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There are two difficult realities you must accept if you are to live faithfully as a Christian in the world. (1) You will have enemies. And (2) you must love those enemies. Jesus taught both things quite clearly.

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 10:21-22 “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Accepting either one of these truths is challenging enough. Embracing both of them takes the work of the Holy Spirit.

Some people can accept that they will have enemies in this life. They understand the world may hate them, so they prepare for the worst and get ready for battle. They know that the world is not their home. They expect to be hated for their Christian beliefs. And in fact, they feel some confirmation they are on the right track when they accumulate opponents. They are fully prepared for enemies. But there is little in their demeanor that wants to love those enemies. They are always in battle mode and have no interest in forgiving their enemies or praying for the spiritual well being of their enemies. These folks exhibit lots of courage and little compassion.

On the other hand, some people are just the opposite. They believe in love with all their hearts. They know they must turn the other cheek and accentuate the positive. They care deeply for the feelings and hurts of others. They want people to get along. They try to minimize conflict and find common ground.  They are fully prepared to love. But they don’t have a very robust view of love. They equate love with unconditional affirmation or think love means we don’t challenge faulty assumptions. They are always in bridge building mode and no stomach for ever upsetting someone. These folks exhibit lots of compassion and little courage.

We need both. If you are going to be a faithful Christian in a fallen world you better prepared for people to hate you, and you better prepared to love them nonetheless. Even to the point of death.

Ours, of course, not theirs. That’s the way of Jesus. Tell the truth. Be hated. Love. Die. Live again.

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26 thoughts on “To Follow Christ Is to Love Them When They Hate You”

  1. Joan says:

    This was a very helpful and needed reminder, Pastor Kevin. May Christ equip me for this in each day he gives me breath.

  2. Melody says:

    What do you say to the people that use the wolf loophole to treat other people badly?
    My heart gets so weary when I see other people who claim to be believers that go around heckling those that have been labeled wolves. When you ask them about their un-Christ like behavior they always pull out the verses about wolves. It’s like an excuse to hate that no one can take away.

  3. Alex says:

    I think Matthew 10:21 makes a lot of Christians adopt a reactionary and defensive posture when engaging others. And it’s really frustrating.

    I don’t know ANYONE who hates a Christian just because he believes in Jesus. The problem is that so many people associate Christians with the bigotry and intolerance they see in the news, or the insane evangelists they see on TV.

    I really don’t have any patience for the “martyr complex.” Live your lives and be nice to people. If you want to share your concerns about sin with someone, that’s great. But don’t just be a giant mouth and speak from a bully pulpit. Cultivate a relationship with someone first. Earn the right to speak. And listen twice as much as you speak.

  4. Jennifer A. says:

    I participate in 40 Days for Life, a pro-life prayer vigil that stands outside of abortion clinics during Lent, and this is always a big matter for us. The place between acquiescence and animosity can be a very difficult place to find when people are driving past and flipping us off. Every year, we have to remind ourselves that Christ died as much for the people raging against us as he did for us and also swallow a lot of pride.

  5. Dave Dunbar says:

    Alex said we need to earn the right to speak. Where does the Bible say that???

    Jesus has already commanded us to speak; and preaching is the primary method for conveying the gospel message. Sure, some won’t like it — that’s to be expected. Building a relationship first is fine, but not mandated. And frankly, if you only speak to those with whom you’ve built “relationships” first, you won’t be speaking to very many people.

    “Friendship evangelism” isn’t wrong in and of itself, but most of the time, it ends up being a so-called friendship with very little (if any) evangelism.

    We must have enough love and compassion on folks to tell them, and Kevin is absolutely right — sometimes they’ll hate us for it. But that’s because they hate Christ.

  6. Alex says:

    You’re right, it’s probably not mandated in scripture. But it sure is a common sense approach to evangelism, if you want to get your message across. And engaging others through friendship is something decent human beings do anyway, regardless of religion.

  7. Amy Kilpatrick says:

    This is a wonderful article, and these are some interesting comments. You all have some valid points. Yes, we are commanded to speak, even to those who hate. BUT our speech has to be different than theirs. It must be spoken at all times with love, not anger.

    I have been out on the street by an abortion mill as well. So I know that there is not always an opportunity for “Friendship Evangelism”. But we must always do “Love Evangelism”. If we can’t, it would be better to walk away – without speaking in anger.

  8. Dave Cline says:

    Thanks Kevin!

    Great word.

  9. I think we should be careful not to equate “being nice” with “being Christ-like.” I’m sorry to say it, but Jesus wasn’t very nice. He was GOOD. There’s a difference. There’s a point at which I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use angry language against certain people. Their fate is in the hands of God. But as long as they’re killing the innocent and leading souls to Hell, we need to be vocal about those evils and not worry about whether we’re being “nice” or not.

  10. SG says:

    Yankee Gospel Girl,

    I don’t think your response is accurate. Jesus was nice/compassionate/gracious/gentle many times in the Bible as he was courageous and truthful while he called people out on their sin. It’s possible to strongly oppose something and still speak in a way that shows compassion towards the other person– this is what we are called to do as Christians. We should be trying to win the argument AND the man. We should also uphold Biblical character which speaks the truth and has love for our enemies. If we see people as wolves and evil caricatures who are doomed to hell versus people created in the image of God in need of redemption we will likely feel self righteous in our anger against them and never make any effort to speak to them in a way which will have any impact on them.

  11. Flyaway says:

    We need to love others enough to tell them the truth.

  12. Jesus was gentle towards those who came honestly seeking to learn from him, those who were his friends, and those who showed remorse about their sin. He had harsh words for the others. All the really terrible things about Hell in the Bible were said by him, not Paul, John or any of the other apostles.

  13. In particular, I often think of Jesus’ comment regarding the man who would lead a child astray—that he might as well have a stone tied to his neck and be drowned. Many of the people we’re dealing with are willfully causing children to stumble exactly as Jesus is describing.

  14. Kenton says:

    Alex, when you say bigotry and intolerance, do you mean telling people that God holds them accountable for the lives that they live or that those who do not believe in Christ really will be excluded from his kingdom?

    When you say, “I don’t know ANYONE who hates a Christian just because he believes in Jesus”, are you referring to a simple preference of personal, private, keep it to yourself belief, or the genuine “I believe that Jesus is objectively the Lord, the Savior, the Judge of the world and he commands you to believe and repent” belief?

    Finally, when you say, “If you want to share your concerns about sin with someone, that’s great”, do you mean that it is permissible but not commanded or that it is permissible but not encouraged, or that we shouldn’t preach the gospel to people in general?

  15. Alex says:

    Kenton, if I were to ask you to think of a news event in recent memory where a Christian or Christian organization exhibited poor behavior and failed to represent Christianity well, I suspect you’d be able to think of one right away.

    Some of the best, most meaningful conversations I’ve had are with thoughtful, Christian friends who like to research, study, and extrapolate the Scriptures. These things (sin, atonement, incarnation) are complex topics that should be dissected and discussed, not just shouted from a stage to people who have no frame of reference. If you think YOUR opposition to someone’s sin is the FIRST thing that should be known about you, you may have a hard time reaching people and starting meaningful relationships.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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