How to be a Radical Lover

by Derrick G. Jeter

Of all the difficult sayings in the Bible to live out, one of the most difficult must be the command to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). This admonishment wasn’t unique with Paul; he was simply repeating a longstanding principle that permeates the New Testament: Christians are not to seek retaliation. The principle can be summed up in Jesus’s pithy and seemingly impossible command: “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27).

Jesus spoke these words in the context of religious persecution that comes as a result of following Him (6:22). Jesus’s words were intended as a personal command for each individual follower of Christ. But what does it mean to love your enemy? Jesus provided three expressions and four illustrations of love. We express love by doing good to those who are hostile to God’s people (6:27), which requires active and positive participation in the lives of those who hate us. We also express love by blessing those who curse (6:28), demanding that we lock up our natural inclination to lash out with biting words while letting loose our tongue to invoke God’s favor on those who verbally abuse us. Finally, we express love by praying for those who mistreat us (6:28), compelling us to submit ourselves to God’s justice and mercy, as did Jesus when He was crucified (23:34) and Stephen when he was stoned to death (Acts 7:60).

After these expressions, Jesus gave four illustrations of radical love. First, turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). This is a personal requirement of Christians, not a requirement for governments who have been attacked, for they carry the sword to avenge evil (Romans 13:4). Individually and personally, whether the offense is a punch to the jaw or a slap with the intent to insult, the point is, love doesn’t defend its rights; rather, it forgives and offers good and blessing and prayer a second time—even if it means additional abuse. Second, freely offer your shirt—even though your coat has already been taken (Luke 6:29). Like turning the cheek, this illustration teaches that we must not seek revenge but continue to love and serve—even those who abuse us. Third, give to your enemies (6:30). Generosity is a fundamental and concrete expression of love and of faithfulness to Christ. Finally, do not demand back that which has been taken (6:30); this command further illustrates the truth that one should not seek retribution or repayment for wrongs done but deny one’s self and seek to win over the enemy through radical love.

Jesus’s ethical demands are high, broad, and deep and are intended to push us beyond the shallowness of the world’s ethics (6:32–34). But we can only accept Jesus’s demands if we truly believe that God sees, that He will reward our faithfulness, and that He will deal justly with us in the end (6:35). To love our enemies is not easy—it’s not even natural. Such radical love is supernatural. We can’t love like this on our own, but if we consistently sacrifice ourselves to our merciful God, rejecting conformity with the world and molding our minds according to the Word of God (Romans 12:1–2), then through the power of God we can love our enemies just as radically as Jesus did when He died to save our rebellious souls.

Taken from Derrick G. Jeter, “Doing Right When You’ve Been Done Wrong,” Lesson Thirty-one, in Insights on Romans: The Christian’s Constitution Learn Online. Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.