You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matt. 5:43-47)There is nothing distinctively Christian about loving those who love you or loving the lovely. To convey this point, Jesus chose a class of people despised by the Jews—tax collectors—and said, “Tax collectors love like that. They are not believers, and they are not moral, but they love those who love them.” When a Christian loves those who love him, all he is doing is something that is natural to man. That is not a Christian characteristic. It is something God created everyone with, including the worst type of criminal.
You exhibit your Christianity or your Christian love when you obey His command to love the unlovely. If you have never loved your enemy and have loved only lovely people, you have been disobedient. Why? Because this love is central to Christian behavior, and it can only be exercised by obedience. You never fall into it. The kind of love you fall into is a characteristic of the natural man. Even your friendships are characteristic of the natural man. Loving the unlovely is peculiar to Christians alone. They have to choose to do it, because it does not happen on its own. Love in the Scripture is always volitional.
How do you love the unlovely? How do you love your enemies?
I became a Christian when I was in my second year at the Naval Academy. I found that one of my first new characteristics was that I loved my roommate, and he was not lovely. Three weeks went by, and he said, “OK, Wilson, what happened? The last three weeks you have been unbearably pleasant.”
I saw my love expand to people I had not loved before, because I had received this kind of love when I received Jesus Christ. He filled me with it, and now I could vent it, by choice. But it had nothing to do with whether my roommate was lovely. I began to see my love expand for more and more types of people.
Then a few years later, I ran into a type of person that I did not like. In fact, I despised them.
I had graduated in June of 1950, had thirty days’ leave, and went right to the Korean War. Our ship stopped at Sasebo, Japan, for refueling. There were 3,000 prostitutes in the first three blocks. You could not walk down the street without being grabbed. It was the same in Yokosuka. I was witnessing on the ship and leading men to Christ. Then they would go ashore and come back with gonorrhea. I hated these women. I had this unlove for them for years, and I knew I had it.
I was on an aircraft carrier in Hong Kong and had some missionary friends out to dinner on the ship. I told them I had this problem of lack of love. The wife said, “You have it all wrong. You are commanded to love those people. It is not something that just happens. It is something you choose in obedience to God.”
I knew what the Scripture said, and I knew that she was right. I went to my room that night in a great turmoil of rebellion. How do you do it? Do you go out and say, “OK, I choose to obey. I will love them if it kills me!” Do you crank it up? Do you put it into effect by sheer willpower? I knew that was not right, because the Scripture requires unfeigned, genuine love. No one would be fooled by my fake love. I said, “Lord, if you want them loved, you will have to love them through someone else. I don’t have it, I can’t fake it, and I don’t know how to obey without faking it.”
But as I prayed that night, I realized several things. If loving is a command, then not loving is disobedience. If it is disobedience, then it is sin. If it is sin, then it is forgivable. We cannot begin to obey until we recognize the issue of sin and receive forgiveness.
I had never considered that this business of not loving my enemies was in the same category as lying. The great commandment is to love God, and the Scripture says, “He who says he loves God and loves not his brother is a liar.” When I do not love others, I do not love God. If I am not obeying the greatest commandment (loving God), how great a sin is it? It is a big sin. If loving my neighbor is the second commandment, and I am not doing it, I am guilty of another big sin. I am disobedient. Does that mean I live in guilt? No, it means I must receive forgiveness. But I must recognize my sin before I can get forgiven.
That night I confessed all my unlove, and God forgave me. Wonderful! That did not make me loving, but it did make me clean. It brought me up to neutral, a position from which I could love. If I had decided to love these prostitutes in the presence of my sin of not loving them, I could not have done it. But I was forgiven. From a clean position, I chose to love those women. I said, “God, You had better meet me before I meet them, or it is going to come out phony.”
When I chose to obey the commandment, God gave me a great love for these people—His love. God’s love does not condone sin, so I did not condone their sin. But now I could see them as those for whom Christ died.