“Love your Enemies” – What does this Mean?

Can you help me understand these passages in light of how we are to treat the abuser? Jesus seems to teach us two diametrically opposed responses to those who do evil  — one of which is found in these verses.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

I was recently asked this very good question.  Here was my reply.

So, aren’t we supposed to be telling abuse and domestic violence victims that God wants them to stay in the abuse, make themselves available for more abuse, let the abuser keep right on withholding money and resources from them, and wait for God to reward them on that Day? You have the same thing in the parallel passage in Matthew:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

In light of these commands, do we have this whole abuse thing all turned around when we tell victims to divorce the abuser or to turn them in to the police? No. Not at all. Let me show you why.

Jesus is teaching that His people are to emulate God the Father. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Sons bear the character of their father. If we are sons of God, then we behave as He does, reflecting our spiritual DNA given us in the new birth. So, how does God treat the wicked who are His enemies?

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil
  • He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good
  • He sends rain on the just and on the unjust

See it? Jesus is teaching us about God the Father’s common grace. Common grace is undeserved favor that God shows to all people in common. It is an expression of His mercy and love toward all — a general mercy and love. Not His specific, electing and redeeming love shown to His own in Christ, but His grace poured out on all human beings. Just and unjust. Wicked and righteous. This is the thing Jesus is teaching about in these passages — how we are to reflect our Father’s character through showing all people, including enemies and persecutors, common grace.

How do we do that? Well, first of all we do not seek personal vengeance upon them. Pray for justice, yes. Turn them into the police, yes. Pray that Christ will soon come and mete out His perfect justice upon the wicked. Yes. Pick up a rifle and go snipe them? No! That is personal vengeance and we are to leave it to the Lord. Let Him repay them.

So let’s bring this home to the case of the domestic abuser and his victim. What is Jesus telling us in these verses about such a case? It is this:

  • Realize that they are indeed an enemy and a persecutor. Jesus is not telling us to pretend that this isn’t so. He tells us He is talking about “those who are evil, those who strike us, those who are our enemies.” There is no fiction here that He is promoting. “Well, he’s really a good guy who has just had a rough go of it in life and if you truly get to know him you would see that and love him.” Nope! None of that abuser-enabling stuff here. Jesus calls these people what they are. Our enemies.
  • But in dealing with these enemies, knowing full well that they ARE enemies, we extend the Lord’s common grace to them when the opportunity comes. We don’t zap them immediately — we leave that to the Lord. We don’t let them go hungry or naked — we give to them expecting nothing in return. If we see one of them laying on the road bleeding after a car wreck, we render first aid and call an ambulance. God the Father does these things and so must we. (In fact, the true Christian will WANT to do these things and we have to take care that this Spirit-led love in us is dealt out wisely or we get ourselves into trouble!).

NONE of this instruction precludes us from seeking justice or from escaping the abuse. None of it requires remaining married to the wicked abuser or keeping silent about the abuse. (In fact, God’s common grace sometimes comes in the form of His withholding of good things in order to lead someone to repentance).

So the question to ask in order to answer our quandries about Jesus’ teaching in this regard is, “Well, how does God Himself treat the wicked today?” “How did Jesus respond to His enemies when He was here on this planet?” The Lord, you see, showed them common grace, warned them to repent, announced the coming Day of Judgement to them, and told them they were children of the devil and would perish if they didn’t believe in Him.

But He never requires His people to be bound together with the wicked, to remain married to those who abuse them, or to just “suck it up and take it.” Nope. He doesn’t.  So don’t let anyone claim that He does.

13 thoughts on ““Love your Enemies” – What does this Mean?

  1. Anon1

    This is very helpful. These verses get stressed so often, right there with the whole ‘do not judge!’ ‘we are all sinners’ mentality. And there is indeed a Spirit-led desire to help others that can be so dangerous, as enemies know how to trigger it best, and exploit it, and use it to our own downfall.

    More on this topic would be great.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Z

    Thank you, Pastor, for dissecting those passages and clearing up the meanings in practical terms for the victims of abusers.
    Such condemnation is often wrongly heaped onto the weary and often scarred shoulders and backs of victims by wrong “Christian teaching” on these issues.
    What further danger, harm and unnecessary suffering many victims (including myself) have endured as a result.
    God’s character is revealed in His Word. He’s a GOOD FATHER. He wants His children SAFE! And He wants them NOT to be consorting with or in harm’s way from known, unrepentant, evil, dangerous people.
    I have given all vengeance to God, while still holding these criminals to earthly accountability.
    I pray they come to repentance.
    But I confess, Pastor, I need more of that “spirit-fed love” you refer to for me to “feel love” for my especially violent abusers (who continue to try to and would destroy me if they could find a way to do it.)
    I can be obedient to the command to show a common grace/love as my heavenly Father does. Even that is hard, but doable.
    But feeling “loving” towards demon spirits? I’m not there. This needs supernatural intervention for me. I’m not resistant or defiant. I just can’t feel it. But I’m willing and open to God’s spiritual intervention. I welcome it.
    Thank you again for addressing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy

    God never demands we stay in a destructive relationship and keep allowing someone to hurt us, we are to take the steps necessary to ensure our safety and see justice done by reporting to the appropriate authorities and not seeking vengeance on that person, but allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions and behaviors.

