What Did Jesus Mean “Love Our Enemies?”
Jesus did not wish to encourage domestic violence or other abuses when advising us to love our enemies or turn the other cheek. God doesn’t desire those who seek to follow Him to live in guilt because of any confusion regarding His ways. The Bible surely is not advocating a spouse continue to allow their partner to beat them or that soldiers cannot protect themselves in times of war. War with your enemies may be necessary to either protect yourself or others abused by evil dictators. Jesus certainly challenged the Pharisees who were giving God a bad name.
What did Jesus mean when He said: If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek; if someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt (Mt. 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-36). These illustrations must be taken somewhat figuratively or Jesus’ guidance would lead to nudism. Jesus’ audiences often only aspired to follow the letter of the law or love only those who loved them. The law can guide but Jesus came to change hearts. The law can condemn adultery but lust is a form of betrayal as well. The law cannot speak to forgiveness or showing mercy.
It is natural and appropriate to seek vindication from enemies (i.e. Rev 6:10-11). It is supernatural to show grace and forgiveness to those who seek it. Compensation is often impossible. Reputations that have been stolen for a time cannot be returned or childhood memories erased. How can one pray for enemies? We can hope they seek forgiveness, rather than continue to harm others, and stand ready to forgive. Jesus simply was saying there are times to show mercy than seek justice. There are times to not demand being treated as we want to be treated.
The Bible is not contradictory when it says to love your enemies but have nothing to do with divisive people (Titus 3:10). Uh, our enemies may have a touch of divisiveness in them from time to time. Jesus obviously had certain audiences in mind when He encouraged loving your enemies. The Bible often warns followers to confront one another morally and if they refuse to listen withdraw fellowship in hopes this leads to change. But, our enemies are often those who may not have tasted or understand Jesus’ life changing message. We may only convince others of our Creator’s love by demonstrating God’s unimaginable love.
God would want us to use our brains and not feel guilty when we must protect ourselves physically or emotionally. I may give a brief talk to parents about the radical idea that they must love their teenagers the way they wished their parents had loved them at that age despite all their crazy behaviors. We must choose our battles. In a brief talk I may not address that parents must show tough love sometimes for the sake of change, such as if drug use or bullying is involved. God is capable of guiding our actions individually in hopes of leading others to God.
Jesus expected us to use our common sense in difficult relationship situations. But, our natural inclination sometimes is to demand vindication or not go the extra mile. Allow God to tug at your heart. Seek the wisdom of others. Make the very best decision you can at the time and have no regrets. God doesn’t want us living a life of guilt or always looking back wondering if we did the right thing. Attempt to show radical, unimaginable love in hopes of impacting the world for good as Jesus did.