I really hate small talk because 99 percent of it is comprised of useless clichés. Have you ever asked someone how they were doing and they said something like “Just taking it one day at a time.” Really? Is there another way to take on life? Have you ever taken it two days at a time? No, you haven’t because it’s impossible! How about this one: “It is what it is.” Did you just use a pronoun to describe the same pronoun? Inversely, does that mean it’s not what it isn’t? These kinds of phrases are either meaningless or incredibly obvious. Why say something that everyone knows? They’re just empty words.
If you’re a follower of Christ you probably don’t consider any of Jesus’ words to be cliché or meaningless, but you might have heard them so much that you don’t think much about them anymore, sayings like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” You might hear someone who doesn’t follow Jesus use them because they’re pretty universal statements.
Then there are the words Jesus said that make us scratch our heads. Like when he said if you’ve ever been angry with someone in your heart it’s the same as murder (Matthew 5:21), or that he has come to pit people against their own families (Matthew 10:34), it makes you stop and think “What world is this guy living in?”
One phrase that can make your brain hurt comes from Matthew 5:43-44 where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Jesus was challenging a phrase the Jewish people had heard over and over again in their time; Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It probably wasn’t a phrase they thought twice about. They had been enveloped in conflict for so long that having enemies was a part of everyday life. Their land was being occupied by the Romans. Neighboring countries wanted to wipe them out. They hated people for good reason. Why would they want to love their enemies? Wouldn’t that just open the door for their enemies to hurt them?
This is still a common way to deal with enemies. We don’t have a problem loving our family and friends because they’re like us and love us back. We put these people in the “neighbor” category. Then we make different categories for people who look or believe differently from us. We have categories for more personal reasons like people who unashamedly hate us or want to hurt us. Maybe they’re former neighbors who betrayed us. We might even tell ourselves that God will give us a pass on loving those people.
Loving those who hate you was, and is, a revolutionary idea, so it’s easy to dismiss this concept as impractical, but there are examples of people who didn’t take this lightly. Deitrich Bonhoffer was part of the resistance movement during Nazi Germany and said that “Praying for your enemies is the supreme demand of scripture.” Some of us think our HOA is run by Nazi’s, but Bonhoffer believed in this “supreme demand” so much that he lost his life while praying for the Nazis.
Why would Jesus want us to do this? Because prayer affects your heart and God wants your heart to be more like his. Our lives can become so self-centered and we pray for ourselves and the people in our own little world. But God loves bigger than that. He doesn’t just love the people who love him back, but the ones we think are undeserving of love, and love like that is dangerous. It’s almost guaranteed to not be paid back or reciprocated.
Loving your enemies will definitely open you up to getting hurt. It will be hard. You could even lose your life, but it will change how you look at people who have hurt you. You begin to look at them the way your father in heaven does and become more like him. Isn’t that worth the risk of getting hurt? Isn’t that saying something?
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at email@example.com.