Jesus’ command to love our enemies is difficult to obey and easy to build limits around. We know it applies to those who oppose Christ and His followers. We know it should prepare us for provocation and persecution from the antagonistic. But we don’t always consider how it pertains to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We should. Because sometimes our enemies are within our own family of faith.
Are we ready to love the enemy sitting down the row at church, knowing that they’ve gossiped about us? Are we ready to love our enemy when they make unfair judgments and fail to show us the grace they demand for themselves? Are we ready to love our enemy when they continually exclude us or make insensitive comments about the trials we face? Are we ready to love our enemy when they leave our church after throwing a grenade of accusations behind them without being willing to work through conflict?
Committing to love those who reject God can be easier than loving our enemies within the family of God. We don’t expect different from a degenerate world that opposes the Savior and has no Spirit to sanctify them. But we do expect different from fellow Christians. After all, they should be the grace-givers and peacemakers!
This side of heaven, the stain of sin plagues all of our relationships and sometimes leads brothers and sisters to live as enemies. We’ve all experienced it to some degree. Because of this, it’s important to consider our response when we’re confronted by these situations.
1. Be Humble
Our fleshly inclination is to always assume we’re right. We won’t grow in loving our enemies until we take a humble look at our own hearts and actions. Are we the gossips, are we the dissenters, are we the complainers and critics and condemners? Do we hold grudges against those who’ve sinned against us? Do we insist on our own way and reject those who get in our way? Do we get angry at being excluded when we’ve never tried to make others included?
When Christians sin against us, it often ends up exposing our sin too. It acts as a mirror, revealing our own weaknesses and uncovering the sin stowed away in our hearts before provocation. If we’re too preoccupied with others’ guilt, we’ll overlook our own need for sanctification.
2. Be Gracious
We must strive to extend grace even when those who’ve sinned against us have yet to repent. We do this by remembering that Christ pursued us while we were still enemies. He didn’t wait for us to soften, He didn’t wait for us to repent first. He loved us while we hated him. He loved us while we accused him. He loved us while we treated Him unjustly. He loved us knowing that even after salvation we’d regularly return to the vileness of sin instead of following Him. But He loved and pursued us anyway.
In Christ, we have received grace upon grace. So in Christ, we can lavish grace upon grace to others. He can help us speak in love when others gossip. He can help us judge charitably when they judge harshly. He can help us forgive in our hearts when they never seek forgiveness with their lips. He can help us build them up even as they tear us down.
3. Be Hopeful
Scripture tells us to pursue peace so far as it depends on us. Sadly, it doesn’t always depend on us. Sometimes we want peace, and our brother or sister doesn’t. Sometimes we humbly confess our sin while they clings stubbornly to theirs. Sometimes we try to reconcile, and they refuse to.
Situations like this can feel hopeless. There is no promise that every broken relationship will be restored on earth. Sometimes believers will remain enemies. But we have the rock solid hope of heaven. When we stand before the throne of the One who reconciled us to Himself, we will be reconciled to one another. The sinful scales on our eyes will be removed and we’ll see those we’ve wronged—and those who’ve wronged us—and love them. The hold of bitterness will be broken and pride will be vanquished. We will fully forgive and fully love and fully embrace as brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ll finally—finally—experience perfect unity.
Loving enemies within the Church might be one of the hardest things we ever do. But because of Christ’s supernatural work in us, we can love our brothers and sisters even when they act as our enemies. And because God is faithful to all of His promises, we can joyfully anticipate living as a fully united family in Heaven.