What Does It Mean To Love Thy Enemy?
Updated: Feb 6
The reality of what it takes to live one of the hardest pieces of wisdom from the Bible whether we are Christian or not.
Photo by Emmanuel Phaeton on unsplash
Key points of this article
The commandment to ‘love thy enemy’ is one of the hardest pieces of scripture to live regardless of our worldview or faith.
It’s made harder by the reality that most people have a very narrow and shallow understanding of love. For instance, there are 7 types of love that have been identified by the Greeks.
Agape love is the highest form of love; it is self-sacrificing and exemplified through Christ’s crucifixion. It is the hardest to live!
Our default is to think that any enemies are outside of us. We all, however, have an enemy inside of ourselves that we need to confront first before we can face enemies outside of ourselves.
An enemy is someone with destructive intentions and who acts in line with these in the attempt to destroy someone else.
Loving our enemies requires forgiveness combined with holding them accountable for their malicious behaviour.
Ultimately with the trolling of Lighthouse International Group, now known as Lighthouse Global, we want the best outcome for all involved. This means for all to regenerate and to make wrongs right so we can all learn from this situation in order to help others; especially children and families affected by online trolling.
What is one of the hardest pieces of scripture to live?
Whether Christian or not, one of the hardest pieces of scripture to actually live would be this…
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Looking more into this scripture has been very revealing to say the least. The first thing that I and many think when reading this is that it refers to the enemies outside of us. What I’ve learnt is that this is simply not the case! Love thy enemy starts with loving the enemy inside of ourselves first. It is only through that that we can love the enemies outside of us.
I write this, but the other thing is that very few people have an actual idea as to what love means beyond some warm, fluffy feeling that comes from Hollywood movies.
The experience of the last year of being trolled at Lighthouse Global (details can be found here) has taught me so much as to what this actually means as well as how to live it when it’s the hardest to do so. So in this post I’ll explain what I’ve learnt about what it means to love thy enemy as well as how that relates to my and our approach at Lighthouse Global.
As individuals and a business, what we want is to be more loving human beings so we can be better leaders, parents, mentors, coaches and counsellors.
What is love?
Depending on which translation you read, love is mentioned at least 300 times in the Bible as a core commandment in Christianity. It is wonderfully described by the Apostle Paul in the book of Corinthians,
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” - Corinthians 13:4-8 (New International Version)
There are 4 types of love described in the Bible and the Greeks identified 7 types of love. Both Bible contributors and the Greeks agree that the highest form of love is agape. This is selfless, sacrificial and unconditional love.
Agape love is so powerful that many atheists don’t believe that anyone could live in such a self-sacrificial way as Christ and the disciples did. Many Christians, like myself, also struggle to live with this type of love; especially when facing adversity.
It is, however, the type of love that is needed when we are the most stretched and the most challenged. It is strong and requires self-extension; exemplified by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It does not mean being a pushover! It means standing firm when faced with adversity “which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” - 1 Timothy 1:5. Despite being killed in the most gut-wrenching and torturous way, Christ was prepared to forgive His persecutors right till the last breath on the cross.
In the video below, the leading clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson talks about how Christian responsibility means taking on the burden of suffering in the world and also the malevolence that resides within. This is what it means to love in its purest form, agape love.
So, if I was to look at myself it would mean to let go of any of the fear, the anger and the resentment that I hold towards others who seek to do harm to me and those I care about. This is far from easy, but is also in line with one of my favourite definitions from psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who wrote in The Road Less Travelled;
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
Ultimately love is a choice and if we don’t choose to love, then we end up with non-love or anti-love. Neither of these result in any positive result as they are the source of destructive acts that are either abusive, neglectful or both.
What is the enemy inside?
As said above, we mostly default to thinking that enemies are outside of us which means constantly attacking and/or defending ourselves from others. What I have valued massively from my time at Lighthouse International Group is the recognition of the enemy within me and to confront that to become a more loving, caring, compassionate human being.
Our enemy inside is our own weaknesses, our iniquities and our wrongdoings… the darker sides of ourselves that we will likely try to hide from others, often at great cost. It takes agape love, humility and self-honesty to confront our own evil. We all have it, it’s more a case of to what degree and how aware we are of it. Over the years I’ve learnt how I was blindsiding that in myself and in so doing I started to see how pervasive this blindsided depravity is in the sea of humanity.
So to have any hope of facing any enemies outside means to face the enemies inside. It means to take responsibility for our shortcomings first. If we don’t then we are basically a hypocrite who will never legitimately earn anyone’s respect.
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” - Matthew 7:5 (New International Version)
Another perspective on the same issue comes from Dr Jordan Peterson who says in his book 12 Rules For Life, “Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.”
