Love your Enemies
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
It is sobering to realize that a person can be as close to Jesus as Judas was and yet refuse to believe. No Christian wants to think about Judas, but Martin Luther saw in Judas a warning for all believers, especially the leaders of the church. In his Maundy Thursday sermon, Luther marveled that Judas remained unaffected by “the ceremony of foot-washing and by the solemn words of Christ.” Instead of being humbled, Judas “meditated all the while how he could betray his Master and get the thirty pieces of silver.” For Luther, Judas was an example of what happens to church leaders who become “so engaged in temporal matters” that they neglect Christ and his word and their pastoral responsibilities. “Let no one think they are exempt from such temptation. Let us exercise pure humility, imitating Christ who, with towel in hand, arises from the table to wash the feet of others, who thinks not first of himself, but how he may be of service to his brothers and sisters.” We must cultivate “a spirit of lowliness, and thrust the devil aside with his prompting to pride and arrogance. If we yield to him and become filled with self-esteem, we are lost; we are then no longer disciples of Jesus, but of Judas.”
The most remarkable truth of this passage is how Jesus continued to love Judas in spite of the intentions of his heart. Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray him (John 6:64), but he never identified Judas that way until the end. He maintained his betrayer’s cover. His references were always oblique: “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” When Peter spoke on behalf of the Twelve, pledging their loyalty, Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70).
Knowing, as he did, the contempt and duplicity that lurked in Judas’ heart and yet to welcome the traitor in table fellowship and to count him among the Twelve, can only be said to be the greatest act of long-suffering love. Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29). With respect to Judas, Jesus shows us what it means to love our enemy. It is one thing to endure opposition from outsiders, to weather their scorn and criticism, but it is much harder to endure the intimate presence of one’s suspected enemy. If we re-read the gospel narrative with this fact in mind, we get some inkling as to the constant pressure Jesus was under. Yet Jesus let this situation play out, always giving Judas the full benefit of his fellowship, teaching and spirituality. Jesus bore this intimate reproach without resentment or bitterness. Judas never became an excuse for anything less than total love. “The wickedness of our neighbor,” writes John Chrysostom, “is not strong enough to cast us out of our own virtue.”
If we take Jesus’ example to heart and embrace the power of the Holy Spirit we will not allow the Judas types to set the agenda and rob us of Christ-like gentleness and meekness. What was true of Jesus must be true of his disciples. Jonathan Edwards commends his example this way: “Not one word of bitterness escaped him. . .nor was there the least desire for revenge.” Thankfully, most of us do not have to contend with a Judas, so it should be easier for us to show love to the obnoxious brother or the difficult sister in Christ. If Jesus could wash the feet of his betrayer, I should be able to be patient with my well-intentioned, but misguided brother.
When Jesus informed the disciples that there was a betrayer in their company, he put Judas on notice. However, I doubt that Judas really believed that Jesus knew the intentions of his heart. Judas’ unbelief colored his judgment in every way. He was living in the dark and he must have projected that mind-set onto others, including Jesus. His denial of Jesus’ wisdom effected how he received this warning. He had grown accustom to hearing, but not really listening to Jesus. He was one of the Twelve. He was at the center of the ministry, but he had been living in denial for a long time. What attracted him to Jesus in the first place we do not know. We see this pattern of attraction without discipleship in the church today. Judas was part of a movement bigger than himself. In his mind, he stood above the crowd, and as the movement’s CFO he was entrusted with an enviable task. But he didn’t know Jesus. The Master’s teaching was only background music to the movement’s projected growth. For Judas the Sermon on the Mount was religious rhetoric—part of the public relations campaign. Even though his judgment was clouded, Judas must have been surprised that Jesus suspected him.
Loving discernment is neither naive nor cynical (Philippians 1:9-11). Love sees what there is to see, but always in a way that is consistent with our identity in Christ. Jesus could afford to be patient with Judas because “he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3). When our identity and our eternity are secure, we can allow ourselves to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. We can hold our ground, turn the other cheek, and under duress we can walk the second mile (Matthew 5:39, 44). We can even break-bread with the enemy.
Upper Room Reflection
How is confronting our enemy different from enabling or condemning him?
Disciples should be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. How does this apply to loving our enemy?
Has an enemy ever become an excuse for your disobedience?
How is your love for those who threaten you a sign of your security in Christ?