An important way for us to walk in freedom is to remember the true nature of love. So long as we only think about love as a good or strong feeling, we are prisoners of love – not free to love. The stronger your feelings are, the more you pay attention to them, the more you allow your decisions and choices to be based upon how you feel – the less free you are to love truly. Feelings aren’t bad in and of themselves – most of them are connected to our instincts. However, feelings can put pressure on us to respond without thinking or in spite of what we may think. When you’re hungry and you love hamburgers, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll eat a hamburger if it is available. If you are prevented from eating a hamburger by someone, you might consider them to be an enemy.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. I hope you’re aware that He is not commanding us to “like” our enemies, or to “have good feelings” about our enemies. We don’t have direct control over how we feel – we can’t just command ourselves to feel happy or to feel sad. How we feel is just part of what we have to deal with when we are deciding what we will do. So, if Jesus isn’t telling us to have “loving feelings” towards our enemies, what is He commanding us to do exactly? Jesus wants us to do good to others no matter what – whether they make us feel good or not. When Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, He is actually teaching us how to become more loving in general. Sometimes, we think we love our friends, but we actually just love how our friends make us feel or what they are able to do for us. As soon as these people aren’t enjoyable or useful we stop spending time with them. In the end, we didn’t love them, we just love ourselves. An enemy is a kind of person that is basically impossible to love selfishly. By doing good for that person, just because we know that they are one of God’s creatures and Christ commanded us to love them, we actually grow in our ability to love truly. Jesus teaches us a very important way to love our enemies: prayer. What if, instead of first complaining about someone, or holding on to angry feelings about them, we simply said a prayer for them. Asking God to bless them is doing something good for them – no one else ever need to know that you prayed for good things to come to them. The effect of this prayer is not only that good comes to our enemies, but also that our own hearts become places where God’s love is welcomed and allowed to grow. Praying for our enemies transforms our hearts to be more like God’s, and allows the divine love of charity to flow through us.
When we pray for our enemies, we need to avoid making it selfish and centered around what we don’t like about them or ways that they have hurt us. Prayers like, “I don’t judge this person Lord, but I ask you to judge them so that they receive what they deserve – perhaps they deserve something good” or “Lord, give them a human heart because they need to change…” those kind of prayers are judgmental and half-hearted.
There’s a story about these Trappist monks in Algeria who continued living our their religious life in the midst of a civil war in the 1990s. The Prior, Dom. Christian de Chergé, used to pray a prayer against those who were using violence all around the country, “Lord, take away their weapons.” This prayer was inspired by fear, it was a prayer that focused on his own safety and the safety of the monks in his charge. He began to recognize that his prayer was not motivated by a true spirit of Charity. Now, when the armed and violent men came pounding on the door of the monastery, he would pray, “Lord, take away my weapons.” He understood that his own hostility and defensiveness towards his persecutors was what needed to change. In this prayer he experienced deep liberation – no longer fear and frustration at these violent men, but peace and love. Dom. Christian was finally martyred, and the end of his testament addressed to his killer reads,
“And [also] you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
[…]I want my THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.”1
Paul says that they had received the grace of God because they accepted the word of faith devoutly.2
THEODORET OF CYR:
By “the grace of God” Paul means the possession of every good thing. He is not excluding the role of free will by saying this but teaching that every good work is made possible by the help of God.3
The greatness of the Macedonians can be seen from the fact that they gave voluntarily, in spite of their poverty.4
The secret of the Macedonians’ zeal was that first, they gave themselves to the Lord. Everything else flowed from that. As a result, when they showed mercy they were not filled with pride but rather displayed great humility and heavenly wisdom.5
- COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 269). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 327. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 270). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 16.3. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 270). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 16.3. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 271). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.