I am forced to preach under something of a
handicap this morning. In fact, I had the doctor before coming to
church. And he said that it would be best for me to stay in the bed
this morning. And I insisted that I would have to come to preach. So
he allowed me to come out with one stipulation, and that is that I
would not come in the pulpit until time to preach, and that after,
that I would immediately go back home and get in the bed. So I'm
going to try to follow his instructions from that point on.
I want to use as a subject from which to preach this morning a very
familiar subject, and it is familiar to you because I have preached
from this subject twice before to my knowing in this pulpit. I try
to make it a, something of a custom or tradition to preach from this
passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that
I develop along the way out of new experiences as I give these
messages. Although the content is, the basic content is the same,
new insights and new experiences naturally make for new
So I want to turn your attention to this subject: "Loving Your
Enemies." It's so basic to me because it is a part of my basic
philosophical and theological orientation the whole idea of love,
the whole philosophy of love. In the fifth chapter of the gospel as
recorded by Saint Matthew, we read these very arresting words
flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: "Ye have heard that it
has been said, "Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy."
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do
good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use
you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven."
Certainly these are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions.
And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an
extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it
just isn't possible to move out into the actual practice of this
glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just
additional proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never
quite came down to earth. So the arguments abound. But far from
being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical
realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new
urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer,
this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our
civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our
civilization, love even for enemies.
Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave
this command; he wasn't playing. He realized that it's hard to love
your enemies. He realized that it's difficult to love those persons
who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you.
He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he
wasn't playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another
example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get
over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear
coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn't playing;
because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral
responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and
to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live
by this command.
Now first let us deal with this question, which is the practical
question: How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first
thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by
analyzing self. And I'm sure that seems strange to you, that I start
out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning
with a look at self. It seems to me that that is the first and
foremost way to come to an adequate discovery to the how of this
Now, I'm aware of the fact that some people will not like you, not
because of something you have done to them, but they just won't like
you. I'm quite aware of that. Some people aren?t going to like the
way you walk; some people aren't going to like the way you talk.
Some people aren't going to like you because you can do your job
better than they can do theirs. Some people aren't going to like you
because other people like you, and because you're popular, and
because you're well-liked, they aren't going to like you. Some
people aren't going to like you because your hair is a little
shorter than theirs or your hair is a little longer than theirs.
Some people aren't going to like you because your skin is a little
brighter than theirs; and others aren't going to like you because
your skin is a little darker than theirs. So that some people aren't
going to like you. They're going to dislike you, not because of
something that you've done to them, but because of various jealous
reactions and other reactions that are so prevalent in human nature.
But after looking at these things and admitting these things, we
must face the fact that an individual might dislike us because of
something that we've done deep down in the past, some personality
attribute that we possess, something that we've done deep down in
the past and we've forgotten about it; but it was that something
that aroused the hate response within the individual. That is why I
say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that
arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.
This is true in our international struggle. We look at the struggle,
the ideological struggle between communism on the one hand and
democracy on the other, and we see the struggle between America and
Russia. Now certainly, we can never give our allegiance to the
Russian way of life, to the communistic way of life, because
communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical
materialism that no Christian can accept. When we look at the
methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies
the means, we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians
that the end is pre-existent in the means. But in spite of all of
the weaknesses and evils inherent in communism, we must at the same
time see the weaknesses and evils within democracy.
Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has
ever conceived, but the weakness is that we have never touched it.
Isn?t it true that we have often taken necessities from the masses
to give luxuries to the classes? Isn't it true that we have often in
our democracy trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet
of oppression? Isn't it true that through our Western powers we have
perpetuated colonialism and imperialism? And all of these things
must be taken under consideration as we look at Russia. We must face
the fact that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent
from Asia and Africa is at bottom a revolt against the imperialism
and colonialism perpetuated by Western civilization all these many
years. The success of communism in the world today is due to the
failure of democracy to live up to the noble ideals and principles
inherent in its system.
