Why Must I Love My Enemies? Orthodox Priest Explains the Words of Jesus

Christ calls to what may seem impossible. But St Gregory Palamas reminds us that this love is inate to humanity. But this call to love is more than any humanitarian teaching.

Originally appeared at: Father Spyridon


In the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to saint Luke we have Christ's command that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Scholars tell us that this is one of the earliest teachings from Christ. God becomes man, dwells amongst us and then He begins His earthly ministry with that call to repentance and then early on is this foundational teaching one of the basic teachings of christianity: we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But Christ develops this teaching in that sixth chapter, He says, what good is it if you do unto others who treat you well, that are good to you, if you treat them likewise you do no more than the sinners. Christ says, you must do good unto others even your enemies. You must love your enemies, He says in that sixth chapter, our enemies, we must love our enemies. Who amongst us when we examine our hearts can truly say, "I've loved my my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my husband or wife as I should have". Who can honestly say that we have truly loved those who love us as we know we should. So then, we who perhaps cannot even love as the sinners can love we find ourselves falling short and looking at this calling to love our enemies and wander at the great distance between our hearts and that which christ calls us to. 

This assumption that Christ makes that we will even love those in our families and our friends as we should even the sinners, he says, will do this. So we must call ourselves to account examine our hearts and even before we imagine we are ready to love our enemies we need to address the the real condition of our hearts and look at how we are treating those people around us. Are we the first to rush to forgive? Are we the first always to apologize? Do we place others before ourselves, even within our families, even within the circle of people who love us? Do we treat them like this? But this is the basics, this is the very foundation. Beyond this we are called to love even those who would persecute us. It's an extraordinary command from Christ. Am I first to forgive, to make myself in the wrong, to acknowledge the other above myself?

Sermon on the Mount - Bible Verses & Meaning

Now the crowds listening to Jesus, they would have recognized immediately the rabbinic teaching that you should not do unto others that which you do not want done to you - a negative teaching. And Christ takes this this negative precept and turns it into a positive commandment. It isn't that we are simply not to do those things which we don't want unto us, as the jews taught, but to actually go beyond. To go beyond that which we don't want, to do good, to be a blessing to others. Are we truly a blessing to others? But we must be careful, we must be careful how we approach this teaching, how we try to understand it.Because Jesus isn't calling us to love others in the hope or expectation that others will love us in return. This is not the command of Christ. Christ calls us to love without any expectation that others will love us back. It is a love that is freely given, freely given, without expectation, without tie, without a price. Love must be freely given, because to all that love is given we must have a hope, a hope that they may be saved. This is when we ask ourselves, "why, why would Christ call us to love in this way, doesn't it make me vulnerable? Doesn't it open me up to abuse, ridicule, how am I not protecting myself this way? Why would God want us to do this? Well, Jesus goes on to say in that sixth chapter of Luke, "Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful", even as God is merciful we are called to be merciful.

Now, we are finite sinful creatures and we cannot perform the the acts of mercy that God performs in His infinite love and his infinite mercy. But we are called by Christ to share in the same spirit of mercy, the spirit of mercy. This is not this is not some academic or or even humanitarian teaching, it's not some kind of ethic or morality based in humanitarian needs and recognition. Christ is confronting us with the the reality if we wish to be followers of Christ, if we wish to truly be Christian, then this is how we must love. We must try to love and forgive everybody - everybody - even those people we do not wish to forgive, even those people who have hurt us so much that we hold on to the hurt and let the anger fester. Christ says, be merciful, forgive. God's infinite love and mercy is that which we are called to participate in, to receive His grace and to share in this love and mercy for others. And it is grounded in the faith that every man has the opportunity to be saved. Of course, most will reject it - the tragedy! 

That this opportunity for salvation is offered to all and yet most will reject it. But no one is to be judged by us, no one is judged as lost by us. We are not to go around ever deciding if someone is judged as lost, that they can never be saved. That is not our judgment. If God is willing to forgive, if God is willing to accept a sinner who repents, how can we make ourselves stricter than God, higher than God in his judgment. Think of ourselves, were we not that one sheep that was lost and are we not just a sheep that has repented and sought the fold of Christ, but are we not those who have known God's love and continue to sin? Who amongst us can say we are perfect? So we must not judge others and condemn them, and if we do not condemn them then we must love them. We must believe that they have the capacity to be saved, that the image of God is alive in them, in every person, just as God was willing to see His image in us. It requires God's grace.

God gives us this commandment in order that we may be sanctified, that we may be cleansed, that we may be healed. Christ commands us to love that He may remake us. When we choose to be obedient to this command of love we are restored. Something of God's image is being remade in us purified. This is the transformation that Christ is calling us to, and it requires that we struggle that we overcome these worldly impulses, these impulses of anger and passions that we treat anybody as anything less than a child of God in the image of God. And when we strive and struggle over these fallen impulses to do otherwise, then we are being restored, because when we struggle we attract God's grace to us,, the Holy Spirit is alive and working in us. And when we are obedient to this command then we truly experience God's love as we love.

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