A Vietnam veteran spoke to me on Sunday after I had preached about loving one's enemy. He had seen real enemies who wanted to take his life. This "love your enemy" talk seemed to require the impossible. How can one love a person who would kill them?
As I spoke on Sunday about that passage in Matthew 5, I failed to make an important clarification.
When we think of loving someone, we think of having a warm spirit of affection for them. Because of that spirit of affection, we express love through action.
Jesus is calling us to express love through action toward our enemies, but not calling us to generate warm feelings of affection toward them. Because of love, we should cooperate with the person making unreasonable requests, Jesus says. We refuse to retaliate when harmed. We freely lend to those who want to borrow.
Rather than treating people with hatred, we treat them with love. Clearly Jesus is not expecting us to love enemies as we love our own families. While we may not have affection for our enemies, we can behave toward them in a loving way. This is love through action without a spirit of cursing toward them.
In Luke 6:28, Jesus puts it like this: "Bless those who curse you." Loving enemies is never easy. Jesus calls us to live and love through his power. Only through his power can we experience the kind of life he wants for us.