How And Why You Should Love Your Enemy Part 1: Revisiting Martin Luther King Jr’s texts on Matthew 5:43-48
|Martin Luther King Jr|
In the great book, The 3 Loves We Need, I wrote; “Love means to commit oneself without guarantee; to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. This means it is not always to be loved the way we love. Sometimes we love our enemies and those who can’t recognize our hearts for them, but we need to do our part and leave the rest to God. The bibles says that we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus loves all, but some don’t want even to hear His name sound in their ears”.
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Yes, I think I was on point, but here is what I missed; how and why should you love your enemy? And those are the questions we are here to answer using the texts of one of the greatest human rights activists, orator, and theologian ever known to man-Martin Luther King Jr.
On 17th November 1957, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King delivered his sermon entitled ‘love your enemies’ in which he emphasized that “Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. . . . The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. . . . And inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love”.
For God’s sake, each one of us knows about the command, but most of us think it is just impossible. Even though we are told in the gospel that actually Jesus loved his enemies to the point of healing the soldier that was actually arresting Him (Luke 22:51), we still think it is impossible with us; after all He was God, we excuse ourselves. And so we cultivate evil and hate against those that hate us, and see what we have got our world into! Martin Luther observed the same hopelessness in man for He commented;
“And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it just isn’t possible to move out into the actual practice of this glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just additional proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never quite came down to earth”.
And I ask; who told you that anything is ever possible?
Everything is possible with God
We can’t breathe, love our friends or even ourselves, stay faithful in marriage, eat, walk, think or sing, or do anything without God enabling us! It is not only the above command that would be impossible without God but everything else that man does or that God commands. And by the way, we are not alone to see impossibilities of things, the apostles had had the same concern; “then who can be saved?” and Jesus answered; “God can do things that are not possible for people to do” (Matthew 18:26-27). And Apostle Paul reflected on the same issue and ended up comforting us; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Also Read: Is It Possible To Forgive And Forget?
So How Do You Go About Loving Your Enemies?
In answering this question, King cites about 3 serious ways of how to do it. Here are his 3 elaborate points;
1. Begin by analyzing yourself.
King emphasized that before we can go ahead and love our enemies, we need to analyze ourselves and be sure we are actually not their enemies! I think King is calling us to actually first be sure they are our enemies before we move on to forgive them. It has reminded me so many instances where a terrible person will shortly comment; “anyway, I forgive you” exactly after a fight or a quarrel he himself ignited.
After recognizing the fact that some people will hate us not because we have done anything wrong to them but because of jealous reactions and other possible reactions prevalent in human nature, Luther emphasized that sometimes we really have wronged those who hate us. In his own words, he said;
“We must face the fact that an individual might dislike us because of something that we’ve done deep down in the past, some personality attribute that we possess. Something that we’ve done deep down in the past and we’ve forgotten about it, but it was that something that aroused the hate response within the individual. That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual”
I always feel uncomfortable whenever I cite what is wrong with others not because it is a bad thing to do but because I have this doubt within me; what if I am actually the worst? And as I grow up and sip on teachings of life only got through experience, I have discovered that there are people I blamed and even thought of enemies when actually I was their enemy. And struck with such shame, I cry out to God; “Forgive me father”.
King, at this point, is calling us to examine ourselves first before we set out to straighten others. According to King, seriously some people sometimes hate us because we really have wronged them. And how dare do we call them enemies! Relating this same principle to then politics of racism, slavery, ‘assumed’ communism in Russia, and ‘assumed’ democracy in USA, he said that actually democracy preachers equate to communists in the sense that they never practice the democracy they preach! In his own words;
“When we look at the methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies the means, we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means. But in spite of all of the weaknesses and evils inherent in communism, we must at the same time see the weaknesses and evils within democracy.
Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has ever conceived, but the weakness is that we have never practiced it. Isn’t it true that we have often taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes? Isn’t it true that we have often in our democracy trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of oppression? Isn’t it true that through our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism? And all of these things must be taken under consideration as we look at Russia.
We must face the fact that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent from Asia and Africa is at bottom a revolt against the imperialism and colonialism perpetuated by Western civilization all these many years. The success of communism in the world today is due to the failure of democracy to live up to the noble ideals and principles inherent in its system” (underlined by me).
By the way, who wrote that our world is in chaos not because of evil people but because of good (actually ‘supposedly good’) people who do nothing? Oh God, forgive me; forgive us all.
And so Martin Luther King cements this point with the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:3; “why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye?” Jesus is actually saying that we are worse (big piece of wood) if we think of others (with little piece of dust) as our enemies when in actual sense we are no better! Here King close up this point;
Read this; What Did Jesus Mean By “Don’t Judge”?
“So we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ours”
2. Discover the element of good in your enemy
They say, every cloud has a silver lining or put in words of another thinker; “nobody injured his eyes by looking at the brighter side of things”. Here, Martin reminds us that each one of us has ‘demons and angels’ and relationship counselors always say, ‘we don’t love people because they are perfect, we do so because we both have faults to cancel out with each other and thus see the imperfect as perfect”. Hear Martin sound the words;
“Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life.
