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If we engage in conflict like Jesus, we must love our antagonist even in the heat of conflict. 

An antagonist is “one that contends with or opposes another; adversary, opponent.” 

Jesus instructs his followers to “love your enemies.” This includes your antagonist. 

What does that mean? And how should we love our enemies in real and practical ways?

In an era where civil discourse and respectful disagreement have largely disappeared, answering these questions is more important than ever.

This post will explore Jesus’ instruction to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27-36). You will learn at least three essential practices that will equip you to love your enemies. But first, we must dispel three of the myths that might be hindering you.

Myth #1: “You cannot love someone if you disagree with them.”

In our current culture, if you disagree with a person’s or group’s values or behavior, you can be accused of not loving them. Sometimes, this can intensify. For example, “Unless you endorse my lifestyle, you must be hate-filled.” 

Jesus contradicts this modern moralism. If he instructs us to “love your enemies,” we are to love people we disagree with.

Can we love people and not agree with their values or behavior? Yes! Any parent who has responsibly raised a teenager will be aware of this dynamic.

Myth #2: “If you do not forgive a person unconditionally, then you do not love them.”

In other words, you must forgive an offender if you love them— even if that offender is still mistreating you or is not repentant for what they have done. In some ways, this is similar to the previous myth.

Well-meaning people, including some Christians, confuse love and forgiveness. They are not the same. Confusing love with forgiveness results in losing the effectiveness of both. This distinction is explored in “Confusing Love and Forgiveness.” 

God loves everyone (John 3:16) but has not forgiven everyone. To obtain God’s forgiveness, a person “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Love (agapē) is unconditional, whereas forgiveness is conditional. 

Love  (agapē) is your stance toward the ‘other,’ whereas forgiveness is the process of rebuilding a broken or damaged relationship with the ‘other.’ 

For more on the theology and practice of forgiveness, I encourage you to read “Reclaiming Forgiveness.” 

Can we love a person even though forgiveness has not taken place? Yes! God does.

Myth #3: “My antagonist must be wrong, perhaps even evil.”

Vilifying the other person or group is a common default position. What they believe or how they behave makes it easier for us to write them off as unlovable and treat them as enemies.

Ask yourself: “Am I entirely right, and are they completely wrong?”

Usually, we presume that we are right and our antagonist is wrong. A wiser approach is to be open to the possibility that we might not be as right as we think. This requires a measure of humility and thoughtfulness.

Can we love a person who is wrong? Yes! 

This is just a brief survey of some myths that hinder. If you have others, I encourage you to write me about them

Now, let’s move into Jesus’ teaching.

Love your enemies

I encourage you to take a few moments to read and think about the Lord’s words in Luke 6:27-36— a section at the heart of the “Sermon on the Plain” (6:12-49). I have found these verses of great practical help.

We will focus on 6:27-28:

… I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, 

do good to those who hate you, 

bless those who curse you, 

pray for those who mistreat you.

Love your enemies” is the general statement introducing the section. 

“Love” translates the verb or action word for agapē (pronounced a_ga_pay).

Leon Morris, in his commentary on Luke (142), writes:

There were several words for ‘love’ in Greek. Jesus was not asking for storgē, natural affection, nor for erōs, romantic love, nor for philia, the love of friendship. He was speaking of agapē, which means love even of the unlovely, love which is not drawn out by merit in the beloved but which proceeds from the fact that the lover chooses to be a loving person.

Given Morris’ comment, it is unsurprising that agapē is used when God loves us (e.g., John 3:16).

In Luke 6:27, agapē is in the imperative mood, meaning the Lord intends or expects his disciples to love their enemies.

You might respond with, “How can I do that?”

Remember that the divine imperatives are linked with indicatives, which means he provides the ability to accomplish what he commands or expects of us. 

Three practical instructions follow, expressing how we are to love. In turn, they speak to:

  • our actions,
  • our words, and
  • our thoughts. 

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

#1        Do good to those who hate you.

Jesus was hated by the world (John 7:7; 15:18). If we are following Jesus faithfully, we can expect to be treated as he was treated (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13). He warns us of this hate just a few verses earlier (Luke 6:22):

Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 

But here is a word of caution. We might be hated for reasons other than “because of the Son of Man.” Sometimes, we act or speak in ways that are not Christ-like. In those cases, we must examine ourselves before God and confess our sins to him and to the person or group we offended. (See “Reclaiming Forgiveness”). 

The natural reaction to being hated is to get even with the ‘other’ by hating them back, taking revenge, exclusion, or some other destructive action. 

Not so with the followers of Jesus. One way we can respond to the ‘other’ in love is to “do good” to them. That means when we have the opportunity to do something regarding the ‘other,’ do something good for them.

#2        Bless those who curse you.

Blessing and cursing are usually speech-acts— what we say. In simple terms, when we speak beneficially into a person’s life, it is to encourage, enrich, and build them up— that’s blessing. Cursing is the opposite; we speak in a way that discourages, reduces, or tears down the ‘other.’

So, if your ‘enemy’ is mentioned in conversation, how do you speak about them? Do you criticize and condemn them or do you say beneficial things about them?

Blessing someone who criticizes you, tears you down, and condemns you is the grace-filled response of love that Jesus intends and expects of you.

#3        Pray for those who mistreat you.

The word translated as “mistreat” is epēreazō, which is defined as “to treat someone in a despicable manner, threaten, mistreat, abuse” (BDAG).

On occasion, the recollection of past wrongs, mistreatment, or abuse bubbles up in my thought life. I find myself getting angry and bitter. As this reaction is allowed to boil up in me, it infects my mind, body, and relationships.

When this happens, I have been greatly helped by Jesus’ instruction to pray for the abusive person or group who mistreated me. I have found such prayer displaces the emotions of anger and bitterness, allowing me to love my ‘enemy.’ It draws my heart closer to the heart of the Lord Jesus.

In conclusion

Although there is much more that we can draw from this text, here are four practical steps to keep in mind that will equip you to love your enemies.

1.    Self-examination:

Be open to the possibility that you might have caused or contributed to the problem.

It is a healthy practice to pray Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT) regularly:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; 

test me and know my anxious thoughts. 

Point out anything in me that offends you, 

and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Wait for the Lord to answer, and deal with whatever he brings to your attention.

2.    Set things right:

If the Lord does bring something to your attention that caused a person to be an ‘enemy’ or your antagonist in a conflict, confess it to the Lord, then go and set it right with the person you offended.

Again, I encourage you to work through the popular and practical series “Reclaiming Forgiveness.” 

3.    Take action:

This is a call to do what Jesus commands. Whatever the outcome of the previous two points, put into action the grace-filled activities for your ‘enemy’ or your antagonist. In general terms, this means:

  • doing good to them in your actions,
  • blessing them in your words, and
  • praying for them at the inner core of your life.

In this way, you will love them. That is just as it should be for the faithful follower of Jesus.

4.    Love like Jesus:

Hold on! How can I love like Jesus?

Good question.

On our own, we cannot love like this. It is neither a natural desire nor a natural power that enables us to love our enemies.

So, in conclusion, I encourage you to be guided by another of our resources: How to love like Jesus.” 


There is more to this topic. I invite your comments and questions. You can contact me using this link

If you find this post beneficial, give it a ‘like,’ or better still, share it with a friend.

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