And this is what Jesus means when he said: "How is it that you can
see the mote in your brother's eye and not see the beam in your own
eye?" Or to put it in Moffatt?s translation: "How is it that you see
the splinter in your brother's eye and fail to see the plank in your
own eye?" And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So we
begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us
whether in collective life or individual life by looking at
A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his
enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime
you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person,
realize that there is some good there and look at those good points
which will over-balance the bad points.
I?ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a
schizophrenic personality. We?re split up and divided against
ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all
of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting
against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle
within the very structure of every individual life. There is
something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Ovid, the
Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the
evil things I do." There is something within all of us that causes
us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a
charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in
different directions. There is something within each of us that
causes us to cry out with Goethe, "There is enough stuff in me to
make both a gentleman and a rogue." There is something within each
of us that causes us to cry out with Apostle Paul, "I see and
approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do."
So somehow the "isness" of our present nature is out of harmony with
the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts us. And this simply
means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and
within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see
this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person
who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates
you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has
some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the
face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls
"the image of God," you begin to love him in spite of. No matter
what he does, you see God?s image there. There is an element of
goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good
in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of
goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity
presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which
you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when
the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most,
the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has
spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you
have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a
recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that
person to make some move in life. That?s the time you must do it.
That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this
sentimental something that we talk about. It?s not merely an
emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for
all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise
to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only
to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in
that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
The Greek language, as I?ve said so often before, is very powerful
at this point. It comes to our aid beautifully in giving us the real
meaning and depth of the whole philosophy of love. And I think it is
quite apropos at this point, for you see the Greek language has
three words for love, interestingly enough. It talks about love as
eros. That?s one word for love. Eros is a sort of, aesthetic love.
Plato talks about it a great deal in his dialogues, a sort of
yearning of the soul for the realm of the gods. And it?s come to us
to be a sort of romantic love, though it?s a beautiful love.
Everybody has experienced eros in all of its beauty when you find
some individual that is attractive to you and that you pour out all
of your like and your love on that individual. That is eros, you
see, and it?s a powerful, beautiful love that is given to us through
the beauty of literature; we read about it.
Then the Greek language talks about philia, and that?s another type
of love that?s also beautiful. It is a sort of intimate affection
between personal friends. And this is the type of love that you have
for those persons that you?re friendly with, your intimate friends,
or people that you call on the telephone and you go by to have
dinner with, and your roommate in college and that type of thing.
It's a sort of reciprocal love. On this level, you like a person
because that person likes you. You love on this level, because you
are loved. You love on this level, because there?s something about
the person you love that is likeable to you. This too is a beautiful
love. You can communicate with a person; you have certain things in
common; you like to do things together. This is philia.
The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the
word agape. And agape is more than eros; agape is more than philia;
agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive
goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It
is an overflowing love; it's what theologians would call the love of
God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this
level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but
because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him
because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person
you?ve ever seen.
And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he
says, "Love your enemy." And it?s significant that he does not say,
"Like your enemy." Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate
something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to
like. I don?t like what they do to me. I don?t like what they say
about me and other people. I don?t like their attitudes. I don?t
like some of the things
they?re doing. I don?t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love
is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for
all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You
refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you
have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you
love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed
that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, "Love
your enemy." This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents
itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Now for the few moments left, let us move from the practical how to
the theoretical why. It?s not only necessary to know how to go about
loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we
should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should
love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus?
thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence
of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I
hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad
infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere
somebody must have a little sense, and that?s the strong person. The
strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the
chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn?t cut
it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the
universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to
cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that
strong and powerful element of love.
I think I mentioned before that sometime ago my brother and I were
driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was
driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very
discourteous that night. They didn?t dim their lights; hardly any
driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very
vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said:
"I know what I?m going to do. The next car that comes along here and
refuses to dim the lights, I?m going to fail to dim mine and pour
them on in all of their power." And I looked at him right quick and
said: "Oh no, don?t do that. There?d be too much light on this
highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody
got to have some sense on this highway."
Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the
trouble, isn?t it? That as all of the civilizations of the world
move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked
at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and they
decided to refuse to dim theirs. And Toynbee tells that out of the
twenty-two civilizations that have risen up, all but about seven
have found themselves in the junkheap of destruction. It is because
civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the lights. And if
somebody doesn?t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful
and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our
civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we
will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the
highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have
some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate,
toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral,
ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody
must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of
hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.
There?s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is
because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think
of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated
or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more
ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin
hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You
can?t see straight when you hate. You can?t walk straight when you
hate. You can?t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is
nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled
with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological
case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person
and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly. For
the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly
becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad
and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes
false and the false becomes true. That?s what hate does. You can?t
see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very
structure of the personality of the hater. And this is why Jesus
says hate [recording interrupted] . . . that you want to be
integrated with yourself, and the way to be integrated with yourself
is be sure that you meet every situation of life with an abounding
love. Never hate, because it ends up in tragic, neurotic responses.
Psychologists and psychiatrists are telling us today that the more
we hate, the more we develop guilt feelings and we begin to
subconsciously repress or consciously suppress certain emotions, and
they all stack up in our subconscious selves and make for tragic,
neurotic responses. And may this not be the neuroses of many
individuals as they confront life that that is an element of hate
there. And modern psychology is calling on us now to love. But long
before modern psychology came into being, the world?s greatest
psychologist who walked around the hills of Galilee told us to love.
He looked at men and said: "Love your enemies; don?t hate anybody."
It?s not enough for us to hate your friends because?to to love your
friends?because when you start hating anybody, it destroys the very
center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love
everybody. Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very
vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding
acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.
So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your
enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power.
And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.
That?s why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your
enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies.
But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very
root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people
and keep loving them, even though they?re mistreating you. Here?s
the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something
wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that
person. Keep loving them. Don?t do anything to embarrass them. Just
keep loving them, and they can?t stand it too long. Oh, they react
in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because
they?re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt
feelings, and sometimes they?ll hate you a little more at that
transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of
your love they will break down under the load. That?s love, you see.
It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There?s something
about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about
hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
I think of one of the best examples of this. We all remember the
great president of this United States, Abraham Lincoln?these United
States rather. You remember when Abraham Lincoln was running for
president of the United States, there was a man who ran all around
the country talking about Lincoln. He said a lot of bad things about
Lincoln, a lot of unkind things. And sometimes he would get to the
point that he would even talk about his looks, saying, "You don?t
want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this as the president of the
United States." He went on and on and on and went around with that
type of attitude and wrote about it. Finally, one day Abraham
Lincoln was elected president of the United States. And if you read
the great biography of Lincoln, if you read the great works about
him, you will discover that as every president comes to the point,
he came to the point of having to choose a Cabinet. And then came
the time for him to choose a Secretary of War. He looked across the
nation, and decided to choose a man by the name of Mr. Stanton. And
when Abraham Lincoln stood around his advisors and mentioned this
fact, they said to him: "Mr. Lincoln, are you a fool? Do you know
what Mr. Stanton has been saying about you? Do you know what he has
done, tried to do to you? Do you know that he has tried to defeat
you on every hand? Do you know that, Mr. Lincoln? Did you read all
of those derogatory statements that he made about you?" Abraham
Lincoln stood before the advisors around him and said: "Oh yes, I
know about it; I read about it; I?ve heard him myself. But after
looking over the country, I find that he is the best man for the
Mr. Stanton did become Secretary of War, and a few months later,
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And if you go to Washington, you
will discover that one of the greatest words or statements ever made
by, about Abraham Lincoln was made about this man Stanton. And as
Abraham Lincoln came to the end of his life, Stanton stood up and
said: "Now he belongs to the ages." And he made a beautiful
concerning the character and the stature of this man. If Abraham
Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had answered
everything Stanton said, Abraham Lincoln would have not transformed
and redeemed Stanton. Stanton would have gone to his grave hating
Lincoln, and Lincoln would have gone to his grave hating Stanton.