    Our pastor did a sermon about Matt 5:39 about a year ago and his perspective was excellent!
    “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
    Since a majority of people are right handed, In order for someone to slap you on the right cheek they are backhanding you which in Jesus day was considered an insult. Backhanding a person is pretty violent really, and it’s often portrayed that way in movies about abuse where the abuser (typically a boyfriend or husband) suddenly gets mad and backhands the woman.

    So to turn the other check is NOT suggesting we just keep giving them something to hit, it is actually turning away from that person and not engaging with them. It is turning your back on the person and walking away.

    When my pastor taught on this scripture, it was the first time I’d ever heard that perspective before and even after all these later since my abusive ex left, it was like a light bulb going on.

    Thank you for an excellent explanation of what it means to love our enemies.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Jeff Crippen

        Anon5 – well, apart from those who misuse this scripture to guilt us into having to “love” the wicked, I have found that the most common explanation of this passage is that Jesus is teaching us not to take personal vengeance on those who wrong us. But to leave vengeance to the Lord. One thing is for sure, Jesus is not teaching us that self-defense is wrong for a Christian.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Anon1

      Oh, I misread your comment, Amy, as I totally missed the third to last paragraph. Backhanding is still quite a choice morsel of insulting abuse for abusers today. Guys seem to really like doing it and threatening it.

      Self-defense needs to be encouraged over and over again in women and children, because verses like “turn the other cheek” get told, disproportionately to women and girls, and eventually they are but helpless prey, socialized out of any healthy self-preservation. 1

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Amy

        I agree. I too had this particular verse thrown at me. I was told that it was my lot in life to live in an abusive marriage and to just turn the other cheek, again and again and again.

        That’s why I found it interesting when my pastor spoke about this verse. It’s the first time ever I’ve heard about it being a backhand hit to the right cheek since most people are right handed. So essentially my pastor was making the point that to be hit that way is very violent and to turn the other cheek is to not return that violence, but to turn away from it.
        I think it makes perfect sense and was a real eye opener to me.

        Like

        1. Anon1

          I had a rough day. I couldn’t process basic things. Yes, right-handed people striking the right cheek of someone else involves a backhanded slap, which is meant to be extra insulting and humiliating.

          Traumatized others know how triggers work and some days are really rough going. I was off, Amy, not your original comment. Sorry about that.

          It’s really telling that certain weaponized Bible verses can be triggering when having rough days. It does make perfect sense.

          But still, there are lots of Bible verses and it’s telling how indoctrinated certain ones are, how they get used to keep women in dangerous abuse and violence. ‘wives submit’ ‘turn the other cheek’

          Wifebeating is so immoral and repulsive, especially the wifebeaters who love to backhand, as well as dramatically threaten it, and then claim some nonexistent moral high ground in stating they didn’t use a fist, but kept an open hand, so there should be some round of applause or appreciation…..puke, puke, puke.

          No more comments from me. Sorry about my confusion, Amy. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Amy

          Hey Anon1,
          I didn’t take offense to your reply, and I totally agree with you about such verses being used to keep women and children prisoners in abusive relationships. Have had it done to me as well and I’m so grateful that my eyes are open to it these days so that I can offer the support and encouragement to women that they don’t often get from other Christians in their lives.

          Keep commenting, don’t stop speaking out.
          Blessings!

          Like

  4. Z

    Amy,
    Thanks for that explanation/lightbulb moment! Helps me too.
    I would add that it doesn’t seem “loving” to our abusers or enemies to allow them to keep sinning against us unrepentantly. Virtually ensuring their place in hell. So removing ourselves and praying for their true repentance-from a great distance!-is the living thing to do.
    My issue is with “feeling love” for my abusers. Who still abuse me and want to destroy me. Smear my name and integrity, turned all against me for turning them in to the authorities for their crimes against me. I’m a pariah even to Christian friends because I held “family” accountable! No one seems to care that they violently attacked their “family” member viciously! So be it. Many are deceived by the tactics of the enemy. I won’t be one of them anymore. I see them clearly-family or not. Purest evil I’ve ever known.
    But I want to fully obey God. That seems to mean more than loving them by praying for their repentance. How do I make myself feel real love for pure evil people?
    God Himself has to help me with that. And I do pray He does.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy

      Z,
      I think God is telling us not to hate our enemies, because hate is so destructive to our own beings. When we hold hate in our heart towards others it breeds bitterness and anger which only serves to destroy ourselves.

