Encountering a counterpart face-to-face can seem counterintuitive. Crossing paths might lead to feeling cross. Inferences about avoidance or interaction may cloud perspectives. Somehow people who should love each other quite honestly don’t.
Or, if they do, their actions make their true feelings unclear.
But, the Bible is clear whether we like it or not.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-31, 35-36
This passage may not be difficult to obey if every relationship is in harmony. But, if there is strife, even the strongest Christians shudder.
I know I do.
Here is what I am learning.
The first step for loving anyone is to listen. When Jesus says “I say to you who hear,” He is addressing those who are obedient enough to listen. Selective hearing kicks in the moment my own voice is louder in my head than the Holy Spirit’s whisper within my heart. I have to deafen my opinion and tune in to what God has been trying to tell me from the beginning of the conflict.
God gives us the bad news first with a plan to make it all good news. Hearing the bad news first means I have something to look forward to because I know the good is coming.
“Love your enemies.” The Greek meaning of the word enemy (echthros) is “hatred” or “hostile.” In essence, I am to love those who are hostile toward me. I am to love those who hate me. Loving hostile people is not easy. Often it makes me reflect hostility back. The last thing I want to be is hostile or hateful toward anyone. Therefore, loving my enemies is not so much for their benefit as it is for mine. They probably care less if I love them. But, if I carry hatred of any kind in my heart—for them, for their actions, for the situation, for how it affects my life, for how it affects the lives of others—I am damaging my own ability to love anyone, least of all them. So, how do I get from hostility to love?
“Do good to those who hate you.” Good is kalōs, an adverb meaning “well.” Other synonyms are “beautifully,” “commendably,” “correctly,” “honorably,” and “rightly.” I like the terms “kind enough” or “well enough” because they show an effort even if my initial motivation is wrong or if I desire to protect myself from manipulation. My favorite meaning is “recover.” My goal should be to do whatever I can to recover the relationship. I should refrain from causing others the need to recover from emotional harm or lost relationships. I should retain whatever salvageable love I possess to recover from any emotional trauma or loss I have experienced. My desire should be the good enough solution that moves everyone toward recovery.
“Bless those who curse you.” Eulogeō means “to speak well of, praise.” By now, Jesus is saying to always do the opposite of what comes naturally when I am mistreated. Speaking well of someone who is hurting me is also difficult. There is an alternative. Whenever possible, say nothing. If I have to answer, I give an honest, but vague response. Then, I change the subject. Should I choose to be detailed in my concerns with others, I must be selective. Only those who can be trusted to keep silent themselves may be included in a small circle of trust. It may only include one person. For certain, God is the safest sounding board.
"Pray for those who mistreat you.” I have found the only thing that works in a hateful situation is to pray for those who should not be my enemies. When I pray for someone, I cannot be angry with them. I can shift my perspective.
What if I cannot shift my perspective this time? Starting with the good news may be better.
Beginning with prayer can change my perspective from the worst case scenario to the what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen or the what-could-be-better.
Once I have a better perspective, then blessing them and accepting the results will give me joy instead of grief.
After I see joyful results from their blessings, then my doing good will have selfless motivation.
Loving them will mean they cease to be my enemies, and I may realize they never were my enemies in the first place.
When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, He did not mean getting slapped the second time would hurt less. When He said to give up our shirts after our coats were stolen, I don't think He wanted us to think we would not suffer from the elements. What is the point in turning the other cheek?
Don't be the first one to strike and certainly don’t strike back. Conflicts would resolve faster if we stopped being cheek-strikers and coat-stealers. Yet, haven’t I slapped with my words? Haven’t I stolen warmth with my hot-headedness?
Be prepared to hurt more not less. Unless everyone is willing to resolve the conflict, someone will always be hurting. What is worse is that “someone” might not even be people involved in the conflict. Who is being hurt more because of my failure to love the people who have mistreated me? Maybe that realization will help in a faster resolution.
What is my level of give and take? According to this portion of scripture, I am to give whatever is asked and not expect to get back anything that was taken. I think this is one of the reasons the Spirit intercedes for us when we just do not have the words ourselves. I may be asked to give an apology even if I already offered one. I should expect my apology will not be accepted. I should not expect to be offered an apology in return. I ought to agree to their terms even if mine are not acknowledged.
Treat others as I wish to be treated. I think perhaps this is the key issue. How people treat one another is not about wants so much as needs. If someone needs me to treat them a certain way, I ought to honor that request, set my own wants aside, and expect I will not receive what I need in return.
Be merciful. Maybe we need a better understanding of Love.
Love was turned away at every door before He even entered the world His own words created.
Love left the family caravan for His Father's house.
Love accepted the kiss of betrayal on His cheek.
Love stood silent before judgement.
Love staggered bloodied and beaten under the weight of a cross He did not deserve.
Love could have saved Himself, but He didn't.
Love died for those who spit in His face and stabbed Him in the side.
Love died for those He called His friends and who scattered as soon as they realized they might be killed, too.
Love died for those who defined Him one minute and denied Him the next.
Love cried out, "It is finished!"
Love needs nothing less than a reciprocal sacrifice, a willingness to lay everything aside for His wants.
What are my sacrifices compared to what Love gave up? I did not deserve Love's mercy. But, because He gave His life, the least I can do is live mine for Him. The least I can do is show mercy when it is tough
to love to those who do not deserve it, who need it whether they want it or not.
to be kind enough and decide the current solution is good enough
to choose wise words, which may mean no words, to extend blessings
to keep praying.
Maybe the best gift exchange is re-gifting His Love when it is toughest to love in return.