What Does It Really Mean to "Love My Enemy"?

by Bethany Cliff

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t know what to do when I read the Bible. The stories can seem out of date, hard to understand or, worse yet, hard to put into practice.

Like Luke 6:27, that tells us to love our enemies. Why should I love my enemy? What does that look like? Do I even have any enemies?

Then I think of people who’ve hurt me or my loved ones. The school bullies, the thoughtless friends, the rude strangers. I don’t easily forgive them; I hold a grudge. It pains me to think of the hurts they’ve caused.

Loving them isn’t on my radar. In my eyes they’re my enemies.

Then I look at the world around me. The rise of ‘cancel culture’ on social media shuts down opportunities for respectful discussions. Dangerous militant groups use violence and fear to gain power and control. Leaders put their own career ahead of the groups they claim to benefit. I feel angry about these ‘distant’ enemies.

But I’ve recently been reminded that it’s okay to feel anger at the mistreatment of ourselves or others. To feel anger at the injustice (Matthew 21:12-13).
But even if my anger is justified, do I still have to love those enemies?

Considering it’s a command from Jesus himself, I can't just brush this aside. If I want to follow him, perhaps the more important question is not if I must love them, but how?

How do we love our enemies?

We can look to Jesus, the ultimate example. If an enemy is “one who is actively opposed or hostile” to you, Jesus had many.

Some of his closest friends, Judas and Peter (Luke 22), betrayed Jesus but he still loved them. Not even being brutally tortured and murdered for crimes he didn’t commit could stop him from offering forgiveness (Luke 23:34). Time and again in the gospels, Jesus shows us that this radical forgiveness and grace is available to and for us too.

I’ve seen the way God’s Holy Spirit can change us and help us love our enemies modelled in other parts of the world because of my work at Baptist World Aid Australia.

Brother Joe’s church in Lebanon, for instance, works with a Christian aid organisation called MERATH to distribute blankets and food to Syrian refugee families. Many in Brother Joe’s church still suffer from trauma and pain caused by the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, yet because of their faith they follow in Jesus’ example and love their enemies.

As one Syrian refugee said, ‘I’ve been coming to (your) church just to get help. But I have learned that you will help me whether I come to church or not. And this convicted me.’

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge army tortured and brutally killed millions. Trust was wiped out. Fear took hold. But ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers today aren’t ostracised from the community that FH Cambodia, a local Christian organisation, works in. In that one village, the community has chosen to combine their savings so families can access loans for emergency health care or starting small businesses; and former soldiers like Meng have been included in this. Pooling his money in the savings group created an opportunity for Meng to expand his cabbage farm. Meng was an enemy, yet they have loved him, and his life has been changed by it.

The disarming power of love

Both Christians in Lebanon and Cambodia show me how, and why, we should love our enemies. Loving our enemy can catch them off guard and draw their attention to what is good (Romans 12:21). And acting in love towards our enemies is responding to Christ’s call and reflects God’s unconditional love for all (John 13:35).

I know I’m sitting in a place of privilege as I reflect on Luke 6:27-28. My ‘enemies’ aren’t forcing me to flee for safety or framing me for crimes I didn’t commit. Yet as I look to the examples of Jesus and other believers I’m challenged to think about what my next steps are: I can let go of the grudge I hold against those who bullied my sister, and I can offer a smile and conversation with the rude neighbour as we pass in the hallway.As I look around my life, I see that Jesus’ teaching isn’t just a nice ideal but instead a real life invitation to love as he did.




Bethany Cliff, 25, is a writer and church partnerships coordinator at Baptist World Aid Australia in Sydney, a global aid and development organisation that ‘dreams of a world where poverty has ended and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends.’