      I believe Pastor Crippen explained it well, that to love our enemies doesn’t mean we ‘feel’ love towards them, per se, it simply means we don’t try to do harm to them, an eye for an eye, and are even willing to help them if necessary.

      We are all human and struggle greatly with being able to love those who have hurt us, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep praying for God to give you peace and show you what he desires for you.

      Praying for you…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Z

        I agree Amy. I have long been successful at fending off feelings of hate or bitterness towards my abusers. And towards those “Christians” who’ve betrayed me and their God by standing by the sides of these known abusers, standing silent in knowledge of the abuses or choosing to stay neutral in the face of clear evidenced evil. All those things to me are also evil. But I don’t give any place in myself to hate, as I know it will harm my walk with Jesus. And I’ve turned the whole of the situation over to God’s capable hands. He will avenge much better than I could. And He promises to do so.
        I thank you for helping to ease any “guilt”(??) I might tend to feel sometimes because I don’t “feel” the emotion of “love” for those who are so evil-especially those who so violently harmed me over and over. Lack of hatred/bitterness and the kind of common grace God has for all mankind is as far as I’ve been able to get. If that’s not pleasing to God I have asked Him to show that to me and to teach me how to have those feelings for them. Maybe I am being too hard on myself. Considering the depth of their depravity. Maybe all that God feels for them is common grace too. He does turn His back on hardened hearts and gives some people over to their reprobate state.
        I still obediently pray for their repentance. God wants none to perish in hell so that is what I must want too.
        But their continued habitual, unrepentant, violent and depraved abusive acts towards me all fall under the Proverbs 6:16-19 “things that God hates/detests”. And so many of the Psalms cry out to God for the destruction of the wicked who do those detestable things God hates. I have been praying those too. Those Psalms are in the Bible for a reason. And the psalmists had no guilt asking God for specific punishments against those wicked people who arrogantly abused them.
        I feel less conflicted about both praying for the repentance of my abusers-though it appears by their actions to be an impossibility-because nothing is impossible for God. I’ve earned that the nature of abusers is to think they are gods and above all authority and rarely will bow down and submit to God’s authority. They believe all should bow down to them!
        God will judge and avenge them very harshly, as the Psalms describe in detail and cry out to God for, according to the evil they have done, if they don’t repent.
        Thank you again Pastor Crippen for helping in all your writings/teachings to educate victims on the minds and behaviors of abusers. And in this blog entry, to clear up the seemingly opposing commands as to “what” to pray for my abusers and what “loving” them requires of me. I feel much more at peace about it.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. GypsyAngel

    Excellent explanation of how these passages have been used to further harm victims of abuse. Also, a very good explanation of how they may be correctly applied to real life. When I used to seek assistance from un-knowledgeable counsel…these passages were trotted out to support the abuser in his ongoing abuse by being throw in my face on how badly I was acting toward that abuser (poor misunderstood man, victim of an unchristian sinfull wife) they were also used as evidence as to why I should be removed from the church rolls as an “unrepentant sinner, disobedient wife, and parishioner.”

    While I do pray daily for my ex, I will not trust him with my life ever again, even should he show the fruit of a changed heart, he tried to take it way to many times. Would I feed him if he were hungry? Yes…but not at my table. Would I give him shelter? Yes… but not under my roof. Would I stop and care for him if I found him bleeding on the side of the road? Most Certainly! But then I would call 911 and let them take it from there. Do I believe that God can change the heart and mind of my ex? (and I pray for that daily and loudly) I do, but he has to ask God to do that and then be open to the instruction of the Holy Spirit as I was when God started to do His work in me. I know him for the snake he is and I would not willingly pick him up lest he bites me again.

    For me at this point, turning the other cheek means that I will leave my heart open to the love of another should God so choose that path for me and my life. I am content at present to heal from the childhood wounds that created me a target for an abuser in the first place and heal from the wounds of that abusive marriage. I am content with the work God has given me in helping other survivors to heal and grow. Hopefully, I will eventually become the woman of God that He created me to be before all the damage happened. God is making Beauty from the ashes of my life.

    Liked by 2 people

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