Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies

pope shenouda iii

 “Love your neighbor” is a phrase written in the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18). However, the phrase “hate your enemy” is not written in the Law. It is a mistaken human understanding. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught its opposite for two reasons. First, God does not command us to hate in His Law, but rather to love. Second, love and hate cannot coexist in one heart. As the Apostle says “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). The Lord calls for love even towards enemies, so it is not enough to bear with your enemy. What is more, to love them is the higher calling.

We notice in the saying of the Lord, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There are enemies, cursers, haters, offenders, persecutors and also those who do not salute us. So, life is not a bed of roses and there are opponents. What then is our situation in face of all those adversaries? And how do we deal with them? And how do we practically apply the phrase “love your enemies”?

  1. First we have to clean the heart from all the feelings of hatred toward them. In all their hatred towards us, they are just victims of the devil, our enemy and their enemy. We have to save them as much as we can from the hostility with which they treat us, not to add to it by hating them in return, as the Apostle says “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
  2. Do not speak badly about the one who offended you. It often happens that the offended party does not speak well about the offender, even going on to damage his reputation, judging him in order to justify oneself. As a result, he may lose the offender, and at the same time himself.  
  3. If the sins of the offender trouble you, tell yourself: “and I too am a sinner”. Your feeling that you are a sinner will not allow you to hate the other. As the Lord Christ did with those who wanted to stone the sinful woman seized in the very act, He said to them “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). In your feeling that you are sinner, tell yourself: I do not want the offense of this person to be a cause of bringing hatred into my heart. Also I do not want my own sins to be a cause of putting hatred against me into the hearts of people.
  4. Also do not harm your enemy and do not deal with him according to the principle of reciprocity, but bear with your enemy. The Lord does not only say “bear with” but “do good to those who hate you”. Doing good to those who persecute you is a positive action more powerful than just tolerating. By doing good for them, we can win them and change their hearts towards us. Thus, the saying of the Apostle applies:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20, 21).
    He will not bear your beneficence towards him and will find that he is weighed down with the good you did for him. So if you find your adversary in trouble, try to work to release him from it. If you find him sick, you can visit him, wish him well and can even give him a gift. Trust that all of these things will leave a mark on his soul, changing his feeling toward you and stopping his hostility.
  5. Also do good to your enemy by praying for him. Your prayers will prevent him from offending you in the future. God will intervene in his life and will change him. However, your prayers must be sincere from your heart, fulfilling the commandment of the Lord which says, “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” This prayer can be either between you and God or a spoken word of kindness from your heart wishing him well.
  6. The best way is to forget the offense of your enemy. Constantly remembering the offense will harden your heart towards him and make it always stick in your thoughts. Trying to forget his transgression will calm your heart and your thoughts as well. In time, forgetting will help love return.
  7. Whatever your enemies inflict upon you, say in faith: “everything works for the good”. As Joseph the Righteous said to his brothers who sold him, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Let this faith be in you: God can transform the evil to good and can get out of the strong something sweet. With this mindset, the stress caused by the offense will disappear from your heart.
  8. Resist all evil feelings in your heart towards the spiteful person. Always tell yourself: I have to keep the purity of my heart. I have to keep the peace and calmness in my heart. Do not let the spiteful feelings cloud the clarity of the mind and purity of the heart. If I respond with spite, trouble and stress to the outside hostility, then I will lose my inner peace, the peace in my relationships with others and my peace with God. It is better to ask for good for this person who was spiteful to me and to be calm on the inside. From the outside, my relationship with him should improve. With time, my calmness will transform to love. The Lord Christ, who gave us this commandment of loving our enemies, He Himself fulfilled it by forgiving those who crucified Him. When on the cross while He was in severe pain, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). He did not only ask for their forgiveness, but found an excuse for them. We also notice that Heaven will be witness of the love of the enemy, or witness the righteous person’s love for those who were enemies before. Saul of Tarsus was consenting to the death of St. Stephen the Archdeacon; nevertheless they met in heaven with full love. It is the same case with the feelings of the martyrs in heaven towards those who persecuted them, who later believed. We too have to love our persecutors as those martyrs loved theirs whom they met in heaven afterwards.
  9. We have to wish our enemy well and do not rejoice in any misery which affects him. If we see good things in their lives, we should praise them. We do this with full honesty knowing that every person, no matter how sinful he is, has white spots in his life deserving of praise. An example of this is the unjust steward. There is no doubt that he was unjust to his master when he discounted the money which the debtors owed. In spite of this, the Holy Bible says, “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly” (Luke 16: 8,9). In this way, he took care of his future. If you find virtue in your enemy, praise it, not with false adulation or hypocrisy, but with honesty. Be sure that this will leave a pleasant mark on his heart.

Translated by Fr. Bishoy Lamie, edited by Jessica Ryder-Khalil