But through the power of love Abraham Lincoln was able to redeem
That?s it. There is a power in love that our world has not
discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of
India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women
never discover it. For they believe in hitting for hitting; they
believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe
in hating for hating; but Jesus comes to us and says, "This isn?t
And oh this morning, as I think of the fact that our world is in
transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution. Our nation
is facing a revolution, our nation. One of the things that concerns
me most is that in the midst of the revolution of the world and the
midst of the revolution of this nation, that we will discover the
meaning of Jesus? words.
History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people
oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are
oppressed can deal with their oppression. One of them is to rise up
against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding
hatred. But oh this isn?t the way. For the danger and the weakness
of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social
problems than it solves. And I?ve said, in so many instances, that
as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over the world
struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using
violence in their struggle, unborn generations will be the
recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief
legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
Violence isn?t the way.
Another way is to acquiesce and to give in, to resign yourself to
the oppression. Some people do that. They discover the difficulties
of the wilderness moving into the promised land, and they would
rather go back to the despots of Egypt because it?s difficult to get
in the promised land. And so they resign themselves to the fate of
oppression; they somehow acquiesce to this thing. But that too isn?t
the way because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral
obligation as is cooperation with good.
But there is another way. And that is to organize mass non-violent
resistance based on the principle of love. It seems to me that this
is the only way as our eyes look to the future. As we look out
across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move
right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the
redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able
to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men
better. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that.
Not only did Jesus discover it, even great military leaders discover
that. One day as Napoleon came toward the end of his career and
looked back across the years?the great Napoleon that at a very early
age had all but conquered the world. He was not stopped until he
became, till he moved out to the battle of Leipzig and then to
Waterloo. But that same Napoleon one day stood back and looked
across the years, and said: "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I
have built great empires. But upon what did they depend? They
depended upon force. But long ago Jesus started an empire that
depended on love, and even to this day millions will die for him."
Yes, I can see Jesus walking around the hills and the valleys of
Palestine. And I can see him looking out at the Roman Empire with
all of her fascinating and intricate military machinery. But in the
midst of that, I can hear him saying: "I will not use this method.
Neither will I hate the Roman Empire." [Radio Announcer:] (WRMA,
Montgomery, Alabama. Due to the fact of the delay this morning, we
are going over with the sermon.) [several words inaudible] . . . and
just start marching.
And I?m proud to stand here in Dexter this morning and say that that
army is still marching. It grew up from a group of eleven or twelve
men to more than seven hundred million today. Because of the power
and influence of the personality of this Christ, he was able to
split history into a.d. and b.c. Because of his power, he was able
to shake the hinges from the gates of the Roman Empire. And all
around the world this morning, we can hear the glad echo of heaven
Jesus shall reign wherever sun,
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spreads from shore to shore,
Till moon shall wane and wax no more.
We can hear another chorus singing: "All hail the power of Jesus
We can hear another chorus singing: "Hallelujah, hallelujah! He?s
King of Kings and Lord of
Lords. Hallelujah, hallelujah!"
We can hear another choir singing:
In Christ there is no East or West.
In Him no North or South,
But one great Fellowship of Love
Throughout the whole wide world.
This is the only way.
And our civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover
that as they deal with other individuals. There is a little tree
planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential
character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that
tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of
history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the
long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into
time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that
love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation
depending on nuclear and atomic energy, a generation depending on
physical violence, that love is the only creative, redemptive,
transforming power in the universe.
So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all
of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I
say to you, "I love you. I would rather die than hate you." And I'm
foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love
somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.
And then we will be in God?s kingdom. We will be able to matriculate
into the university of eternal life because we had the power to love
our enemies, to bless those persons that cursed us, to even decide
to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for
those persons who despitefully used us.
Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work
out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can
solve every problem that we confront in all areas. Oh, we talk about
politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization.
Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve
the crisis and solve these problems "the international problems, the
problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes,
even the race problem" let us join together in a great fellowship of
love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong
determination. In the name and spirit of this Christ, we pray. Amen.