How to Actually Love Your Enemies

By Jessica Brest



Loving those we disagree with is always difficult. Our natural inclination is to despise them and, if we don’t despise them, we are apathetic towards them. But the problem that arises with this—while it is self-satisfying and feeds our sense of pride—is that neither are what God calls us to do. He does not call us to hate, or to simply not care, but instead He calls for action; He calls us to love our enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV)

In this verse, Jesus is presenting a common misconception in Jewish society at the time. While the scriptures never prescribed the people of God to “hate” their enemies, they were instructed to love their neighbors. It is possible that the Pharisees added on the “hate your enemy” as a misunderstanding of the hatred we are to have for those who hate God (not who hate us).

“Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.” – Psalm 139:21-22 (ESV)

One helpful explanation to break down what the Psalmist really means comes from one of John Piper’s articles, “Do I Not Hate Those Who Hate You, O Lord?” says, “There is a kind of hate for the sinner (viewed as morally corrupt and hostile to God) that may coexist with pity and even a desire for their salvation. You may hate spinach without opposing its good use.” Piper explains that the type of “hate” that those who fear the Lord are to have is for the moral attitude of those who actively hate God. This is not to say we are to hate them as a person, we are—as the Psalmist claims—to hate their work to strip glory away from God and bring others down with them. The important thing to notice here is that our hatred revolves around God and others’ attitudes toward Him, not ourselves. Understanding this can help us redefine who are real enemies are as Christians.

Additionally, an important note to make is that the Psalmists do not only advocate for hatred of the enemies of God, but for love as well:

They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved …
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
I went about mourning
    as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
    as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
    assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
    They slandered me without ceasing. – Psalm 35:12-15 (ESV)

Now we can see how Jesus’ re-explanation of who we are to love as Christians was necessary for the Jews. He was clarifying a truth that was already there but misunderstood by the teachers of the Scriptures for years. By teaching them that they are to love both neighbors and enemies, He is teaching us more about God’s own character. In other words, Jesus is teaching us how to act like God—God hates evil and all that opposes Him, but He loves His creation.


1. We Must Pray for Them

Just as Jesus prescribed, we should pray for our enemies. This does two things for us: it reminds us that vengeance lies in the hands of the Lord not in ours and it also softens our heart. Prayer is a time for God to speak to you, so if there is anything that is wrong in your life, He can show you as well—teaching you to criticize yourself before you criticize others.

Additionally, this gives us the opportunity to hand justice over to God (where it should be) rather than taking it into our own hands. Praying for our enemies leads us to praying for their salvation, for them to be led away from their evil actions, and it helps us grow newfound compassion for them as a fellow human. Praying for our family members is one way for us to show our love for them—extending this love to our enemies is a way to love them while also potentially impacting their lives forever. Prayer is powerful.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

2. We Must Hate the Evil That is Causing Them to Fall

Love for our enemies means, fundamentally, that we hate our enemies for wholeheartedly joining in the evil that will ultimately cause their damnation (John 5:29).” – Pastor Jonathan Parnell in, “Do You Love Your Enemies Enough to Hate Them?

Just as the Psalmists exemplified above, our love for our enemies should also encompass a hatred for the evil they are partaking in. For those who believe that love never involves any form of disagreement, hatred, or anger, remember this: God Himself calls us away from sin. When we repent of our sins, He forgives us and sees us as pure through the lens of Jesus, but if we do not repent and continue to deeply pursue evil, God will give us up to that evil and his righteous anger will allow us to suffer eternally after death. Does God not love us because He does not accept us as we are and instead asks us to change? Of course not! It is because of His love for us that He wants us to change and holds hatred for the evil we are pursuing.

And why does God hate that evil? Because it is harming us. Pastor Parnell puts it well when he says that the evil our enemies pursue, “will ultimately cause their damnation.” If we truly love our enemies, we will not want them to face eternal damnation and should therefore hate the evil they are pursuing so gladly.

3. We Must Forgive our Enemies

This step involves more than forgiveness, it involves recognition that the person committing evil against you is doing so out of the deception of Satan and sin. This also works in tandem with praying for our enemies.

Learn from one of Jesus’ last words before He died:

And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” – Luke 23:34 (ESV)

Here it is also important to remember that, “Forgiving someone does not mean you no longer feel the pain of their offense.” In his article, “Forgiveness: What it is, what it is not,” Dr. Sam Storms explains what forgiving those who have hurt us actually looks like—not what it has been “idealized” to be.

  1. We Must Resign Revenge to God

Loving our enemies means that we give the duty of enacting revenge to God and God only. We may have a great desire to hurt them as badly as they have hurt us—and in some cases of disagreement, hurting a movement or party may be necessary for the common good—but individually, as we are called to love, we are called to hold back from revenge. God will take care of justice because He is a just God Himself and will always do a better job of it than we ever could.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

– Romans 12:19 (ESV)

By |2019-02-26T16:13:26+00:00February 26th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Leave A Comment