The Message says it this way:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:43-48
When we are hurt, when we are being mistreated what is our typical response? To lash out in anger? And what does that create? Only more anger that you carry that with you long after the encounter has passed.
Or maybe your response is to withdraw, retreat, walk away putting up the cold steel cage of protection around your heart. It's understandable especially if you are dealing with someone who has hurt you again and again. But what is the result of that? You never get to experience the fullness of love that way because real love is keeping your heart open even when it hurts. Closing off your heart to someone who has hurt you affects your ability to truly love even those who are lovable.
Looking for a radical way to live our your Christian faith? Choosing to not only love but to show affection and offer words of kindness to someone who is being downright mean to you and rejecting you isn't easy. But loving through the hurt and anger and praying through the human reaction to withdraw and protect yourself is the way of sacrifice. It is putting others above yourself. It is understanding that this person in front of you? The one who is behaving in the most unlovable way you can imagine? This the one who needs your love the most. This is what Jesus calls us to when he says to love your enemies and to pray for those who despitefully use you. Love even when they don't deserve it. And what are the rewards? You get to walk away from that encounter knowing that you represented Jesus in the best possible way and with that comes release and freedom. It releases that person to God and it gives you freedom from the anger and the hardened heart you would otherwise walk away with. It brings peace and leaves the door open for reconciliation and healing in that relationship.
I had the opportunity to put this into practice recently with someone I had poured my life into over the past few weeks. One day everything was fine with us, there was a lot of love and laughter and affection and gratitude for one another. And the next day there were angry words and criticism and complete rejection for reasons I will never know. My reaction was to be angry. I wanted to not care anymore, to just walk away and let it end. I was completely justified in my feelings! But through the encouragement of my dear Husband, I saw it through and held onto love even to the point of being physically pushed away. It was hard. It hurts to love even in the midst of hurt. But I was able to walk away knowing that I gave it my all, no matter the cost, I loved anyway. I know it was God doing the loving through me because God loves the unlovable even when we can't. All I had to do was to choose to be willing and He did the rest.
Anyone can love the lovable. Anyone. But being courageous and through the praying, being able to love the one that no one loves - that's the way of the cross. That's the way of Jesus. It is grace.