“Love Your Enemies” is misunderstood by most of us who trust in the God of the Bible. So, we either try to love our enemies in our own reason and strength or give up on trying and feel guilty. John Piper gives excellent spiritual insight on how to love our enemies as new creatures God our Father has created in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-11; 2 Cor 5:17–18).
Key excerpts from John’s preface.
Our only hope for loving our enemy is to be a new creation in Christ. And our only hope for being a new creation in Christ is to be reconciled to God through the death of his Son. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself’ (II Cor 5:17–18).
The only hope that we might love our enemy is that God loved us when we were his enemy. ‘If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life’ (Rom 5:10). This is the great root of the good tree we are becoming: ‘Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (Eph 4:32). Turn the other cheek—seventy times seven (Mt 18:22). Love does not keep an account of wrongs (I Cor 13:6). ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them’ (Rom 12:14).
Jesus is the great example here, and the inimitable substitute: ‘When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’—that’s the example (I Pt 2:23). And ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness’—that’s the substitution (I Pt 2:24). What he has done for us is the ground for what he does in us. We can become a good tree only because he was cursed for us on a horrible tree (Gal 3:13).
Does Enemy Love Govern All of Life?
Another example of the discoveries that remain with me is the relationship between the radical command to return good for evil, and the equally clear command to live in the structures of this fallen world that do not operate simply by the principle of returning good for evil. Jesus commanded that we ‘not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Mt 5:39).
But he also said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars’ (Mt 22:21). And one of Caesar’s rights is: ‘He does not bear the sword in vain’ (Rom 13:4). In fact, government is not the only sphere of life in which the Bible demands that we not turn the other cheek. In the family: ‘Fathers, bring them up in the discipline of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4; cf. Heb 12:5). Disciplining children is not turning the other cheek. Commerce: ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat’ (II Thess 3:10). An employee who refuses to come to work should not keep getting paid. Church discipline: ‘Do not even eat with such a one’ (I Cor 5:11).
What I saw was that the kind of enemy love that we find in Mt 5:38–48, Lk 6:27–36, Rom 12:17–21, I Thess 5:15, and I Pt 3:9 is one way that we reflect the character of God and the freedom from hate and bitterness that we have in him. But, while this fallen world lasts, God also means for his justice to be displayed, even by his own people within the spheres where that justice is essential to the fruitful working of the world God has made. Or another way to say it is that love is more complex than enemy love. It is more complex than turning the other cheek..
Make the Tree Good!
How do we know when to act one way and when the other? Jesus and his apostles do not answer that question by pointing us to information, but by pointing us to transformation. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God’ (Rom 12:2). In the end, as Jesus says, the command to love our enemies and all the other commands of the Bible are commands to ‘make the tree good’ (Mt 12:33). For ‘every good tree bears good fruit’ (Mt 7:17).
Display This Glory Now—Or Never
The aim of being a good tree—loving our enemies from the heart—is to display the glory of our Redeemer. This is a calling that has an end. In heaven there will be no enemies to love. We get a few years to display the glory of Christ in our own bodies like this. In the age to come, we will sing of Christ’s enemy love forever—the song of the Lamb (Rev 15:3). But neither he nor we will have any enemies to love. They will have all become friends (Lk 16:9), or they will have been cast into outer darkness (Mt 8:12). And the enemy love that will be remembered will be to the praise of the glory of his grace. If the republication of this dissertation can awaken some to make those friends and that memory, I will be glad.
Key pages from table of contents.
- II. Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love and the Kingdom of God 69
- A. Four Recent Studies and One Older Work 69
- B. Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love and the Coming Kingdom: Condition? 76
- C. Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love and the Present Aspect of the Kingdom: Enablement 80
- D. Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love as a Sign of the Kingdom 86
- III. Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love and the Law 89
- A. Non-Resistance (Mt 5:39–42) vs the Lex Talionis (Ex 21:24) 89
- B. Enemy Love (Mt 5:44 par Lk) vs Neighbor Love (Lev 19:18) 91
- C. Abolition vs Continuation of the Law 95
- The Use and Meaning of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love in the Early Christian Paraenesis1 100
- I. Preliminary Remarks 100
- II. The Motivation of the Command of Enemy Love 101.
- A Brief Survey of the Previous Research101
- B. Paul 102
- C. I Peter 119
- III. The Content of the Command of Enemy Love 128
- A. The General Features of Enemy Love 128
- B. Love and the Command of Enemy Love and the Institutions of Society 130
- The Gospel Tradition of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love and its Use in Matthew and Luke 134
- I. The Gospel Tradition of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love before the Gospels 134
- A. Determining the Vorlage 134
- B. Determining the Sitzim Leben of the Vorlage 136
- II. The Gospel Tradition of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love in the Gospels 139
- A. The Approach and Methodology 139
- B. Matthew’s Use of the Gospel Tradition of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love 141
- C. Luke’s Use of the Gospel Tradition of Jesus’ Command of Enemy Love 153
Concluding sentence page 175
For the fruit of this tree abounds through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God (Php 1:11; Jn 15:8; Mt 5:16; 1 Pt 2:12). Emphasis added
1Note on the Title and Previous Editions The word paraenesis in the title of the book is a technical term that carries formal and material connotations. Materially, it refers to ‘advice or exhortation.’ Formally, it refers to a concise, staccato style. We see it, for example, in I Thess 5:16–22.