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Sacrificial Love

February 2012
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The Sermon on the Mount” can be summed up in one word: love. Jesus said we should love God, love our neighbor, love ourselves–and also love our enemies [emphasis mine]. The idea of loving our enemies wasn’t a radical new command from Jesus. It was part of the Levitical code (‘Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the LORD’ —Lev. 19:18), and also a feature of Old Testament wisdom (‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink. You will make them burn with shame, and the Lord will reward you’ —Prov. 25:21-22)” —quote by Jon Walker in Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’” p. 137-138.

“The only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him” –quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,” p. 147. From these two quotes we can clearly see the difference between a Christian response and the response from the rest of the world regarding how to treat our enemies. The world seeks revenge or to “get even” or to hate their enemies. Christians are called to love their enemies . . . and not just love them, but as Jesus said in Matt. 5:44-45: “. . . I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me, loving my enemies doesn’t come naturally–not by a long shot. And doing good to my enemies? Well, I just try to stay away from them if/when I can. This kind of radical, sacrificial love is not a part of the human psyche. As Jon Walker states in Costly Grace,” “It is a love beyond human understanding. ‘We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice,’ says the Apostle Paul. ‘But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use to him’ (Rom. 5:7-8 MSG). We are only able to love our enemies because God’s love flows through us. And this is what makes our love extraordinary, a love that shows we are living in the kingdom of heaven and trusting that even the worst of our enemies is not beyond the power of God’s power to change lives,” pp. 138-139.

The next several paragraphs are direct quotes from Jon Walker’s book as he says it much better than I can say it as I still struggle with loving my enemies on a frequent basis. Both of the books I have mentioned above (both based on The Sermon on the Mount) are worth reading for any serious disciple who sincerely wants to walk out this faith as Jesus has called us to do.

“Bonhoeffer says Christ calls us to love our enemies with the same love we would have for a precious lover [Wow, that is not a concept I had considered before]. ‘The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love,’ says Bonhoeffer. ‘His behaviour must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.’

“Jesus enables us to love our enemies with patience, kindness, encouragement, humility, service, trust, truth, hope, perseverance, and joy (I Cor. 13:1-13). Costly grace creates in us a love that is sincere, service-oriented and Spirit-directed. It allows us to approach those who oppose us faithful in prayer, generous in invitation, and full of blessings for them (Rom. 12:9-21).

“This kind of love ‘cuts right across [our] ideas of good and evil,’ says Bonhoeffer. It is offensive to us to think in this way, but it is a sure sign we are entering the kingdom of heaven when we begin to see our enemies with the eyes of Jesus, understanding that God’s way to defeat them is by loving them.

“Fallen men and women cannot do this, only those who carry Jesus within and who respond obediently to the commands of Jesus. Only those who obediently believe in Jesus can love with the love of God flowing through them. Otherwise, their love is a diminished love that lacks the power to overcome evil, a shadow love that mixes selfish motives–perhaps in the face of an enemy the motive of self-preservation–with unqualified, godly motives.

“Bonhoeffer says Jesus calls us to a love that makes no distinction between one enemy or the other and no distinction between a private enemy or a public one (that is, someone we personally know or someone, say, in public office whose policies are designed to harm us). Regardless we are to offer unqualified love to our enemies. We’re to bless them, do good for them and pray for them.

“Jesus commands us to an active love of our enemies. Our love is more than just a passive bearing of persecution and hatred. We must engage [emphasis mine] in loving our enemies by blessing them, doing good for them, and praying for them regardless of who they are or what they have done. Bonhoeffer says, ‘We are not to imagine that this is to condone his evil; such a love proceeds from strength rather than weakness, from truth rather than fear, and therefore it cannot be guilty of the hatred of another.

“It is a fearless love, where we recognize God loved us even when we were  his enemies, and now, by his love within us, we can love our enemies with the same love aimed at redemption” (pp. 139-140).

Those words pierced right through the shell of my reasoning that kept whispering to me, “If/when my enemies own up to what they did to/said about me then I can let go of the hurt and I can finally release them (if not in person then at least in my own mind) from the anger I feel at what they did.” Sound familiar? Most of the time our enemies feel justified in what they did or said (we are all blind to our own shortcomings and our capacity to justify our own actions is, dare I say, gargantuan), and an apology is not ever likely to come our way. If we don’t let go of that reasoning and allow Jesus to truly change us from the inside out, it’s a vicious cycle that will keep us tied up in anger and bitterness and keep us from experiencing true forgiveness for ourselves and extending it to our enemies. And it keeps us from genuine, sacrificial love.

“We are to love in deed [emphasis mine] as well as word,” Jon Walker continues, “Jesus calls us to an active love [emphasis mine]. The Apostle Paul says, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame’ (Rom. 12:20).

“Doing this is humanly impossible, but it brings you daily to the door of dependence upon Jesus, where you must draw upon his strength to love those who hate you: ‘To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (Col. 1:29).

“It requires faith to do the good works Jesus requires of us as we face our enemies, where we enter their lives by showing them the uncommon compassion of Jesus” (pp. 140-141).

This has given me a lot to think about and pray about and put into actionStaying close to Jesus 24/7 is where it starts, and a willingness to change and let Him change us is next. And Jesus doesn’t give us the option to bail out.

No, His way is the only way. . . .

Photo credit here



  1. The love Jesus had when He was dying upon the cross as His enemies cursed Him is a great kind of love. He prayed to the Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is a love that is supernatural, and He wants us to practice it. Thanks for sharing. Connie


  2. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    I learned a lot about praying for my enemies during my first pastorate. Even on my last day when I was shaking hands goodbye and an elderly member of the the ruling clan tried to hurt me. She took my hand with a smile on her face, whispered “don’t believe the liars” (of which she was a big one) and started squeezing tight, so I gripped tighter, she kept doing it harder until i finally out squeezed her–man she had a good strong grip and had I let her she would have injured me. But I did forgive her.

    I think once one develops a habit of doing this it becomes easier each time. The first time is very hard, but by the power of the Holy Spirit it’s doable.


  3. Kirsten says:

    “where we recognize God loved us even when we were his enemies” that part of the quote jumped off the page for me! We conveniently forget that at one point in our lives we have all been an enemy to God. Yet, His love for us never wavered. While we might not be able to love our enemy…God’s love is big enough to love them through us.

    Sara, I’m with you when you say that loving our enemies doesn’t come naturally! It takes a choice on our part. Thank you so much for this reminder of sacrificial love 🙂


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