What Does It Mean to “Love Your Enemies”?
The Bible’s answer
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35) His words mean that we should act lovingly toward those who hate us or treat us unjustly.
Jesus demonstrated love for his enemies by forgiving those who mistreated him. (Luke 23:33, 34) His teachings about loving our enemies harmonize with what is stated in the Hebrew Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament.—Exodus 23:4, 5; Proverbs 24:17; 25:21.
“Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.”—Matthew 5:43, 44.
In this article
Why love your enemies?
God sets the example. God “is kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35) He “makes his sun rise on . . . the wicked.”—Matthew 5:45.
Love may move an enemy to change. The Bible recommends that we treat an enemy kindly, stating that by doing so, we “will be heaping burning coals on his head.” (Prov. 25:22) This metaphor refers to the process of heating ore to extract precious metal. Similarly, if we are kind to a person who hates us, we may melt away his anger and bring out the good in him.
What are some ways to love your enemies?
“Do good to those hating you.” (Luke 6:27) “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink,” says the Bible. (Romans 12:20) You may find other ways to show love to an enemy by applying what is known as the Golden Rule, which says: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”—Luke 6:31.
“Bless those cursing you.” (Luke 6:28) We bless our enemies by speaking kindly and considerately to them, even if they speak abusively to us. The Bible says: “Do not pay back . . . insult for insult. Instead, repay with a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) This advice can help us to break the cycle of hatred.
“Pray for those who are insulting you.” (Luke 6:28) If a person insults you, do not repay “evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17) Instead, ask God to forgive the person. (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59, 60) Rather than seek revenge, leave it to God to deal with the person according to His perfect standard of justice.—Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:19.
“Continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you, to bless those cursing you, to pray for those who are insulting you.”—Luke 6:27, 28.
Be “patient and kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) In his well-known description of love, the Christian apostle Paul used a form of the same Greek word (a·gaʹpe) that we find in the words recorded at Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27, 35. We show such Christian love even to our enemies by being patient and kind, not jealous, arrogant, or rude.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous. It does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Should you go to war against your enemies?
No, for Jesus taught his followers that they should not fight their enemies. For example, when he warned them of an impending attack on Jerusalem, he did not tell them to stay and fight but, rather, to flee. (Luke 21:20, 21) Jesus also told the apostle Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) The Bible and secular history show that Jesus’ followers in the first century did not go to war against their enemies.a—2 Timothy 2:24.
Misconceptions about loving your enemies
Misconception: God’s Law required Israelites to hate their enemies.
Fact: The Law contained no such command. Rather, it directed the Israelites to love their neighbor. (Leviticus 19:18) While the term “neighbor” simply meant other humans, some Jews narrowed the meaning down to include only fellow Jews, and they believed that non-Jews were enemies who should be hated. (Matthew 5:43, 44) Jesus corrected their wrong view by relating the parable of the good, or neighborly, Samaritan.—Luke 10:29-37.
Misconception: Loving your enemies means approving of their wrong conduct.
Fact: The Bible shows that you can love a person without approving of his wrong conduct. For example, Jesus condemned violence but prayed for those who executed him. (Luke 23:34) And he hated lawlessness, or sin, but gave his life for sinners.—John 3:16; Romans 6:23.
a The book The Rise of Christianity by E. W. Barnes notes: “A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”