“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:14-16, emphasis mine)
That italicized part comes back to me often. I know Paul is talking about the freedom that Christ gives us after believing in and on (and loving) Him as removed from the strict and often loveless rulekeeping that was the coin of the realm during Old Testament times. But if you take said line out of context, it’s the best reason I know for loving those you’re less-than-inclined-to-feel-affectionate towards. And by “less-than-inclined-to-feel-affectionate towards” (I’m quoting myself), I’m talking about those individuals you really despise. The ones that, without the oil of the Holy Spirit to smooth out interactions, you would utterly detest (and whom you very well may if and when you’re not in their presence). Your enemies, as it were. The people you hate-but-know-you-should-love. Those, “for whom Christ died”. Whenever I run aground of someone, not knowing how in God’s holy name I would have offended them and caused them to treat me in such a manner, I am gently reminded by the Holy Spirit that I need to love them. This is the Holy Spirit—don’t doubt. But oftentimes I think it’s me and I think, however subconsciously, that this idea of “loving our enemies” is one of those modern-day churchy catchphrases with no grounding in reality. But that’s wrong. Here’s from where this idea sprung (this is Jesus talking):
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
If you read the same passage in Matthew’s gospel (5:44) it says “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Yeah, that’s about it. The stuff that is premeditated and calculated, not just to hurt (“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4) but to steal a piece of your soul to somehow layer on top of their’s because they don’t have the patience or the guts or the heart to get it from God for themselves. That kind of offense. It’s the kind of offense that feels like it would kill you if there weren’t some kind of intervention. Obviously pray for them. Jesus tells us to come into possession of our souls with “patience” (Luke 21:19, see also Psalm 119:109) And if the hurt is worth anything, you will have no choice but to pray. There is deep stuff going on in the case of the individual who hurts you; they have most-likely been hurt themselves and when they see the Lord in you, they’re taking out their pain and frustration and poison on someone who is undeserving (hint: it isn’t about you). And before I go any further, I’m talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ, let me just get that straight. Those who hurt us who themselves aren’t believers are, it would seem, a lot easier to deal with as we go through life. I’d wager it’s because there isn’t that heart connection. But our brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones we’re closer to by our very (new) nature and as such, have, it would seem, unlimited access to our souls. And thank God for restoring our souls (see Psalm 23:3). The take-home message here is that when we get hurt, it’s not about us. It’s about the God we represent.
“Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? He that sweareth to His own hurt, and changeth not.” (Psalm 15:1, 4b)
See, one of the pillars of Christianity is a willingness to be hurt, to die. Jesus tells Peter on the shore to “feed my sheep”. He says it again. However, the first response He gave Peter after he answered Jesus’s probing question of “Lovest thou me?” was, “feed my lambs” (see John 21:15-17) Jesus cares so, so much for His sheep. He is “the Good Shepherd”, after all (see John 10:11-15). He cares so much that He spent Himself, He bled out for us. And it wasn’t just for us. It was for you. It was for them. It was for me. So next time you struggle with intense hatred for an individual—irregardless of how they’ve hurt you—look at them knowing that were they the only person God chose to create, He would have sent Jesus to die for them and for them alone.