For me personally what does that mean to love the enemy in me? It has meant to look at how I grew up just wanting to be liked by everyone. Yet at the same time, I want to make a massive difference to issues in the world like alleviating the suffering of 800 million children drinking toxic sewage water and transforming an education system that fails to prepare young people to lead optimal lives. The reality is that no pioneer that’s ever made any meaningful difference in the world ever got anywhere by being liked by everyone!
My passivity has stopped me from being able to stand firm for the causes that are dear to me. So the experience of expressing myself through posts like this has been priceless; to become the leader capable of writing these words with increasing levels of conviction and being prepared to face any wrath or criticism that comes back.
Therefore, to restate this, loving the enemy inside involves a journey of self-discovery that takes great courage.
What is the enemy outside?
It is once we’re committed to the process of becoming aware of and confronting what’s sabotaging and destroying us from the inside, that we can start to look outside.
I have to be frank that when I’ve read comments online about me, people I love deeply and the work we do, it has been challenging. As some of those trolling us will know, I lost my mum in May 2020 and I am eternally grateful to people like Paul Waugh and Chris Nash for the incredible love and care they showed me through the biggest challenge in my life to date.
There are trolls who know that the work I am doing with and through Lighthouse is in honour of her and her life. So when I read comments that are biased, prejudiced, hateful, mocking, misleading and patronising, it does feel like a personal attack on me and us at Lighthouse International Group, now known as Lighthouse Global. And the reality is that it is a personal attack on me and on us!
Read the posts on Reddit about us and you do not see expressions of love, care and compassion. At best there are pseudo-expressions of concern which are more to appear caring whilst having destructive intentions. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there, they would be in mature dialogue with us.
Instead we receive childish insults and remarks… most are embarrassed to put their name next to their words. They snipe from the shadows, mostly anonymously, through seedy online platforms like Reddit. They want Lighthouse to fail, they want people to leave and they want people to believe their story that we’re this group of evil nasty people. Look at the motive and you’ll see why; some want to restore power over family members, whilst others want undue financial compensation, some are jealous of the strong relationships we have and there are even those who simply want to feel significant through trying to break down others. Whatever the motive, it would be devastating for it to be categorically proven that their stories about me, us and our work are false.
This is what an enemy is; someone who has destructive intentions and then takes action on these destructive intentions in the attempt to destroy someone else. That said, if I’m not confronting the enemy in me, then I will resort to the same and I’m no better. I can’t become more loving by hating someone who hates me!
This all starts with forgiveness. One of my role models for someone who exhibited incredible levels of this loving human quality is Nelson Mandela. As part of his 6th annual lecture in Klipton, Soweto, Nelson Mandela stated, “It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”
Forgiveness, however, doesn’t mean passive acceptance. Ultimately there needs to be accountability, there needs to be justice and there needs to be responsibility. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequence. Freedom of speech is abused as we’ve seen recently with the Daily Mail printing an article on us based on hearsay. If trolling or any form of bullying or abuse is accepted then it will persist. For the sake of the millions of children worldwide who are being trolled (online or offline), I and we need to learn how to handle this situation in order to inspire good-hearted people to empower children to stand up for themselves.
What do we want for those who troll?
We’ve said it a number of times, we want the best for anyone who attacks us or others. We want them to reform, to regenerate, to get healthy and get well. I say this because the actions of those who troll are not the actions of healthy individuals, no matter how justified they feel in their stories.
What’s been encouraging to see is how a recent Reddit post involved our trolls educating themselves on the 4 levels of spiritual growth. As they’ve discovered, it’s not some weird cult way of labelling people, but a powerful way to help people work out where and how they need to develop into healthy growing adults. In a recent call, Paul S. Waugh was welling up when he heard that this was being led by Richard Thomas (u/Fagins_nemesis) who has been trolling us online since the end of November. A glimpse of light in all the vitriol we’ve seen!
We are only at the point now where we’re needing to pursue legal and criminal prosecution because we have exhausted every other possible alternative; ranging from invitations to meet to warning upon warning about taking action that would have more serious consequences. Yet despite all that's written about us online, we don't want that. For instance, we want Richard Thomas to be the best possible dad for his children and Joanne Holmes to be the most caring, compassionate and inspiring teacher that is humanly possible. We need parents and teachers who are capable of protecting our children and that begins with self-parenting as Paul S. Waugh explains in the Parental Child Protection Series of The Waugh Rooms.
Ultimately our approach at Lighthouse Global in loving those who persecute us is to stand firm, repent and exercise forgiveness whilst also ensuring they are held accountable to the consequences of their illegal, unlawful and criminal behaviour. We are prepared to go to court if necessary; we stand for reality and truth. We will do what it legally takes to protect ourselves, our loved ones and especially our children. We hope that our trolls see what they’re doing is not healthy. To love our enemies is to constantly make them aware of this so that they can get the help they need and in time be an inspiration for others through their example of being prepared to face their own enemies inside.
If you'd like to join me and us on a journey to become more loving, especially when it's hardest, then I'd love to hear from you; whether via LinkedIn or via email.