Being Discerning about Loving Our Enemies

Overlooked Applications of Loving Your Enemies

The Acronyms Are Easily Confused: ACLJ and ACLU. For Christians, ACLJ, American Center for Law and Justice, are our friends. They represent Christian causes in America and around the world, even providing legal defense for persecuted Christians in places like Pakistan and Iran.

The ACLU is another story. We all know that those letters stand for American Civil Liberties Union, which for the most part uses their power to advance an array of ungodly causes. Every once in a great while they come down on our side, as well they should, since these days the liberties of Christians are frequently under assault. But for the most part they have little concern for the rights of Christians, and therefore we almost always find them supporting the side hostile to us. They are clearly our enemies.

I would wholeheartedly recommend your generous financial support of ACLJ because they provide a much-needed service to the Christian community in America and around the world. And when you write that check, don’t forget to also write one for the ACLU since they are our enemies, and we are called to love our enemies. In fact, to display our commitment to loving our enemies we might give a little extra to the ACLU.

And while we’re on the subject, I hope you are not one of those right-wing patriots that thanks our troops for their service. The term “service” represents a euphemism for killing our enemies. Of course, not everyone in the military kills others, but that is the ultimate objective of the military, and those not directly engaged in this activity exist for the purpose of supporting it. We would prefer that our military be a deterrent, preventing warfare from not taking place; however, it does take place, which requires that our military kill our enemies. Since Scripture calls us to love our enemies it would be wrong to convey support for those engaged in this activity.

Or, on the Other Hand….

Most Christians would argue with the conclusions above, as well they should. Some are pacifists, but even they choose to live in a country with a military that protects them from the enemy so that they can survive to hold their pacifist perspective.

How, then, do we reconcile our inclination not to support the ACLU and to express gratitude to our troops with the biblical teaching that we should love our enemies?

Discerning Love

Love is not like whipped cream that we indiscriminately spread on top of a desert, though when it comes to whipped cream I’m all for the program. Rather, the Apostle Paul teaches, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent….” (Philippians 1:9-10) In these verses Paul encourages the escalation of our love, and yet at the same time teaches that biblical love requires knowledge and discernment so that the end result might be love that supports “the things that are excellent.” The terms knowledge and discernment are instructive, indicating that loving biblically requires that we arm ourselves with information and exercise thoughtfulness in application.

These verses contain an underlying warning that it is possible for love to be misguided.

Our society provides at least some acknowledgment of this danger in its call at times for “tough love,” the perspective that in some cases the most loving alternative resides in the exercise of discipline. It might feel loving to coddle the son hooked on drugs, but genuine love requires confronting him with the consequences of his behavior. Christians also recognize the need for tough love. Unfortunately the contemporary recognition for the need at times for tough love often does not translate into application of tough love when it would be helpful, e.g. much of our government’s welfare program and discipline in schools.

Tough love reflects one manifestation of the knowledge and discernment prescribed in the verse above. It advises against dolloping out love like whipped cream on pumpkin pie.

However, there are factors that limit the biblical application of agape. Note that tough love does not actually limit love but rather constitutes a more effective way of loving. These limits to love to which I am referring prevent us from loving, or at least from loving as much, in certain circumstances. They very clearly explain why loving our enemy does not include donating to the ACLU and does not exclude thanking a soldier. I plan to discuss these delimiting factors in future post.

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