation means we’re willing to let our enemies become our friends.
We always want to out-love them, out-last them, out-rejoice them. We do not want to let enemies defeat us.
Ultimately, however, the goal is not just to survive bad relationships, but to redeem them.
Christ died for our enemies just as he died for us.
It’s a subtle yet real danger that the righteous can become self-righteous.
As Christians we must not claim to be Bible-believing yet become love-denying in practice. We cannot devour each other with petty rivalries and selfish ambition. As those who seek to do justice in the world we must understand the full implication of forgiveness and reconciliation for our own lives.
It’s rare that it happens and sometimes it feels risky or exhausting, but the Christian ethic of love means we see our current enemies as our future friends.