Love Your Enemy: Part 2

The other day I posted Love Your Enemy: Part 1, some thoughts I'd been musing over about Jesus' command to "Love your enemies... do good to those who hate you... bless and pray for those who persecute you." A buddy of mine (Josh Mann, Youth Pastor at Salem Alliance in Salem, OR) has two very poignant questions about "loving our enemies."

He asked:

I’ve been processing this line of reasoning... And  here’s two hiccups in this camp for me and I’m curious if you’ve thought about them/how you respond to them.

1. Does a Christ-followers have any situation where killing an enemy, for any reason at all (self-defense, war, etc) is the loving thing to do?

2. You mention in your closing lines:

It’s easy to ignore.

It’s easy to judge.

It’s hard to love.

Choose love anyways.”

How do we reconcile that with 1 Cor 5:11-12 that seems to prescribe both those two things you mention not to do, and goes even further to suggest, through implication, that ignoring and judging are the loving things to do in certain instances. Not trying to be difficult…just trying to reconcile what can seem like two opposite commands but maybe in fact aren’t and what that means for interpreting others’ seemingly ‘unloving’ responses to certain people/situations.

Great questions, Josh. Here are my thoughts...

This whole concept of "loving our enemies" is complicated, overwhelming, and at times pretty frustrating. But I guess that’s part of why I believe it’s the way of Jesus, precisely because of it’s difficulty. (Which could be a whole other post: God Gave us His Spirit Because He Knew the Way of His Son Would Be So Incredibly Hard!)

I’ve certainly thought a lot about your first question, and I wish I had something worthwhile to report, considering all the thought I’ve put in to it. This is partly why I called the original post “Part I,” because I’d like to come back and talk about “loving our unknown enemies,” regarding issues of war and the like.

Here’s what I think I’d say right now. I think our vernacular gets us in trouble sometimes, and this might be one of those times. I wonder if the very word “enemy” causes more angst and confusion than is needed. I wonder if we, as Christ-followers, are actually “allowed” to have enemies?

When Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, was he actually intending for them to identify those individuals in their minds, and label them, as “enemies,” but with the caveat to love them anyways? Or was he taking an oft used idiom (“Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”) and flipping it on it’s head, in a sense undercutting the very notion of having “enemies?”

The next verses tell us that Jesus said, “He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God shows no partiality (not to say he doesn’t “have” partiality, but he doesn’t show it). Likewise then, are we not to show partiality? Are we to view our enemies as “enemies” no longer, but as neighbors?

If that’s the case, if part of following Jesus means that we challenge the whole notion of having “enemies,” then does your question get re-worded: Does a Christ-follower have any situation where killing a NEIGHBOR, for any reason at all (self-defense, war, etc) is the loving thing to do? Now I’m inclined to say, resolutely and absolutely, no. There is no instance where killing a neighbor is the loving thing to do. For we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Defer to them in humility and submission.

I realize this seems like it’s over-simplifying a very complex issue, and I don’t mean for that. This is part of why I included in my post that this outworking of “love” looks very different in different situations, and demands a prayerful and intentional approach.

When you kill a neighbor, is that loving “them,” is it loving “yourself,” is it loving “your loved ones” you’re trying to protect? Who is being loved when you take a life? I would argue that killing is not “doing good” to those who hate you.

To your second question, here’s the text (NIV) of 1 Cor 5:11,12,

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

First let me say that this is indeed a difficult passage set within a difficult topic (as you evidently are well aware). And I think the tension is good. I’m always hesitant with black and white approaches to things, and these sorts of passages remind us of the greyness (or, as I prefer, the range of colors) in life.

I have 3 thoughts about this:

1) I choose, as a follower of Jesus and an interpreter/teacher of Scripture, to give more weight to the person of Jesus than the person of Paul. This, ironically, was not how I was “taught” at Corban College. Not that any professor outright “said” that the words of Paul were more important, but the very systems of theology that Western Evangelicalism has created for us seems to create a hierarchy with Paul being of more importance on these types of issues than Jesus. And I don’t agree with that. So, I “start” with the teachings and life of Jesus, and “interpret” Paul/Peter/etc THROUGH that lens.

2) As I’m sure you know, cause you’re smarter than me, scholars often differentiate between “descriptive” texts, and “prescriptive” texts. In other words, some passages of scripture are there to “describe” what was taking place in a unique context, setting, place and time. While others are “prescribing” how it “ought” to be for ALL contexts, settings, places and times.

3) As mentioned in my original post, each situation of “loving enemies” requires different nuances, different outworkings of said love. There is no “one-size-fits-all,” unfortunately. And sometimes it is easier and/or safer to operate, or at least start from, the question “what would NOT be loving in this context” and work from there.

So, those three things said, here’s how I approach this 1 Cor passage.

I feel like Paul is being pretty specific in this letter, especially in this passage. Writing directly to the church in Corinth, he addresses a heinous act of immorality: a man being allowed to sleep with his step-mother. Then he moves to a more general position of, as he says, not associating with others who call themselves “brothers” but are sexually immoral, greedy, drunkards, etc. Is it possible, then, that this text is more descriptive than prescriptive? And even if it is prescriptive, might it have limited scope to just what was going on in Corinth?

I don’t think we are forced, by any means, to apply his command-to-the-church-in-Corinth as a timeless truth applicable to all churches. Especially in light of the person, ministry and teachings of Jesus. This is where I start with the things Jesus taught (do not judge, love enemies, do good to haters, forgive men 7×70 times, and so on) and see how Paul’s words fit within those contexts. Are there times when it is appropriate to not judge and to love our enemies? I would argue a resounding “yes, all the time. It is the way of Jesus.”

Are there times when it is appropriate to “judge those inside… and not associate with brothers?” I would argue, “possibly, but it’s hard to know.”

That’s why a prayerful spirit, humbly seeking guidance from the Spirit, is of the utmost importance. And I feel that if we are to error, we ought error on the side of love and grace over truth. Error on “what might Jesus do,” not on “what might Paul do.” For only Jesus has the words that lead to a full and abundant life.

Also, I see great connection to Paul’s second letter to Corinth, in the 5th chapter as well (ironic), about the ministry of reconciliation. He was pleading with the church to be ambassadors of reconciliation, and that they would be reconciled to God. So even though he may have told them to separate with some of the brethren, he still felt that reconciliation was the end goal. To which I think we can all say a great “amen” to!

I welcome any follow up thoughts.

TheologyColby Martin