Vol. 1 - No. 9 

September, 1982

"Love Your Enemies”

by Vaughn Shofner

There is much misunderstanding about the enemies of the New Testament, and about the kind of love that is commanded to give them. Many people think the word “enemy” refers only to a hostile person. As used in the New Testament, the noun form means opponent, opposition, and the verb means to oppose, but all opposition is not necessarily hostile and with revenge. For example, there is opposition established by the natural laws of the universe.  God set things up that way lest mankind lose sight of anything but this temporary earth.

In Matthew 13:37-39, answering the request for an explanation of the parable of the tares which were sown at night by the enemy while the farmer slept, Jesus said, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil.” This is opposition of a hostile, dishonorable nature. All such enmity is of the devil.

The Lord commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” This demands use of the intelligence in consideration of all revelation regarding love in order to determine how to love our enemies. The traditional idea that love is love with no characteristic differences produces frustration.

The commentaries that are generally used do not offer much help with this problem. J. W. McGarvey gave this help: “To love an enemy, has appeared to many persons impossible , because they understand the word 'love' as here expressing the same feeling in all respects which we entertain towards a friend or a near kinsman. But love has many shades and degrees. The exact phase of it which is here enjoined is best understood in the light of examples.”

One word for love in the New Testament is “phileo,” which J. H. Thayer says, “denotes an inclination prompted by sense and emotion. Love as an emotion cannot be commanded, but love by choice is commanded.” Thus love, “phileo,” is spontaneous. It is emotional, produced by sense perceptions as aesthetic sense, the sense of sexual preference; an attainment by filial bonds, marital bonds, kindred bonds. However, though emotional we are to have the self discipline to control love as we control any other passion.

Another word for love in the New Testament is “agapao” the verb and “agape” the noun. J. H. Thayer defines the word as “A love founded in admiration, veneration, esteem.” Thus to love, “agapao,” is not controlled by emotion but by choice. It is moral love; the assent of the will as a matter of principle and reasoned judgment of what is right and proper. It is produced by evaluating conditions and circumstances and persons, and then showing respect for the evaluation. It is the result of intellectual choice rather than involuntary urging. It is love of command, the result of intelligent conclusions reached by considering intelligible information.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Here we find the love of command expressed with the necessary personal ending, “agapeseis,” thou shalt love. God has expressed himself to us in nature and revelation and the information presents Jehovah, the majesty of which demands our admiration, veneration and esteem with all our powers and faculties, and nothing is to be preferred to him.

This love is also described another way: “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). Keeping his commandments is based or. blessings to be received for the submission, and is simply a demonstration of the respect we have for God's person and the faithfulness of his promises. We esteem him worthy when we obey him. Loving one's enemies is a studied understanding of their condition, and is not an emotional inclination prompted by sense perceptions. Love for our enemies is therefore a deliberate compassion for them.

And, gentle reader, there are natural enemies which are maintained by the laws of the curse which God placed upon this temporary universe. James says, “Friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The word “enemy” is here designated impersonal, and it does not refer exclusively to a person, but also to things. And, the “world,” “kosmos,” literally, means the ordered universe, the orderly arrangement of the material universe. It is therefore impassive, insensible and without intelligent intent toward revenge and hostility. Nevertheless, by the laws of its transitoriness it opposes us and is therefore our enemy. It is not dependable, and was arranged that way to emphasize its temporality. Peter said of it, in the day of the Lord “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth and the works therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). The lawfully controlled elements oppose us and are our enemies: the cold of winter, the storms of spring, the heat of summer. The curse of this temporary earth includes labor: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Genesis 3:19). Thus, a natural enemy, because it opposes, but we can respect it for its manifestations which keep us from attaching too much concern to that which is destined to pass away.

There is a moral enmity which is in opposition to all Christian principles. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

“The lust of the flesh” has to do with the vain indulgence and the pampering of the decaying, fleshly body. No continuing respect is given that which passeth away with its temporary gratifications and sensual appetites. May we love the desires of beneficence, but not the desires of sinful excesses which destroy.

“The lust of the eyes.” This refers to the inordinate fondness of sights that feed the lusts of the flesh. The uninhibited lust to look upon that which the appointments of God prohibit us to view. It includes anything which incites the inordinate emotions through the sense perception of sight. Grant us strength, 0 God, to love the ability to see, but let us blind our hearts to destructive temptations!

Then comes “the pride of life;” that is, the arrogancy of living. Pride and pretension lead the way to this empty glory. These inclinations lead us to act as though our lives are our own, and we live only to ourselves with no consideration for others, and absolutely no authorative restraint. Let us love life on this earth as a way to heaven, but not as the vainglory of time.

Gentle reader, it is thus evident that some opposition is indeed helpful. For example, the God-appointed curse upon this material universe which supplies some opposition helps us for better things. The warning page of history is blotted with tears and blood! Behold the danger signal. The lightning flash reveals the yawning precipice that the unwary pilgrim may see and turn from destruction! Behold the illuminating flashes of God's revelation.

And too, weary pilgrim, let us not forget that death is our enemy. “Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom unto God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

Death opposes our desire for and our ability to enjoy companionship. We must walk the chilling corridors of death alone. Death is “thanatos,” the cessation of physical life. Look at life! the mewling infant, a helpless being, completely dependent on the mother to keep it in maternal love and awake and train its latent abilities. This followed by youth blessed with cheeks glowing with the pink of the morning of life; then adulthood, wherein is found the fulfillment of youthful dreams, the peace and the order of a God-oriented home! then the inevitable seniority, laden with the dust of time's road and filled with knowledge and wisdom, seniority walks as a venerable sage into the lengthening shadows of life's eventide and is finally swallowed up by the impenetrable darkness of death! Grant, 0 God, that we may oppose the sorrows of death's separation, but grant us strength regarding its realities: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand,” and looking to the grand resurrection when death will have no sting, and the grave will have no victory!