“I say to you,” said Jesus Christ, “continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.”—Matthew 5:44, 45.
DO YOU see religion as a force for love and peace or for hatred and violence? Today many see it as the latter, especially when religion is fused with politics, ethnicity, or nationalism. Yet, as Jesus’ words show, those who are true ‘sons of God’ imitate God’s love—even toward their enemies.
Another servant of God stated: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink . . . Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Romans 12:20, 21) But is such love really possible in this divided world? Jehovah’s Witnesses unequivocally answer yes! Consider the example of Jesus and his early followers.
They Loved Their Enemies
Jesus taught the truth about God, and many listened to him with pleasure. Others, however, turned against him, some out of ignorance. (John 7:12, 13; Acts 2:36-38; 3:15, 17) Nevertheless, Jesus continued to share his lifesaving message with all, including opposers. (Mark 12:13-34) Why? He knew that some might change their ways, recognize him as the Messiah, and conform to the spiritual truths found in God’s Word.—John 7:1, 37-46; 17:17.
Even on the night of his unjust arrest by armed opponents, Jesus showed love for his enemies. In fact, he healed one of his captors, whom the apostle Peter had struck with a sword. On that occasion Jesus stated an important principle that guides his true followers to this day. He said: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:48-52; John 18:10, 11) Some 30 years later, Peter wrote: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. . . . When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to [God].” (1 Peter 2:21, 23) Clearly, Peter had learned that love, not retaliation, is the way of Christ’s true followers.—Matthew 5:9.
All who ‘follow Jesus’ steps closely’ reflect his loving, gracious disposition. “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, . . . keeping himself restrained under evil,” says 2 Timothy 2:24. Those qualities would be evident in the Christian’s way of life, which is one of peace and reconciliation.
Peaceable ‘Ambassadors for Christ’
To his fellow believers, the apostle Paul wrote: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ . . . As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’” (2 Corinthians 5:20) Ambassadors do not meddle in the internal political and military affairs of the countries where they serve. Rather, they remain neutral. Their job is to represent and advocate the government for which they speak.
The same is true of Christ’s ambassadors and envoys. They view Jesus as King and advocate his heavenly Kingdom by peacefully proclaiming the good news. (Matthew 24:14; John 18:36) Thus, Paul wrote to Christians of his day: “We do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning . . . reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”—2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:13-20.
When Paul penned those words, Christians were being persecuted in many lands. To be sure, they could have retaliated. Instead, they continued to love their enemies and to share the message of reconciliation with all who would listen. The Encyclopedia of Religion and War states: “The earliest followers of Jesus rejected war and military service,” recognizing these practices as “incompatible with the love ethic of Jesus and the injunction to love one’s enemies.”*
“Christian writers prior to Constantine [Roman emperor 306-337 C.E.] unanimously condemned killing in war,” says the Encyclopedia of Religion and War. A shift in attitude occurred when the apostasy foretold in the Bible became rampant.—Acts 20:29, 30; 1 Timothy 4:1.
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
▪ How should Christians treat their enemies?—Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:20, 21.
▪ When persecuted, how did Jesus respond?—1 Peter 2:21, 23.
▪ Why did the early Christians renounce physical warfare?—2 Corinthians 5:20; 10:3-5.