Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. last week, we are reflecting on the qualities that made him a great leader, not only in the Civil Rights movement, but also in the faith.
Reflecting on this passage of scripture, Martin Luther King, Jr. said the following in a sermon in 1957, “It’s significant that he does not say, ‘Like your enemy.’ Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul.”
“Agape in your soul”. Beautiful words. “agape” is the Greek word used in the above scripture, translated to “love.” Agape love is an unselfish, goodwill-seeking love for all people. Agape seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love that allows one to love all people, not because they are likable, but because God loves them. This is the love we are called for everyone, including those whom we dislike. This is a remarkable love that few people achieve on a regular basis, but all of us should be striving toward. And when it reaches our soul, we can live and lead as King did.
In today’s politically charged climate, I often agree with particular leaders, advocates, and game-changers, but I disagree with the hateful rhetoric they use to make their point. We have a tendency to demonize those who disagree with us. We make them into evil people and assume they have malicious intent. While there is evil in the world and some people do have malevolent intentions, disagreement does not make it so. And beyond that, we are called to show agape love, even to those who have ill intent. How would it change the dialogue if we truly loved our enemies, our disagreers, and our opposition? Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated this sort of love and practiced non-violent protest, even in the midst of violence, and it changed the history of our nation.
Pray today for God’s agape love to reach your soul. Then see how it changes you and those around you.
Dear Lord, help me grow deep in agape love. Show me the places in my community where I can make a change. Guide me to recognize the limit of my powers and give me courage, strength and grace to act as needed. Help me use my freedom for good. Draw me into new spaces and guide me to share my space with others. Create in me a heart full of grace and a soul full of love for your people. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.