What About “Love Your Enemies”? (Matthew 5: 44-48)


By Rev. Renee

But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…..If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect…..Matthew 5: 44-48 NIV


    We recently received an e-mail with a thought-provoking question.  The Lord has led me to use this question and its answer in an article.  I believe it is especially relevant to our situation, and I pray that it will bless you.  Many thanks to our Sister who took the time to write to us with this excellent question.

Q:      I have been reading your site with interest – thanks for it.  I just wondered how you interpret the instructions to love our enemies?

A:      Thanks so much for writing.  I’m so glad you’re enjoying our site. Praise the Lord!  That’s really a great question.  It’s really sad and unfortunate that some people will choose to be our enemies even though we never wanted it that way.  I don’t see any conflict at all in loving someone while still setting limits on their behavior, rebuking them, or even leaving them if necessary.

          Rebuke, setting boundaries, and even enforcing consequences can all be acts of love, done in love.  We love our children, but we still set limits on their behavior, teach them right from wrong, disapprove when they hurt others, and teach them good manners, thoughtfulness, consideration and to treat others nicely.  We take the time to rebuke and teach them precisely because we DO love them.  We can do the same with our abusive relatives.  We can expect proper behavior from them, disapprove of causing pain for others, have boundaries, and refuse to be subjected to abuse or evil, and still love them.  The reason we try so hard to work things out is because we love them.  But do they love us enough to work things out?

          After we have confronted them and stated our boundaries, it is then their choice whether they will respect our limits or continue to abuse.  It is their choice whether the relationship will be able to continue, or will have to end.  Many abusers, when confronted with limits on their behavior, will choose to end the relationship rather than change, and will disown us.  This will cause us much sorrow, precisely because we do love and miss them.  It will take time before we will be able to heal and move on.

          There are also times when we will have no choice but to be the ones to walk away from a toxic relationship.  This is a very difficult decision, usually reached in desperation after many years of trying everything we could think of to make the relationship work, and reluctantly coming to realize that it takes two to tango, and our relative does not care about us enough to even try.  We spend most of our lives trying to change things precisely because we DO love our relative and want so much to have a nice relationship.  It is very painful to walk away from someone we love, but there are times we have no choice.

          Loving someone does not mean you have to have a relationship with them.  As we go through life, most of us at one time or another will have the experience of just not being able to be with someone we love, because we’re not good together, not good for each other, or they’re not right for us or healthy for us.  This could be an old boyfriend, a childhood school chum, or a family member.  As time passes, we come to accept this and know that it’s a part of life, and maybe even look back on our time with that person fondly while moving on with our own lives.   Loving someone does not mean staying in a toxic situation.  Sometimes you love someone but you still have to walk away.  You can love someone from a distance if that’s what it takes to be safe and healthy. 

          Abusers, of course, are going to accuse us of not loving them if we set limits on them, rebuke them, disown them, or even if they disown us.  This is due to many reasons, including manipulation, yet another attempt to control us, or their trademark denial and refusal to be accountable for their own behavior and to blame us or everyone else for the consequences of their own actions.  They are looking at it from a warped perspective and we should not take their accusations of unlovingness on our parts seriously.  The ones who are unloving in the relationship are THEM, not us.

          Love doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be abused, exploited, mistreated, and victimized.  It doesn’t mean letting the person you love do anything they want, no matter how wrong or evil, without ever stopping them. You do not owe the people you love a lifetime of being allowed to walk all over you.  If they refuse to treat you with love, then you can still love them as a part of your past, while understanding and accepting that, for reasons not in your control, they cannot be a part of your present, and will not be a part of your future.  You will mourn and grieve this loss, as you would the loss of anyone you love.  And then you will begin to heal and move on to a better life. 

        So these are the reasons why I have no problem reconciling loving those who choose to be our enemies while still protecting ourselves and our other loved ones.  I don’t see anything contradictory about what we teach on our website and loving our relatives.  Love and boundaries are not mutually exclusive.