As servants of Jesus Christ, we will find that we have enemies in this world. Some people will in fact treat us harshly because we have done good, not because we have done anything to deserve it.
First Peter reminds us of this fact and encourages us to stand firm for Christ in the midst of our suffering. As we read yesterday, taking a firm stance means that we do not repay evil with evil but that we bless those who hate us (3:9).
The command to love our enemies is found elsewhere in the New Testament (Matt. 5:44). At this point we will consider how the call to love those who would harm us fits in with the Old Testament laws of retribution (Ex. 21:23–25) that seem at first glance to contradict the New Testament teaching against retaliation.
First, we note that the Old Testament also commands us to love our enemies by feeding a hungry foe (Prov. 25:21–22) and doing good to an enemy’s belongings (Ex. 23:4–5). Secondly, it is God who gives us the principle of just retribution in the Mosaic law, and therefore it cannot contradict His call to bless our enemies. Finally, the Old Testament call to take “an eye for an eye” was given for legal judgments and not as a matter for dealing with the ordinary interpersonal relationships emphasized in the New Testament.
Loving our enemies and calling for sin to be punished are not mutually exclusive ideas. Sometimes blessing our enemies means that we seek justice. Legal prosecution can prevent an enemy from sinning further and may even drive them to repentance.
The Law calls us to take the particular situation into account whenever it is applied (for example, Deut. 22:23–27). We must also do this in order to obey rightly the command to bless our enemies. Blessing our enemies does involve going the extra mile and enduring suffering, though the application of this principle does not mean we cannot ever defend ourselves or seek justice (Ex. 22:2; Acts 25:10–11). Yet as today’s passage reminds us, we must always behave righteously and carefully as we apply the command to bless our enemies because God only has regard for those who do so.
When we relate the command to bless our enemies to the rest of Scripture we may fall into one of two extremes. We can either put ourselves into unnecessary dangers by refusing always to defend ourselves, or we can use the principle of retribution as an excuse for never showing mercy to anyone. Go before the Lord in prayer today and ask Him to guide you in applying His commands. Study diligently so that you might know how to love those who hate you.