How easily we Christians speak of love. The word forms on our lips and falls out of our mouths without effort. “God is love.” we proclaim. “Love your neighbor!” In fact, “Love everyone!” How much simpler could the message of Christianity be? Not much! But in reality, how much more difficult could it be? Not much!
The idea of loving is great until there is a particular person on the receiving end of our loving with a troubling history, a lousy temperament or who may be at-odds with us. When we get specific about loving others, having to attach a name and face to the generality, makes the proposition a challenge, indeed. A conceptual neighbor is easy to love. A particular neighbor is quite another matter.
Loving requires that we forget about ourselves enough to attend to another. It is not always convenient. It demands a certain amount of self-forgetfulness. In a culture that teaches us to be first, climb high and accumulate, Christian love often takes into the seldom sought-out areas of second place, descent and letting go. (Sometimes our efforts to love our neighbor are, in fact, a means to control and have power over them.)
But perhaps the hardest thing to swallow about Christian love is the command (not suggestion) to love our enemies. (Try running for president on a platform of loving your/our enemies and see how far you get.) The one that wishes you ill, betrays, hates or even harms, we are to love. Loving our enemy does not mean that we become a weak doormat. On the contrary, it requires a different kind of strength- a strength rooted in the power and presence of God. And loving our enemy brings glory to God because such a feat reveals the only One who is able to empower us to an action beyond out human limitations.
Loving our enemy requires the strange strength that allowed Jesus who taught forgiving seven times seventy and who was tortured and killed on a cross to say “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” We love our enemy because only love holds the possibility for transforming our enemy into a friend. Any other response only widens the chasm and builds the wall between us. The truest test of the authenticity of Christian love is the love for our enemies.