The watchword of Christianity is love. As Jesus prepared His disciples for His departure, He said, A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).
The love required of Christians goes beyond loving one another, however. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, 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 (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus knew He was saying something radical. He knew that the world’s standard was and is to love our neighbors and hate our enemies. Jesus wants more of His followers, however.
Striving to be like their Heavenly Father Who lovingly sends blessings to the just and the unjust, Christians must love their enemies. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:46-48). Loving our enemies is part of the Christian’s growth toward perfection.
We may not like our enemies, but we must love them. To truly love someone else is to want the best for them. Love is unselfish, concerned with what the other person, even an enemy, needs. Christ demonstrated His love for enemies: God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Rather than harboring a grudge against us because of our sin, Christ loved us enough to suffer the cross, the Just dying for the unjust. Love for enemies includes having a forgiving attitude toward those who have wronged us. Peter thought he was being generous in asking the Lord if it was good enough to forgive his brother seven times (most rabbis taught forgiving three times was sufficient). Jesus answered, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). He then explained His statement with a parable about a king and some creditors, to remind His followers that because God has forgiven us, we must forgive others. Jesus said that the love of enemies includes praying for them, blessing them, and doing good to them. Christ emphasized what the Christian does, not what the enemy does. While we cannot control how our enemies live or act, we can control how we act. We must apply the Golden Rule: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12). Loving our enemies is possible only when we surrender our will to the will of Christ, and let Him control our lives.