Ed note: When I asked Moishe to write a musing for the February newsletter, he was not sure he felt well enough to write much . . . but once he got started it wasn’t long before we had twice the usual column. I didn’t want to leave anything out so . . . enjoy!
Sometimes God asks us to do what might seem impossible. For example, He doesn’t merely ask us to love one another; He expects us to love our enemies.
God never asks us to do what’s impossible—so when He says to love our enemies, there must be some provision that enables us to do just that. As I pondered, How can we love our enemies?” I found myself seeking definitions for “love” and “enemy.”
When it comes to love, some people look no further than a feeling or sentiment. Oh, there is a sentiment that goes with love, but that is our reaction or response to the beloved. Love, at its core, is active; it is a commitment, a decision to do good, to be good, and to want good for one’s beloved. Love is work.
So far as the word “enemy,” I realized that this, too, is a term of commitment. Usually, a person who decides to be your enemy is committed to seeing you punished, hurt, thwarted, frustrated—because he refuses to see any goodness in you or for you. God has made it clear that He still wants us to love those who have taken a position against us. I don’t know about you, but in most cases, it wasn’t my choice to be an enemy.
For example, I never chose to be an enemy to my own people. Yet when I became a Christian, I was regarded as an enemy who had committed spiritual treason. Before my ministry became effective, it was mainly my family and friends who felt hurt by what they saw as my betrayal. They treated me as an enemy in reaction to that pain.
When I realized the pain they felt over my faith, I was gravely shaken. I could hold on to the knowledge that “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12b). Nevertheless, I had always tried to uphold my fellow Jews and to be a spokesman on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people—and it hurt when those I had upheld felt I had betrayed them. Eventually, family relationships were somewhat repaired, but never entirely restored.
Then when I went into ministry, many more came to regard me as an enemy. The negative things people said or thought of me were to discourage other Jews from considering that the gospel might be for them. At the height of my career, I read terrible things about myself in Jewish newspapers. People accused me of being a deceiver. But once again, defining terms helped me. A deceiver knows something to be true and attempts to lead people away from the truth. I knew that I was telling people what I absolutely believed to be true.
Now the opposition could have accused me of being fat or sloppy, or they might have pointed out that I was less than brilliant, and I would have been forced to agree. But the accusations had to be more intense than that in order to discourage people from opening their hearts to the possibility that Jesus could be for Jews.
One of the greatest tools that I could use to help me love those who had chosen to be my enemies was to recall how very angry and mean-spirited I had been to my own Jewish wife when she first told me that she believed in Jesus. Remembering my own fury helped me to be sympathetic to those Jews who heaped scorn on us. I had the hope that some of them, like me, might one day serve Yeshua.
Another example of an enemy I didn’t choose is a person that I once felt very close to—someone I’d mentored, encouraged, and who had an important role in the Jews for Jesus ministry. At one point it became apparent he was no longer happy to serve under my leadership. When he left Jews for Jesus he expressed anger and threatened harm to the organization he helped build. This former colleague had decided that I was going to be his enemy.
So, what could I do to love this person? First, I remembered the quality of the relationship before it went sour. Next, I remembered (and still do, these many years later) the best of his service with Jews for Jesus and his many contributions. From time to time, I read about some of his achievements and I can take satisfaction, whether or not he likes me, or cares for Jews for Jesus. He’s doing some things that are good and right, and I can respect that.
The third thing that helps me is to know that, though I feel most of his accusations against me have been unjust, I do have flaws and faults. And though it was never my intention to wrong anybody, I know that I have sometimes wronged people.
The last thing that helps me to feel love toward this brother is to look forward to a time when we will both be in the presence of the Lord. Then we shall know as we’re known, and what I will see in this person is what Christ has put within him, and that’s what he will see in me.
The last example of an enemy I want to tell you about was a prominent clergyman who wrote a book advocating the Palestinian cause in a way that utterly demonized the Jewish people. I am not saying that either side was or is completely innocent or guilty, but I felt this book that purported to explain the problems of the Middle East was unbalanced and inflammatory.
This was one of those rare instances where I had decided to be someone’s enemy because I saw it as my duty toward my people. I didn’t make any personal attacks on him, but whenever I could, I pointed out that what he had written was not objective, that much had been omitted, leaving the reader with an inaccurate assessment. Without quoting him by name, I answered some of his arguments in the Jews for Jesus Newsletter.
At any rate, I was lecturing at the seminary where this man taught and it was a delight to address the student body, who were alert and very receptive. And then, as I was eating lunch in the dining room, my enemy sat down next to me, smiled, and told me who he was. I smiled back, and I said, “You are my enemy, and the enemy of my people.”
Our conversation was perfectly civil. I didn’t attempt to stab him with my table knife. I didn’t even pour extra salt on his food when he wasn’t looking. Had he choked on his lunch, I would have tried to remember the Heimlich maneuver to save his life. To be his enemy did not require me to wish him ill or treat him badly; it was a logical position that my commitments demanded of me.
God provides tools to help us love our enemies and show the world how Christians are truly different. I’m listing some of those tools; I’m sure you can think of more.
- Prepare your heart: ask yourself if there is clutter getting in the way of the love God wants you to have for others. Let Him remove anything that doesn’t belong.
- Pray: ask God to help you to see the person as He does. Often our disinclination to love can be traced to an unwillingness to see how much God values that person.
- Playback a list of as many of your own sins as you can, and remember how God has forgiven you. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to forgive those who offend or hurt you when you are filled with gratitude to God for all His grace.
- Position yourself as close as you can to God. Receive His love so that you can extend it to anyone God wants you to love.