What If I Don’t Feel Like Loving My Enemy?

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Jesus commanded that we love our neighbors, and even our enemies:

  • Matthew 5:44. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
  • Matthew 22:35-40. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Sometimes, however, we don’t feel friendly toward our neighbors, and even more rarely do we feel friendly toward our enemies. Is Jesus asking us to have “warm, fuzzy” feelings about those who are our oft-unlikeable neighbors and even our opponents?

The word Jesus uses for “love” in these passages does not denote what we often associate with love in contemporary society. Jesus’ word is a form of agape, the Greek word for that particularly Christian, selfless desire for the welfare of others, as described in 1 Corinthians 13. If we have agape for our enemy then we may not feel like having a cup of coffee with him, but if spending time with him would help him to be better off overall, we would—especially if it meant talking to him about his soul and trying to get him to be saved.

So, even if we don’t feel like treating our neighbor or enemy well, we should go ahead and treat him well anyway. C.S. Lewis accurately described the situation:

But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. . . . The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less (Mere Christianity [Harper Collins, 2000], pp. 130-131).

Christians must be known as those who treat all people around them well. Paul wrote, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

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