I can remember when my oldest son Dylan was in first grade. He came home one day and told us about a boy in his class who was choking him and kicking him at recess.
At first, I was enraged. I could only think of how to get that kid kicked out of school, or how to talk to the school principal about protecting my son. I even considered putting my son in a karate class.
Instead, my wife and I sat down with my son before bedtime each night and prayed for this boy together. We talked about what this boy must be going through at home. We prayed for his parents, and for his brothers and sisters. We asked Jesus to change this boy’s heart.
We also talked to Dylan about how he should try to avoid being alone at recess. We encouraged him to go to his teachers if he saw this boy coming after him again, and we explained to him that Jesus wants us to love those who mistreat us.
This process of praying for the bully at school took several weeks. Eventually, my son had a birthday party. He invited every kid in his class, including this boy who had bullied him.
During the party, this boy was included in every game. He sat next to my son as he blew out his candles. He was treated as an honored guest and – most importantly – as one of my son’s friends.
Our whole family, gave this boy a very clear message: We don’t hate you. We really, really love you.
I think this party was the tipping point, because, after this, the boy no longer bullied Dylan at recess. He didn’t treat anyone else this way either. The love my son had shown him really did transform him. It touched his heart and changed his behavior.
This is sort of the entire point.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32
Jesus takes the time to contrast the love the world has with the love that God demonstrates to us. In comparison, the love of the world is nothing special. The evilest among us can love the ones who are loving them. Big deal. I’m sure we could find a serial killer who loves his Mom and a rapist who loves his best friend. Even a racist loves someone.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to demonstrate the amazing, unprecedented, unexpected, over-the-top kind of love that Jesus has lavished upon us. Why? For two reasons.
First, so that even the most evil person can experience the undeserved kindness and mercy of God.
Secondly, to teach you and me how to die to ourselves and to become more like Jesus every day.
See, the command that Jesus gives us to love our enemies is intended not only to change the hearts of sinners but to change you and I as well.
No, this is not so we can become the world’s doormat. What Jesus intends is for His disciples to take advantage of any opportunity to demonstrate love to those who need it most.We cannot love this way on our own. We just can’t. The only way we can follow Jesus and obey his command to love those who are trying to harm us is if we learn to abide in Christ daily. We first have to become transformed by His love. Then, and only then, can we share this love that transforms us with those who have never known love at all.
In the book, “The Grace of Giving”, author Stephen Olford tells the story of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution named Peter Miller. Miller lived in a small town called Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and one of his dearest friends was a guy named George Washington. (Maybe you’ve heard of him?)
In the town of Ephrata, there also lived a spiteful troublemaker named Michael Wittman, who did all he could to oppose and humiliate Mr. Miller.
One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to death. When he heard the news Peter Miller set out Philadelphia to plead for the life of his enemy.
After walking seventy miles – on foot – Miller petitioned his friend, General Washington, to spare Wittman’s life.
“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend?” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s not my friend. In fact, he is the bitterest enemy I have.”
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”
And he did.
That day, Peter Miller and Michael Wittman walked back home to Ephrata together. When they arrived home, they were no longer enemies. They were friends.
As amazing as that story is, the bottom line is that Peter Miller had a different perspective when it came to difficult people, trials and persecution. He saw those things – not as battles to win – but as opportunities to love like Jesus loves.
You and I are expected to do the same.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” – 1 Peter 3:9
As followers of Jesus, you and I are living examples of the redemptive, transformative power of undeserved kindness and love.
I pray that we can begin to see difficult people and uncomfortable circumstances in this new light. I pray that in the worst of situations, you and I might crucify our flesh and bury our pride. I pray that when others insult us and mock us, we (the followers of Jesus), might be filled with the Spirit of the Living God and demonstrate to those who hate us most that the love of Jesus is truly powerful enough to change hearts and lives.
I pray this for myself most of all.
Ohio residents: Join me in Portsmouth, OH for “The Nonviolent Love of Christ: How Loving Our Enemies Saves The World” on Saturday, June 16. Seating is limited. Register HERE>
Keith Giles is the author of “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” and co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast. He lives in Orange, CA with his wife and two sons and is part of a house church that gives away 100% of the offering to help the poor in their community.