You heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! [Matthew 5:43-44 (NTE)]
No respecter of early mornings, an annoying woodpecker was busy drumming on the gutters of a nearby house. A few streets later, I spotted a woodpecker determinedly drilling into the stucco of another house. As it excavated a roost hole in the decorative trim, the determined little bird was doing as much damage with his beak as a heavy sledge hammer. A plaster patch nearby told me this wasn’t the first time the wall has been under attack! Throughout our community I see reflective streamers, children’s pinwheels, life-sized plastic owls, and strips of aluminum foil hanging from the eaves of houses. Nothing, however, seems to deter these birds from their drumming and drilling.
I thought of relentless woodpeckers after talking with a friend who recently experienced a stressful (but unavoidable) time with extended family. I could hear the exasperation in her voice as she spoke of the visit. As followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to reflect God’s love to everyone but she wondered if there’s an expiration date for that command when we get nothing but rudeness, deceit, or put-downs in return? How do we continue to love others when they are unlovable? We should be channels of God’s grace but what if we’re channeling that grace into what seems to be a bottomless pit of nasty? We’re supposed to be giving but when do we get a chance to receive? If other people can be selfish, under-handed, and bad-mannered, why can’t we?
Perhaps we need to remember that other people, no matter how unpleasant, demanding, or quarrelsome, are not the real foe—it is Satan. Like the woodpecker, he doggedly pokes, prods, and pesters us and our frustration, impatience, and annoyance with troublesome people is Satan chipping away at us a little bit at a time. Given enough time, instead of a stucco wall, he hopes to break through the wall of self-control. Instead of turning the other cheek, he wants us to lash back with some of the same!
In Jesus’ call to love our enemies, the word used was agapate which is the very kind of love God has for His sinful, disappointing, deceitful, troublesome, stiff-necked, difficult, selfish, and argumentative children! His love for us is active, unconditional, consistent, and permanent—a love that builds up rather than tears down. When Satan pecks at us with unpleasant people and difficult situations, let us remember that grace—unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it—is exactly what we got from God and what He expects us to pass on to others! Admittedly, there are times we’re sorely tempted to retaliate rather than love but, just as God never takes a break from loving us, we don’t get to take a break from loving our enemies!
Fortunately, instead of plastic owls, we have God’s armor and the shield of faith to fortify us against Satan’s attacks. While loving our enemies is impossible on our own, God’s power enables us to resist Satan’s attacks and continue to pass on God’s grace to everyone (not just the nice deserving ones).
Agape is disinterested love. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]