There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet: “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different direction. There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe: “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.”
There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Apostle Paul: “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do” (Romans 7:19-25).
Can we take a minute and think about King’s words? King is saying that every individual we see around has both the good and bad fighting within him. And no matter how some people may seem so hateful and annoying, surely there is something beneficial to our lives that we can learn from them.
Personally, I believe that our enemies are at times our mirrors telling and talking about us things we didn’t know about ourselves. Our enemies make us strong, careful and patient with each other and life. And yes, our enemies bring us goodness that they don’t know about. In the song, Specioza, musician, singer, and now the MP Kyadondo country, Bobi Wine thanks Specioza for chucking him for it is after the break-up that he actually found the right woman of his life! Very surprising.
It is people who are able to see the little good in others and in every situation that are able to exploit great opportunities that come hidden deep within such misfortunes or enemies. Comparing to his days, King insisted that even though there were kind of conflicts between whites and blacks or colored, America and Russia, there was still something good and positive about each of the sides. And the possibility of peace revolved around the probability of each of them deciding to concentrate on the good in others.
Read this too: The 3 Means Of Self-Awareness (Knowing Yourself)!
Yes, and so Martin emphasized that we need to love our enemies on the basis of that small illumination or reflection of God’s image in them. Here are his straight words;
“Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him. Even the nation that hates you most has some good in it. Even the race that hates you most has some good in it.
And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls the “image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. And there is an element of goodness that he can never slough off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude”.
3. When an opportunity presents for you to defeat your enemy, don’t do it.
This is the most surprising part of King’s sermon. King is saying that when the right time comes for you to feast on those who have been feasting on your miseries, don’t do it; don’t be like them. In my experience, this is the most effective method of defeating rivalry. Actually, it is just awesome.
Few years ago while in college, I and my wife started our relationship (we were dating). And you know what! We got enemies. As we have already highlighted above, people hated us not because we had done them any wrong to them, but simply because we were happy and moving along. Yes, fellow students hated us and fought against our relationship and the college’s administration fought against us with the same swords; yes, we made great enemies down there.
Because of God’s love, grace and care, we managed to finish college together, passed exams well, later got great jobs together, and our relationship ended up in wife-husband deal. On our introduction and wedding ceremonies, we invited all, including the worst of all. And yes, we were determined to make up with everyone. It was our time to show them that we can be without them, but it is when we actually showed that we needed them; they must have wondered what was wrong with us! How could we be so stupid to easily let go such years of torment, harassment and agony and call everyone!
Yes, we have already re-kindled our friendship and no more grudges. So many of those who talked, did and thought ill of us are now friends and expect our help anytime they need us; we defeated them with extension of love and kindness during the times they didn’t expect us to forgive them.
I hope you have some glimpses of our love life;
Read these; 1. Last year’s valentine’s msg
Martin Luther says that we can win over the evil spirit of enmity and animosity by actually refusing to defeat our enemies on the day they were to be defeated. He says we should surprise them on such a day when they are desperate and in need of our hand and indeed offer it to them. Here are his words;
“There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job. It might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it! That is the meaning of love”
Seriously, it is not easy nor within humans’ reach to practice the above principle. When an enemy has hurt us much; when people have talked ill of us; when neighbors have frowned at us often, we can’t help it but pray for their day of destruction; their day of fall. That is what Malcolm X believed. That is what most of us believe. Read about Malcolm x here.
his contemporary civil rights activist, Martin Luther had a philosophy of love,
peace and winning the hearts of others through actions of love and humanity.
Read the story
of Martin Luther King Jr here. According to King
Luther, that is what love is. Read it from his lips;
“Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system you love, but you seek to defeat the system”.
In his explanations, Luther commented on the 3 forms of love. To understand the 3 kinds of love that make one love, get yourself an eBook called THE 3 LOVES WE NEED now (link). And so after good synthesis of what love is in the 3 forms it usually presents in, King emphasizes;
“And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.” And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them, but Jesus says love them”.
But really, why should we be that good? Do they (our enemies) really deserve it? And should any of us be blamed for not tolerating them and using his lucky day to revenge on those who hurt him? Martin Luther didn't answer these questions, but Jesus did.
The story of an unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:35) has the answer to our questions. We are no better than them (our enemies) yet God graciously takes care of us all (Matthew 5:45). And yes, revenge is for God (Deuteronomy 32:35). All we are called to be is love, be patient with others and forgive them their wrongs and help them when we can (1 Peter 3:9; Romans 12:19; Leviticus 19:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:15). And the truth is; none of us can be that generous without the love of God working in us.
God help us repay your grace and generosity by becoming generous and gracious to others too, including our enemies.
God Bless You
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Have you received Jesus Christ yet? Today and now is your opportunity to receive His love and grace and also find freedom only found in Jesus. Repeat this prayer; Oh God, my Lord Jesus, i am sorry i have been stubborn for all these days, but i am happy you have loved me this much. Today, i accept you in my life and kindly ask you to forgive my sins. I am now yours and forever under your grace. Amen. Now you can find any church that teaches true bible doctrine and be part of the congregation.
Gob Bless You