We are living in troubled times.
There is absolutely no doubt about it.
In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 24, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, and he also prophesies about the end of the world. Scholars differ on which event he is referring to at different points in the text. But regardless of the details, in Matthew 24 Jesus is talking about what happens in troubled times, and how Christians should respond.
Recently, one verse in this chapter stuck out for me.
Jesus says: “Because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12).
In other words, troubled times can cause the flames of charity in our hearts to grow cold.
Jesus then says, “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (24:13).
Perseveres in what?
The one who perseveres in love will be saved.
God asks us, even in troubled, divided and difficult times, to persevere in love.
It is a work of the devil that the word “love” sounds so “squishy” these days. People hear an exhortation to love, and they often respond with the angry insistence that we also need to be sensible. We need to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We need to fight against evil and shout the truth from the rooftops.
So how can we know what real love looks like?
Real love, agape love, looks like Jesus.
Jesus was not “squishy.” He was a truth teller. He made people uncomfortable. But he also ate with sinners and invited them to follow him. He interacted and debated with the scribes and Pharisees until the bitter end. He did not throw up his hands and walk away, or throw stones at them from afar. Jesus got up close with his enemies. He did not give up, no matter how vehemently or forcefully he disagreed with another person’s point of view.
Jesus mixed with his “enemies.” He allowed Judas to remain in his inner circle until the last moment of his betrayal. He did this, presumably, because it is the Christian thing to do, but also because he wanted to show us that our love should be extended to others until there is no turning back.
Jesus modeled how to respond to the difficult realities involved in his exhortation to love our enemies. He did this to show us that our love, rooted in Christ’s love, can play a role in turning enemies into friends of God.
And then there is another related reason that Jesus tells us to love our enemies …
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, because he knows that the natural human response to evil and to troubled times is for our love to grow cold. And the colder our love becomes, the closer we get to hell, the furthest place from God’s love.
When our love grows cold in the face of evil, we become the very evil that we hate, the very evil that God hates. But God does not want us to become the evil he hates, even if it is in the process of fighting against it. Jesus wants us to become like him.
So we fan the flames of our Christian love by doing exactly what our human instinct tells us not to do: we love our enemies.
We love our enemies instead of allowing our love to grow cold.