We could answer the question asked in the title with a simple and firm response, “Because Jesus commanded us to!” Every inquisitive seeker of truth and wisdom comprehends the importance of the Proverb, “with all of our learning, we get understanding.” Why is loving our enemies so important? What positive effect or benefit comes from it?
Let me share what obedience to this puzzling and difficult to obey command has done for me. Because I am a bold, passionate communicator of all that is in my own heart and I fearlessly stand for what I believe to be important, I have always had critics. I have said in humor, “I may be often wrong, but I’m never in doubt!” Those who disagree may find both my message and style offensive. They not only attack what I believe, but the manner in which I say it.
My fervor, firmness, and passion can come across as anger. In the past some in media labeled me “God’s angry man.” Photographers sent to cover my speaking events would try to find me with an angry expression on my face as though as I was a radical Ayatollah or terrorist, or perhaps Batman’s Joker. The pictures were often found on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, or connected to an article covering the event at which I spoke.
Lightheartedly from the platform I would look at the photographers from the news agencies and tell them, “I want to make your job easier because I know what you are looking for.” I would then begin to make distorted, angry expressions and gestures that would cause them to laugh so hard they could hardly hold their camera still. Nevertheless, the fact was, I was seen as an angry preacher.
The accusations by my enemies that I came across angry were actually correct. I found myself living with anger that bordered on rage because of the lifelessness and indifference that I witnessed in so many churches around the country. I was also angry over the fact that I found it extremely difficult to get churches of the same denomination, and especially those of separate sectarian views, to come together for even the most meaningful cause: winning people to Christ. They too often wanted to know who was going to get the credit, who was going to be in the counseling area, or which church would get the most members and greatest benefit from the evangelistic crusade. I found that very disturbing and in my youth and immaturity would attack what I perceived to be damaging to the cause of Christ and the Christian witness. I was speaking truth because God by no means approves dissension, division, or strife. He actually equates that with immorality and other forms of extreme wickedness, so I felt justified attacking it.
I found myself angry over the fact that people professed to be Christians, but seemed to have no zeal for God. I would tell them that in the New Testament, the Christians were so excited about what they had seen and heard that even those who threatened to arrest them could not stop them. They said in Acts 4, “We can’t help but speak what we’ve seen and heard.” I wondered why we so seldom were able to observe bold Christian witnesses.
My approach was wrong, however, because I did it in anger and with little expression of love and compassion. My critics—those who made it clear they were my enemies—were actually pointing out something that I needed to hear, not just from them and from a few friends, but from God. Rather than being inspirational, I simply attacked in anger. I am sure many Christian friends tried to tell me, but it was actually my enemies who got my attention by blatantly and harshly telling me the truth.
When I recognized the anger, I took it to God and He did a deep and transforming work in my life. I realized I had oftentimes been shouting at my own personal tormentors. Both the critical journalists and God’s Word said those “tormentors” were demons, and they were both right! Strange how the media and critics react when a preacher, politician, or leader makes a reference to the fact of “demons” or the “powers of darkness.” They are normally mocked and ridiculed. The fact is, however, these unseen powers do pull strings and manipulate people as though they are puppets.
God used my critics and my enemies, to lead me to examine my own heart and allow Him to change it to a broken heart for everything that concerns Him. I have become a very compassionate confronter. I have not lost boldness or firmness when making a point and I am passionate about what I believe. It saddens me, however, when my passion comes across as anger or rage. I am seeking to always be on-guard and clear. My enemies taught me that what they saw as anger was in fact a revelation of something God wanted to deal with and make me more teachable. I am no longer carried by anger, but by love and with all my heart I seek to live as soft, yielded clay not only in the hands of God who is seeking to press and shape Christ into my life, but also recognize He will use critics and enemies to help chisel away at rough places in my life. God uses their abrasiveness to help hone my life into a keen cutting edge for God’s kingdom purpose. I have learned to love those I had been previously taught to avoid and those with whom I may disagree. I am learning to speak the truth in love, not just to those who will agree, but to those who very vocally disagree. I am finding open doors because love and communication with others who have a different view can have a transforming effect on both sides.
Too many times I have watched in church settings and denominational gatherings the greatest animosity and fierce arguments manifesting openly because each side sees themselves as guardians of the truth. This is the example much of the world is observing in churches, denominations, and certainly in Congress and among political candidates. They appear to be on a “seek and destroy” mission, rather than a mission to “seek and find” the necessary answers. Until the church sets the proper example, I don’t think we should be surprised that we don’t see meaningful dialogue among national leaders and political parties. Presently I am witnessing very positive progress on the part of church leaders and the faith community as displayed clearly in the “Under God INDIVISIBLE” conference. See for yourself!
I am now finding myself a mediator between diverse groups and an inspiration for unity among leaders to find common ground to effectively address and correct our commonly recognized problems. God’s transforming power is released when we speak the truth in love, even to those who are considered to be enemies and critics. While holding fast to truth and our convictions, we must not be guilty of violating the great commandments to love God and our neighbors.
When correction is necessary for others (enemies, families, friends), what makes it work? First of all I suggest you recognize this fact: the greatest teacher cannot teach someone with the stubbornness of a mule, but a great student can learn from the worst teacher and devastatingly painful experiences. God’s purpose is to shape us in His image and not only reveal Himself to us, but through us so that others may see Him glorified in our lives. When we allow Him to shape us, we can learn through truth spoken in love or from harsh critics we consider enemies. Over the last 20 years, I have watched with joy many former critics become close friends and supporters.
The New Testament church limited their ability to learn from the greatest teachers because they had divided foolishly saying, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Peter.” The apostle Paul made it clear when you pledge your allegiance to anyone including great spiritual leaders rather than to God you will lack understanding. You become like little children unable to comprehend. This is the case with too many believers today. We must also remember when the truth is spoken in love, it does sometimes come across as a strong and necessary rebuke. Don’t mistake a person speaking with authority as lacking love. Paul rebuked Simon Peter to his face just as Jesus did, and then he shared it in writing not only with the church, but in the Bible for the whole world to read.
What can we possibly learn from this? Speaking the truth in love is of utmost importance, but of even greater priority is understanding that the student yielded and committed to God’s purpose is always more important than the teacher. All creation speaks clearly to those with eyes to see and ears to hear!
An effective tactic of satan is to get us to see those who can prove to be our best friends as an enemy. The real key to the transforming effect of truth is determined by the one receiving it. I have been corrected by people who delivered the truth to me in a totally inappropriate, unloving manner. Why did I learn from it? Because I love my enemy, if that’s what they are perceived to be, and allow what is said to be examined and applied by the Holy Spirit for Kingdom purpose. For those of us seeking to teach others, let it always be in love with redemptive purpose. We can all discern actions by asking are they intended to redeem the individual or to damage or even destroy them. If you want to measure the bottom line intent of any truth or correction spoken, was it delivered with redemptive purpose in mind or destructive? If it was intended to destroy the individual rather than the works of the devil, it will prove non-redemptive and ineffective.
I am seeking to speak the truth in love, but I also want to be willing to learn, accept and apply truth delivered from any source, however inappropriate it may seem to me. May God help us each to yield our lives to the power and pressure of God’s shaping hands whether from His fingers or filtered through them.