These words spoken by Yeshua (Jesus) make for a fine and heart-warming Bible study, but may in fact be the most difficult to realize when faced with a real enemy. If one in reality despises an enemy who is out to destroy you, the acting as if you love him may be flavored with insincerity, and may be felt by your adversary as nothing but hypocrisy. On the other hand, in an interpersonal relationship or heated debate, even that acting out may still the negative feelings for both parties, and thus create a new reality that can lead to a peaceful resolution.
In a war or criminal situation, rather than an interpersonal relationship, when an enemy has set forth to kill and destroy, then the words of Yeshua become even more difficult to apply. Then it may become one’s job as a soldier or officer of the law to risk one’s life in taking another’s in order to protect one’s family or nation, understanding that the Ten Commandments specifically tell us “Do not murder”- not, do not kill. Many sincere Christians, including the famed Sergeant York in World War 1, were obliged to face an enemy and kill, or be killed, in combat. It was also true for those who stormed the Normandy beaches in order to defeat the evil of Nazism. That has often been in fulfilling another of Yeshua’s sayings, “There is no greater love than laying one’s life down for another,” which may be the case in taking up arms in defending one’s family or nation.
The Torah, which is also endorsed by Yeshua, directs us to first attempt to make peace with our adversaries before engaging in war (Deuteronomy 20:10). There are other admonitions and examples of doing good to enemies in the books of the Torah, including Exodus 23:4-5; 32:35 and Romans 12:19, and Proverbs 25:21-22: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you”. As an example, this is what Elisha practiced with the captured Assyrians (2 Kings 6:21-23). Rather than being entirely revolutionary, Yeshua’s words were built upon these Torah passages.
Yeshua referred several times to actual war and weapons thereof, once in the parable of the king that goes out to war, first considering if he has enough forces to win, and another time telling his disciples to sell their cloaks and purchase swords (presumably not for peeling oranges). He also said that there would continue to be wars and rumors of wars, which we continue to witness to our day. Therefore, God’s people must carefully weigh the words of the Messiah, and consider how they might apply to current situations, until that day comes when swords are beaten into plowshares, and nations learn war no more (Isaiah chapter 2).
Meanwhile, loving one’s own friends and family, and even fellow believers with whom one may be disappointed, forgiving and attempting to reconcile when feelings are hurt, is often challenge enough to tax our spiritual resources and faith.