Loving Your Enemies: But What About Islamic Terrorists?

I've lived in the "Bible belt" for almost 30 years. I've been saved for almost 15 of those years. I've been to Bible college and Seminary. I've literally listened to several thousand sermons in my lifetime. All the churches and schools I've been involved with have been conservative, Evangelical, and "Bible believing" churches.

Yet to date, I can confidently say I've never heard a single sermon dedicated to the topic of "loving my enemy."

That's not to say somebody hasn't mentioned it in passing at some point. Indeed, I briefly have heard it talked about. And that's not to say there aren't preachers out there in America that don't preach on the topic. Indeed, there are, as a simple Google search will reveal it to be so.

But I've never heard such a message preached in any church I've been a part of, and my guess is you probably haven't either.

Therefore, I worry that one of the central ethical teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, has not only been largely overlooked, but has been almost entirely forgotten.

So far as I've heard and studied, any brief mention of loving our enemies is generally reduced to a command that only advises us on how to deal with interpersonal drama.  It deals with things you might see on "Dr Phil" or the "Jerry Springer Show."  That is, we see Jesus as teaching us to do nothing more than find ways to get along with people we don't like at work, and how to deal with family members whom we wish were grafted into somebody else's family tree.

As I get older, I've become increasingly aware of what a dangerous world we actually live in, and the fact that there are people out there who actually want to do mortal harm to me, my family, and this nation.

Yet, as I read my Bible, I find myself confronted with this teaching of Jesus where He commands me to love my enemies, and I start to think He might have something more in mind than how to deal with personality conflicts and otherwise rude people.

When I crawl into my time machine and find myself transported back into the times of Jesus, as I hear Him preaching to the multitudes in His famous "Sermon on the Mount," I can't help but be arrested by the fact that Jesus's teaching to love my enemies had a much greater application than I  regularly appreciate as a middle-class white-boy who grew up in America.

As I listen to Jesus preaching on a hill side in Judea, I look around and see a lot of Jewish people who have lived under the brutally oppressive Roman Empire.

I see a people whose hearts are broken,  angry, and confused.  They don't understand why God has allowed a foreign and pagan army to occupy and govern a land that He had promised them.   They are forced to pay heavy taxes, are forced into servitude, and live under a police state.  Justice is administered coldly, swiftly, and decisively (which is to say, not really at all).  They are a people who want to rebel, they want to fight back, and they want to get out from under the boot of Rome.  But Rome frequently squashes all hope of that ever happening, and regularly tortures and kills anybody who dares to fight back, and try to gain freedom.

History tells how the Romans dealt with Jewish rebellions in their day.  For example, one day they reportedly crucified 3,000 people, and set them up on the highway as an object lesson.  The lesson was simple: Don't even think about messing with us.

This happened during the time of Jesus.  He may have personally seen this event as a small boy.  If He didn't see it, He would've definitely heard about it.

Yet for all the brutality the Jews suffered at Roman hands, Jesus taught that they should not hate their enemy.  Instead, Jesus taught the Jews of His day that if they wanted to be a people who were rightly related to God, that they would have to love their enemies.

That is, they would have to love the Romans.

Jesus taught the Jews of His day to love the very enemies who not only crucified 3,000 Jews, but would one day crucify Him.

Jesus taught the Jews of His day to love they very enemies who would one day conduct a military siege against Jerusalem.  According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, more than 1 million people were killed in the fall of Jerusalem, and almost 100,000 people were enslaved.

Love those people, Jesus said.

The application would have been loud and clear.

The Jews would have understood Jesus's sermon as teaching them to love people who were truly their enemies, and not simply people they had a hard time getting along with.  They would've understood Jesus to be teaching them to love people who could actually physically and mortally harm them and their families.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48; NASB)
...Fast forward 2,000 years to the present.

Outside of some co-workers and some family members that you consider your enemies, can you think of anybody that threatens you in the way the Romans threatened the ancient Jewish people?  Do we have any enemies who actually threaten to physically harm and kill us and our loved ones?

If Jesus were to preach a sermon at your church this Sunday, and taught you to love your enemies, do you think He might make a PowerPoint slide that listed Islamic terrorists as one of the people we ought to love?

If Jesus appeared on Fox News and was interviewed by Sean Hannity, how do you think Hannity would respond if Jesus said He thinks the solution to the crisis in the Middle East was for us to bomb ISIS with something resembling "care packages" instead of something a little more explosive.

If Jesus were to advise President Obama on the Middle East crisis, do you think He would tell the president to love his enemies and pray for their well being?  Or do you think He would quote the famous country music star Toby Keith, and tell the president to "put a boot in their ass."

In our heart of hearts, if we were really honest with ourselves, I think most of us know what Jesus would say on these matters if He were given the platform to speak today.

The problem is, as so often is the case, we simply find the straight forward teachings of Jesus too hard to accept.  I believe we simply don't have the capacity in our hearts to accept such truth.  The problem therein is not the words of Jesus being too hard to accept, so much as it is the hardness of our hearts to accept them.

So we largely ignore such teachings.  We pass over them very quickly in our reading of the Bible and in our teaching in the church.  We don't want to dwell on such things.

For we ultimately know that there is a lot of risk involved in loving our enemies.  Loving our enemies means we let something of our guard down.  Lowering our guard makes us vulnerable.  We don't want to be vulnerable as a general rule of thumb, let alone vulnerable before our enemies, who have an interest in putting us and those we love to death.

Our fear is what ultimately keeps us from loving our enemies.

But love, true love, the kind of love that can only come from God, can grant us the supernatural transformation we all need in our hearts, to give us the capacity to genuinely love our enemies.  It is the kind of love that Jesus had in Him, and is the kind of love that ultimately drove Him to the cross to die on our behalf.

And if Jesus can cause us to love even the men that want to put us to death, then just imagine what He can do to the hearts of those who want to kill us.

He did this once to a man named Saul of Tarsus, who was involved in killing the first Christian martyr.  Today, we all better know this man by the name of Paul, the apostle.  He started dozens, if not hundreds of churches.  And in the process, he wrote most of the New Testament.

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